Until December 2015, it was possible to check your local search rankings manually in Google by clicking on “Search Tools” and selecting a new location. This allowed you simulate searches as if you lived in a different geo. Since then, Google has removed the ability to filter search results by location.
In the wake of this change, thought leaders from across the industry have come up with a variety of creative solutions, which have been compiled below into one convenient list.
Why Losing Our Location Setting Matters
While the removal of local search filters slipped by most web users unnoticed, it spelled big trouble for many businesses—especially SEOs. Google’s location setting used to allow you to bypass your default search settings by allowing you to specify a city outside of your geo.
The results were vital components in the optimization of websites and local ad campaigns targeting other cities, and they allowed businesses to gauge their presence in other parts of the country and internationally.
The inability to choose where you’re searching from complicated most SEOs abilities to work with clients outside of their geo. It also crippled a lot of rank monitoring tools, many of which relied on the search location filter as their key source of localized rankings data.
Manual Solutions for Local Rank Checking
The loss of Google’s location setting was widely discussed across local search forums and social media. Fortunately, local search experts and thought leaders (like @LindaBuquet) lost no time in suggesting fixes and workarounds to the loss of our location setting feature, while software companies reported updates to their tool offerings to cope with the change without losing search ranking accuracy.
The community came up with these four approaches to get local rank checks:
1. Append the Location of Your Keywords
One of the first solutions proposed was a band-aid solution, which required you to add the name of different locations to your keywords. But, as you know, Google considers “pizza” and “pizza new york” to be two independent keywords. As a result, this solution is imperfect and might leave you with SERPs that differ drastically from those actually seen by users in a specific location.
2. Use the “Near” Parameter in Your URL
Specialists like Barry Schwartz came up with a fast and easy solution that doesn’t require any new software whatsoever. After you’ve typed a query into Google, simply add “&near=cityname” to the query string.
So, if you wanted to see how your local plumbers rank, you search:
Now, modify the URL to see how they rank abroad. For example, to check rankings in New York, you would modify the URL to read:
The only hitch with this solution is that you don’t always get the results of the specific city you’re searching for, especially if you’re targeting smaller cities. As the parameter suggests, your results are pulled from near your location, so you might be seeing results taken from the nearest big city.
3. Use the “Uule” Parameter
We’ve known about the “uule” parameter—which encodes geographic location into your search—since the Google Venice update a few years back. This parameter is crucial for geographical targeting, and when tweaked can provide you with fairly accurate results. For specifics on how to tweak your “uule” parameter to simulate local SERPs from other geos, check out Kevin Richard’s 2013 Moz post.
The only problem with this solution is that it only targets big cities, meaning that smaller locations might be missed. When you search for more obscure locations, the “uule” parameter pulls data from the nearest metropolitan hub, and your results might not be specific to the small town or city you queried.
4. Google Chrome’s “Location Emulation” Program
Go Fish Digital offers an in-depth tutorial on how to pull a target’s specific GPS coordinates into your queries, and it’s a long and complicated process. However, the payoff for your hard work is the most accurate ranking results you can possibly achieve. Fortunately, you may not have to rely on manual setup, as some software solutions have automated this process for you.
Software Solutions for Local Rank Checking
In addition to workarounds listed above, many tool developers have stepped up—either to say that their tools were unaffected or to list updates that have allowed their rank checking tools to cope with Google’s recent changes.
What follows is a list of software solutions, browser-based tools, and add-ons that continue to allow you to check your location-specific rankings:
1. Rank Tracker Tool
Disclaimer: I’m the founder of Rank Tracker.
While Rank Tracker previously relied on Google’s now extinct filter, we’ve updated our tool to check local rankings based on exact GPS location. Each keyword query entered into rank tracker also passes on GPS coordinates, to deliver the most accurate results possible—down to a specific street address, should you so desire. Basically, we’re automating Google Chrome’s “location emulation” mode for the most precise geo-targeting possible.
2. Google’s Ad Preview ToolGoogle AdWords Ad Preview & Diagnostic Tool still works, as you might expect after the search filter’s removal. Use this tool to check the status of ads and keywords, and simulate the results across different platforms, so you know that local search results stay consistent across multiple devices.
3. WhiteSpark’s Local Rank TrackerWhiteSpark‘s tool didn’t stumble even after Google removed the filter, and that’s because they geolocate their searches to targeted cities and fall back on the near parameter when all else fails. They’re able to provide great local data in specific regions.
4. Moz Rank TrackerMoz uses geo-targeting to compile your location specific keyword ranking reports. According to their product manager, Moz’s ranking features did experience “temporary issues” after the Google update, but those issues have since been resolved.
5. BrightLocalBrightLocal only had minor hiccups after Google’s change, and they addressed these by adding an “uule” parameter, and falling back on the near parameter whenever Google doesn’t recognize the location query. As a result, they’ve managed to deliver results similar to those they enjoyed before the change, and Ed Eliot has confirmed that they’re continuously working to improve this mechanism.
6. I Search From
This is basically a browser-based version of the feature Google just got rid of. Now that Search Tools are history, I Search From might be seeing a lot more use. Like other tools on this list, I Search From uses “uule” parameters to deliver fairly accurate local results.
7. Advanced Web Ranking
Following Google’s changes, Advanced Web Ranking updated their querying to append location to each of their keywords. Recognizing the inaccuracy of this solution, they’ve since begun to geolocate queries to Google for more accurate location specific results.
8. Search Google by Location Bookmarklet
Chris Desrochers made a bookmarklet which allows you to search Google by location. It’s easy to install and works really well in Google Chrome’s incognito mode (where personal search settings don’t gum up the results).
When Google dropped their location settings, SearchStation rightly pointed out that appending keywords might result in some wildly different results. They’ve stated that Google’s update didn’t change anything for their users, and their program delivers local search rank reporting that remains as accurate as ever.
Designed for both Google and Bing, AccuRanker parameters ensure you localized reporting in specific cities. AccuRanker has gone on record saying that their geo location results weren’t affected by the update.
11. Places ScoutPlaces Scout‘s workaround now displays your desired location setting at the bottom of the SERP page. Their software allows you to check rankings for keywords with and without geo-modifiers and change your Google Location setting while viewing ranking and lead gen reports.
An add-on for Firefox, Geolocator lets you edit your default geolocation. But be warned, reviews for this tool are mixed and a lot of users seem to have significant issues with this add-on, even before the December update.
13. Location Guard
Though it’s a bit of an odd inclusion, Location Guard includes a geolocation feature. While this is actually a privacy tool designed for Firefox, one of its features allows you to pick a fixed location on a map and use that location as your search location.
A lot of people will no doubt be reminded of when Google began hiding ranking data under the “not provided” label in Google Analytics. They may see this as yet another hint that keyword ranking reports are on the way out, especially when the official word from Google is that their location search filter “was getting very little usage, so we’re focusing on other features.”
Personally, I’m positive the industry won’t stop relying on keyword ranking data—at least, not anytime soon. Location settings may not have been the most popular filter, but local SEOs still rely heavily on the ranking data of the specific locations they’re targeting.
And, as this article proves, there are still plenty of ways to get this data.
So what do you think? Has the loss of Google’s location filter affected you, or did I miss any tools that you rely on for your local SERPs? If you’re providing local SEO services, what metrics do you prioritize?
Share your ideas in the comments below.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!