Local Search Results Study Shows There Is Much To Be Learned About Proximity And Google Search Results


  1. Google gives a lot of value to one’s proximity to a business when searching for services that the business offers
  2. Studies conducted related to how much impact location has to search results produced surprising results
  3. Local search is perhaps the defining feature on Google Search when it comes to businesses getting discovered
  4. Search rankings are not equitable at all
  5. There are many unpredictable things about how Google’s algorithm works

A smartphone user typing away on their device may not realize that when they search for a particular type of business or service that Google will do its best to send them results that correspond with the geographic area that they are currently located in. Google does this because its algorithms know that most people would like to see results that are relevant to the area they happen to be in at that moment. The algorithms will go to work behind the scenes to triangulate where the user is and which results are most relevant based on proximity. 

How Much Weight Is Given To User Proximity? 

It is very clear from what was stated above that a Google user that is mere feet away from a service or business that they search for will receive results for that service or business first. What most of the public does not know is just how much proximity weights into the equation when there are a number of options at a similar distance. It is also not commonly known how quickly the proximity bonus drops off as users move further away from a location. 

Jurisdigital.com has some research showing that while no single law firm in the Houston area controlled more than 4.6% of the search results for “car accident lawyers”, the most dominant firms controlled a much larger share of those results than any other firms. It is certainly good to be at the front of the pack! 

What The Study Found

The 1,000 law firms selected for the study were found to already have strong rankings on Google’s search engine for their specific location. As a matter of fact, it turns out that more than half of them (56%) were already the top result for a law firm in their city. This was encouraging, but the study had only just begun. The next stage would involve using a tool known as Local Falcon to gather up “Google My Business” data about the various law firms to plot out how searches for law firms in various parts of the city would pan out for any given firm. 

The researchers conducting this study expected to find the following results: 

  • A strong correlation between how close one was to a business and where it appeared on the results
  • A steady drop-off in the results as the searcher moved further away from the target location
  • These results would play out more or less equally throughout all firms

What actually happened was quite different. What was discovered was that there is a HUGE bonus for being within one mile of a given firm, but once that one-mile radius is left, there is a massive drop-off in result rankings for that firm. After the large drop-off, a steadier decline would occur as the subject moved further away from the firm. However, that first mile was the dagger in the heart of search results rankings for any and all firms.

The Results Are Not Equitable 

It was assumed that law firms that ranked well on the Google search results for the local area would all do just as well as one another depending upon how far the subject was away from the location. In other words, if Law Firm A and Law Firm B both do well generically on local search results, then the assumption was that both would see similar drop-offs in results depending on how far away the searcher was. However, that is not true. 

Some law firms not only saw an immediate drop-off when the searcher was more than one mile away, but some were knocked off the first page of results entirely. Others managed to cling onto the first page of results even as they dropped down the list significantly. 

Finally, there were a handful of firms that seemed to rank highly almost no matter how far away the searcher was. They would eventually fall out of the results page, but only after the search was 10, 15, even 20 miles away from their location. They did not suffer the same impacts of a searcher moving away from them as other firms did.  This left the researchers scratching their heads in bewilderment. Only a few possible answers have emerged as to why some firms do so much better than others. 

Possible Explanations

There are only a few things that can explain why some law firms seem to slip by without any penalties at all for searchers leaving their nearby region and others face steep declines. 

Superior SEO – Perhaps part of the reason why some firms do so much better even as people travel a great distance from them is that they have invested a significant amount of resources on perfecting their search engine optimization (SEO) right from the start. They are literally thousands of elements that play a role in what the Google algorithm views as valuable to put before the eyes of users, and those algorithms are frequently tweaked, so it is possible that some of the changes are merely the forces of variation. 

Proximity To Other Similar Companies – No law firm sits completely alone. It is surrounded by other businesses that may or may not be relevant to what it does. Thus, the Google algorithm may push users towards one law firm or another simply based on how close it is to other similar companies and services. After all, it might as well guide people towards services that they can use all at once if at all possible. Thus, some may have gained an upper hand by being closer to similar services. 

Whatever the reason may be, it is interesting to study local search and how it continues to change. If you would like the latest data and information about Google Search as it relates to local companies, we hope that you will contact us for those details. We are happy to provide the latest information and data that we have available for you today. 

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