This is a tactic that I still see get trotted out from time to time, and it never really made any sense to me. To be clear, this is about adding city/state to on-domain content pieces like your <title> tags, URLs, H1, body copy etc. I wanted to take a moment, just sit right there, and tell you why you shouldn’t spam city/state in your on-domain content anywhere.
It Doesn’t Correlate With Ranking
According to the data driven research we did for the 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors, using city/state in <title> tags and URLs just didn’t correlate to positive search performance. In fact they were 2 of the lowest correlating factors we looked at:
In fact, city/state in the URL actually negatively correlated with search performance. That means sites that did it were likely to rank lower, not higher.
Now, this is all I really think is needed on the subject, but as an SEO dork I want to totally close the loop on this issue. Per the Moz 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors:
We continue to see lower correlations between on-page keyword use and rankings. This could likely be because Google is smarter about what pages mean (through related keyword, synonyms, close variants and entities) without relying on exact keyword phrases. We believe matching user intent is of utmost importance.
So basically, you shouldn’t really be focusing really highly on your H1s anyway these days. They are a nice to have, not a foundational ranking factor or competitive difference maker.
It Doesn’t Make Any Sense
If the data doesn’t convince you, let’s look at why it doesn’t make sense on a theoretical level. I’ll give you 3 reasons why:
1) Your aren’t trying to optimize for you city/state queries per se
Remember, Google is a authority (prominence) and relevance engine when it comes to ranking search results. You aren’t trying to be the most authoritative Costa Mesa, CA business in Google and you aren’t trying to be the most relevant Costa Mesa, CA business in Google. Not all businesses in a city compete for SERPs, and if you aren’t ranking for your industry terms why should you rank for industry term + geo?
2) Google already knows where your business in geographically located
It’s called a Google My Business page, maybe you have heard of it? That is Google’s database of mapping businesses in the physical world, and yours in there and it points to your website right? Great, case closed.
To continue to beat a dead horse, you have citations right? Google also uses those to know where your business is. If they have their own data from GMB, scrapped data from citations, AND you have that same NAP info on your site then do you really think adding city/state to on page elements is really gonna be the game changer for ranking for your geo terms? Really?
3) Google Gets Most of This Data From The Link Graph Anyway
This one is a little more complicated, but I think it’s pretty interesting. Remember when I cited that Moz research showing on-page correlation of keyword usage to rankings is decreasing? Well, per our 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors, it appears that Google is looking more and more at the anchor text of links in order to suss out semantic associations etc. What’s old is new again right? I just recently presented on some of the new “Near Me” data at State of Search, and one of the major findings is that city in anchor text of links correlates pretty highly to ranking higher for keyword + near me searches. That means if you need a competitive difference maker to rank for geo terms, you should tackle it in the link graph. Because: