As of today (1st November 2017) we noticed a change in how Google is producing searching results. We knew that this change would be affecting mobile search results (mobile first index) but today we have seen it happen on desktop. This Google algorithm change might rock the SEO world…[update:….but hasn’t]
What is the actual change?
I work on a range of sites around the world and often go to google.co.za to check on the rankings for websites in South Africa or google.com.au for websites in Australia and so on.
As of today the results shown, by default, do not depend on the google TLD (.com, .co.uk, .com.au, .co.za, .de, etc) but by the location of the searcher. Being based in the UK the results returned for a search on google.co.za are UK based results.
Here is the official Google search blog post on the subject.
The impact for us is quite large. We use various tools to monitor SERP position and keyword rankings. These have now gone berserk as, I can only assume, the location of the searching is now dictating our website positions rather than the selected version of Google. Rankings are dropping by 10-20% overnight because of this. When the tools you use to produce reports and help do your job return nonsense, at least for the time being, life becomes rather awkward.
The localisation change will probably now change the amount of international traffic we received to some sites. Often this traffic was more of a nuisance than of benefit for some projects but for others international traffic is vital so we will have to see what happens there. For multinational or multi-regional websites these changes could be far-reaching.
Is there a work around?
It is possible, for manual searches, to set your desired country location in the Google search settings page. This is something of a pain if you want to keep testing from one TLD to another.
Having read this post on the google forums Thomas P. kindly reminds us of the geo-location URL parameter gl which can be used to tell the search engines, regardless of the TLD, on which location you would like your results based.
e.g. do a search on https://www.google.co.uk/?gl=za to return results for South Africa
This is a lot quicker than constantly changing your settings.
Note though that advertising on the SERPS still looks at your locality to target the ads to your location. This may make it tricky to check on your google adword appearances in South Africa or wherever.
Will keep watching to see if there is much of a backlash to this….
Update: there does not seem to have been as much backlash to this as I would have imagined. There were some initial drops in the Google Analytics visits but they returned within a few days to pretty much what they were before. Total visitor numbers remain steady and we still get traffic from other countries to region-specific sites. All very odd.