When it comes to assessing local ranking drops, it is easy to find yourself in the weeds. Before you know it, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and trying to zone in on what specifically caused the drop becomes a frustrating process.
Because of that, I like to have a small “go-to” list of things that I check right off the bat. In my experience, most local ranking drops, and by local, I mean 3-pack/local pack rankings, can be figured out by going through the five tactics outlined below. This list has been incredibly helpful to us, and I hope you find it equally useful. Enjoy!
1. See if you are outside the border of the city you’re trying to rank in
This is typically the first thing I check. I wrote about this in the article titled Physical Address vs. Mailing Address – What Does Google Base Ranking On?
When a business’s map pin falls outside of the physical boundary of the city they verified their listing in, it typically causes rankings for explicit keywords, aka keywords with a geo-modifier, to rank poorly.
In order to see if this is impacting your rankings, you need to do two things:
- Pull up the business knowledge panel and see if Google has automatically changed the city name. The name that they change it to is what Google considers to be your physical address and that is what they base the ranking on.
- Set up a geogrid ranking report and track both implicit and explicit keywords. If you are being impacted by this issue, you will likely see that your rankings for explicit keywords with the city you specified to Google are not great, but keywords with the city that Google thinks you are physically located in ranking well.In this example, the business verified the Google Business Profile in Olathe, but because her map pin falls outside of the Olathe physical border, Google is not ranking her for “state farm Olathe”, but ranks well for “state farm Lenexa”.
Overcoming this challenge isn’t easy. I outlined some tactics to try in the article about physical vs mailing addresses.
- Implement a strategy to earn backlinks with anchors that mention the city name.
- Optimize your website, including your internal linking to make it clear to Google that you have a presence in that city.
- Move your business inside the border of the desired city (most impactful).
2. Check if there was a recent algorithm update
The next thing I like to do is check to see if the ranking drop is related to a possible local algorithm update. A quick and dirty way to check that is to see if there is ranking fluctuation across the entire industry or local results as a whole using Bright Local’s Local Flux tool. According to Bright Local:
Local RankFlux is the only ranking fluctuation monitoring tool for local search. We track daily ranking movements across 14,000+ keywords to measure volatility and identify suspected algorithm updates.
I love that this tool is specific to the local algorithm. I also love how you can filter the results by specific industries.
If you come to the conclusion that the ranking drop is related to an algorithm update, the next step is to figure out what the characteristics of the update were, as we did with the Vicinity Update.
3. Check what changed in the search results
One of the best, and most underutilized tactics to assess a ranking drop is to compare what the search results looked like before and after the drop. Comparing search results can tell you a few important things:
- Which competitors are ranking now, that weren’t ranking when I was ranking
- Did anything fundamental change with the search results? For instance, is Google now showing a one-box and before the ranking dropped, there was a 3-pack? Or, maybe Google doesn’t consider the query to have enough local intent and removed the 3-pack from the results
- Are there new, spammy listings that are now outranking me?
Both Bright Local and Places Scout have screenshot features that can be used for this assessment. To grab the screenshots in Places Scout, set the report date to before the ranking drop, click on a pin, and select “View SERP Screenshot”
After that, go back in and change the date to after the ranking dropped. Put the screenshots up on your computer, side-by-side, and take note of any new competitors ranking and/or changes to the search results layout.
4. Isolate what keywords you dropped for
If you tag your Google Business Profile website and appointment links with UTM parameters you have access to a treasure trove of data. What I love about assessing ranking drops in Google Search Console is you can filter the data by the URL with the UTM parameter, as well as by specific queries. This allows you to understand whether the ranking drop is also causing drops in traffic to the website from the Google Business Profile.
In the example below, you can see that we have filtered the data to only show us data related to the URL with the UTM parameters. We compared three months of data before the ranking drop to the three months after the drop. We can see that this resulted in a drop in clicks to the website, and now we can dig into specific queries to put a recovery plan together.
5. Check to see if you’re filtered
One of the most common reasons for a ranking drop is when the local filter comes into play. The local filter, which was named the Possum Update back in 2016, is still a thing to this day. The filter comes into play when two or more businesses, in the same category, are physically located at the same address.
We covered this in an article titled – Is Your Google My Business Listing Getting Filtered?
Once you determine you are filtered, you need to identify who specifically is filtering you. Once you figure that out, your job is to figure out why Google is choosing them over you. Some things you will want to look at:
- Which categories are they using? Are you missing any that they are using?
- Who has more reviews?
- What does their GBP landing page look like? Is it better than yours?
Here are a few more things that I typically check when assessing a ranking drop.
What do you do when you experience a ranking drop? What are the first things you look at to diagnose the drop?