Google “User Localization Update”: The Expert View

November 13th, 2017 | SEO News No comments

With its “User Localization Update,” local search gains increased relevance when using Google’s search engine. Whatever Top-Level Domain you are using (Google.com, Google.co.uk etc.), users will now be shown search results based on their current physical location. We asked a few experts to find out what this means for search and searchers.

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Google has repeatedly stated that its aim is provide users with the most relevant search results for a specific search query. As “local search” increases in importance, this latest update would seem like a logical progression. But what concrete impact will it have?

Google is “making search results more local and relevant”

In a post on its blog at the end of October, Google revealed it will make search results more local and more relevant by having the user’s physical location determine the local incarnation of the SERPs. It is now no longer possible to manually enter the Top-Level Domain (TLD) – which is the country-specific parameter after the domain name (like .com or .co.uk), in order to show the results from a different country index.

At the bottom of the SERP, we see the location of the user, like here:

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This change affects mobile web, Google’s app for iOS, as well as desktop search and Google Maps. Google has, however, stated that users can still set their personal preferences in the settings.

What the experts say

To get a range of views on this change to how Google shows users its search results, we asked experts three main questions:

  • Wait or adapt? Can you give any hands-ons tips for optimizing for localized search?
  • In what ways does the latest update affect your immediate local and international mobile SEO and content strategies?
  • Is context now king? What do the latest changes reveal about the long-term strategy at Google?

And here are their answers:

Bartosz Góralewicz

Head of SEO/Technical SEO Expert, elephate

bartoszgoralewicz-200We always need to be proactive and adjust to changes in algorithms. I think all updates focused on localized search so far have been triggered by the mobile approach. So to be proactive towards Google algorithm updates, we need to:

  • Make sure that the mobile version of the website delivers the best experience both to users and Googlebot.
  • Remove technical SEO issues and make sure that all important pages are crawlable.
  • Provide the same content on both versions of the website.
  • Highlight your localization: use many signals to present localization: meta tags, NAP and the main content.
  • Use structured data: users are looking for THE BEST services, places, products in a given localization.
  • Ratings and reviews might also be a gem.

We are adjusting our strategies by focusing on different elements. Everything depends on our clients’ needs and problems. So I can’t say that we recommended this or that for all websites. There are two really important things that we are really focused on but it’s not a direct effect of the recent updates. I have in mind creating well optimized mobile websites (on-page) and making sure that all users (mobile and desktop) have access to the same (or similar) information on the website.

Yes, context is definitely now king! Unfortunately, it’s combined with the users’ intentions – which are often times hard to define. I think we need to work out the different needs of our users and try to provide comprehensive information from different points of view. Content creators should be really creative while writing website content. A detailed segmentation of our users will be really helpful. I suppose that many of you try to divide clients into different groups but it may happen that we’ll need to be more granular to prepare well-optimized content. This also has an impact on internal linking on the website and outreach campaigns.

Fili Wiese

SEO Expert, SearchBrothers.com

fili-wiese-200A lot of people have been saying that this update is to combat automated scraping of Google’s search results. Whilst this might be a nice side effect for Google, I think the main motivation for limiting search results to the physical location is a legal one. Since 2014, Google has struggled to implement the EU’s “right to be forgotten,” with particular issues across national boundaries. By restricting search results users can see to those for their physical location, Google should be better able to comply with the EU’s regulations. I think this legal issue is the main reason Google has made this change. So I don’t think we need to be worried. Google search results remain relevant for users.

See also Fili’s blogpost on this update at medium.com.

Marcus Pentzek

Teamlead SEO, United Digital Group

marcus-pentzek-200I don’t think Google showing users the content for the land they are in instead of for the Google TLD they enter is such a big change. Most US users will use Google.com for their search, just as most British users will generally go to Google.co.uk.

This update makes a difference for the small proportion of people who view the search results of a different country (e.g. someone in the US looking at British results). The reasons someone might want to do this vary. On the one hand, you have online marketers like us, who want to look at a different search market. On the other hand, you may have people living abroad, like Australians in the US who want to see results tailored to the Australian market.

This update could pose a problem for these two user groups, but it doesn’t affect search engine optimization for localized search. It is Google users who want to see localized search results for other countries who will have to adapt.

As a tip for these users, you can use the GET parameter cr in the Google search URL. For example:

The GET parameter does not seem to quite return the exact results that would be given if actually in the country. But is at least a way for Australians in America to get more relevant results, even if their cousins back in Melbourne get slightly different images of vegemite). This means it is a good solution for everyday users, but not for SEOs or providers of SEO software 🙂

This could present a real challenge for software companies in providing accurate ranking positions for Google in different markets, unless they have an existing crawling location in each country.

My international SEO strategies – in terms of multi-language and multi-country approach – won’t be affected by this change. The use of hreflang, GEO localization with the Google Search Console and localized content (US Englisch for the USA, British Englisch for the UK, regional vocabulary in each market) and appropriate triggers that show users (and Google) which market is relevant for this website (e.g. address and local phone numbers in the footer) will continue to be best practices for an international SEO strategy – after this update as before.

One nice aspect for me as a China SEO is the possibility to now see how the search results in China would look if Google were allowed to operate in China (all Google search instances I have tested manually are currently blocked in Beijing and Tianjin – google.de used to be accessible but google.com was also blocked). This is what Google would display in China for the search term “seo”, if it were able to:

“Context is King” is becoming truer and truer. This step will make it easier to manage search queries internally, as it removes the parameter TLD from any calculation. This will make it easier to focus on other upcoming measures to increase the personalization of the SERPs.

What kind of websites does the user prefer? Do they like more or less content? Fewer or more images? Simple or complex language? But these are topics for the future. The first steps will certainly be towards creating general personals. For example, whether Google can recognize patterns or tendencies amongst users in the South, on the West Coast, the East Coast etc. But the direction Google is taking is clear: know your audience and create the right content for your exact audience – not for your “keyword.”

Malte Landwehr

Senior Product Marketing Manager, Searchmetrics

malte-landwehrI think we have to wait and see. Nothing has changed yet for SEOs. It just makes it more difficult to track rankings. I don’t see that this change has anything to do with content. And nothing has changed in the way websites are evaluated.

Of course, content remains king. But while we’re trotting out clichés, I would like to add that context is queen, meaning that “relevance” forms the kingdom they rule. Because the key to success in Google search is putting your content into a form that is perfectly tailored to the specific needs of your audience. This means considering user intent and the position in the sales funnel, as well as the device users are searching on and other characteristics. The end result could be a video or an infographic. SEOs working in 2017 definitely have to finally let go of the antiquated idea that content has to mean text!

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P.S.: Who’s writing this stuff? My name is Daniel and I am Director Marketing EMEA here at Searchmetrics. Among other things, I'm responsible for implementing and executing regional marketing strategy as well as enabling cross-team coordination and communication.
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