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How Much do Local Rankings Fluctuate?

It’s pretty common to see threads at the Local Search Forum like this one where a business owner is wondering how they can rank higher on Google.  The challenge I see most often is that a lot of business owners seem unaware of how much rankings in the local search results fluctuate.  There are 3 principles that I’ve observed in the last decade that summarize what people should be aware of.

  1.  The top positions seem to be more stable.  If you’re in the top 3-5, you will likely see less fluctuation than positions 5-10.  For example, we often see search results like this where the top few remain consistent over short periods of time and the listings below them shift more.
  2. If you’re tracking with geo-grids, you’ll observe more regular fluctuation.  Looking at ranking changes for a single search result set can often be misleading since what you see varies so much based on the location you’re searching from.  This is an example of a physical therapy business with no SEO efforts that is located in a small town (little competition) over the course of 2 weeks.  I have circled all the ranking changes.  In my opinion, this is the best way to monitor rankings as it is the most accurate reflection that we can observe of what users see.
  3. More competitive markets & industries will likely experience more fluctuation.  Here is a good example of an insanely competitive city (Houston) in a really competitive industry (criminal lawyers):

So if you’re noticing your rankings have shifted, stop and ask yourself if the patterns you’re seeing reflect the examples listed.  If you’re afraid the patterns you’re observing are not normal, I would suggest subscribing to BrightLocal’s Local Flux tool and posting the specifics of your issue on the Local Search Forum so that you can get a second opinion.

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Joy Hawkins

Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

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