Most local search professionals will tell you that citations and site relevance to the target geo are the keys to ranking in local search engine results pages (SERPs).
Testing and retesting old methods is part of maintaining SEO strategies so it seemed a smart choice to take a closer look at one of these key onsite factors and conduct a small study on the weight of domain names in rankings. The goal was to evaluate the performance of a related series of keywords in 10 different geographic locations and put them head to head against a term directly associated with the domain name.
For this test we elected to do a study on the University of California school system and produce a small article on the spring break dates for 2012. The domain we chose to test on was Travelfromlosangeles.com, which at the time had 32 total links and had been in existence for about a year. The domain is a typical WordPress blog with beginner basic optimizations and full metadata descriptions and tags.
The specific article page was +1'd and tweeted a couple of times by our team, but over the course of a few months it appeared on the third page of the SERP. The page continued to climb and in February it achieved the top spot for “UCLA Spring Break 2012,” even edging out UCLA.edu.
Surprisingly enough, the page climbed to the optimum position for the key phrase, and we were curious to see how it fared for the other University of California institutions. Upon further review, it was clear that UCLA centered terms garnered a much higher position than those surrounding other schools like Santa Barbara or San Diego.
Utilizing Google Webmaster Tools’ data, we looked at a constant series of terms that only varied in the school location and pulled ranking data for the past 30 days on Google. The data seemed to have a pattern of rank decreasing as distance from Los Angeles increased, so it was compiled it into the graph below. Strangely enough, no data was pulled in by Google WMT on UCSF so that locale was excluded from the graph.
UCLA Spring Break 2012 outpaced any other university search term by three spots without receiving the advantage of a mention in the title tag.
The average SERP position for universities has a correlation with the distance they are located from Los Angeles. The trend line shows the furthest institutions as the lowest performing keywords in the SERPs, with the exception of UC Santa Cruz.
While this data is seasonally impacted, it still establishes a clear connection between domain name and ranking opportunity with geo specific keywords. The SEO value of having Los Angeles in the site name is clearly defined by the No. 1 ranking for UCLA Spring Break 2012. When looking to build out a site for a specific geographic region it is advisable to seek out a domain name that references the area in a distinguishable manner to not only the search engine bots but to the searchers as well.
This piece and the research behind it was a collaboration between Michael Martin and his colleague Danny McElroy, SEO specialist, Covario.