Did You Know Local Rankings Change Hourly?

Rankings are in constant fluctuation, to the point where they can change by the hour. In this Whitespark Weekly, Darren discusses how much fluctuation there is in local search results and why you should expect to see variations.

Video Transcript

Hi there, Darren here with another Whitespark Weekly video. These videos are to help you understand local SEO, give new optimization strategies and keep you up to date with all the latest in local search. If you’re new here, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter, to keep up to date whenever we publish one of these videos.

Today, I want to talk to you about just how much variation there is in the local search results. Local search results are changing all the time based on many different factors like what browser is being searched, the searcher’s location, and even the time of day can impact local search results.

Did you know that local search results are changing every hour?

It’s kind of amazing, most people don’t realize how much variation there is in the search results.

I love this search study that was done by Chris Green in 2017. He was curious to see how much variation and fluctuation there is in the search results. So, they tracked rankings every single hour and then they measured which businesses were in the top 100 positions. You can see that across the top of the results in the image above.

The businesses in the top 20 positions were relatively stable. If you’re in position number 3, you were in position number 3 every hour, – those search results stayed pretty stable. But as you got a little bit lower in the rankings, there was much more variation, you could see businesses jumping up and down into positions every single hour.

I always wanted to do something like this to see if the same kind of variation exists in the local results. So, we did. We tested this and we saw something quite similar.

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The businesses ranking in the top 20 positions were relatively stable. You can see the stability across the local search results, but you can see much more fluctuation in the results a little bit lower. You can see these spikes of businesses hopping into the results. For example, the business represented by the blue line ranked nowhere at all, but then, at 8 p.m., they jumped up to position 35. Then they disappeared again, and then jump back up over here, in position 30 or 45? I don’t know. They’re jumping around in the search results.

It’s really amazing to think about that. It’s like, “I’m going to go to Google, check how I rank right now.” Oh, I don’t rank at all. “Oh no, I don’t rank. What happened?” And then, you know, they email their SEO provider and they’re like, “Oh no, I’ve fallen off the rankings. What happened?” But then the SEO provider goes and checks. “Well, I checked and you look fine. I see you’re ranking how you were before in position number 5.” This is the crazy thing about the rankings. I think it’s really important to know that there’s that much fluctuation in the ranking results.

In the early days of SEO, there was this concept of the Google dance. What would happen is the rankings would be super stable and stay the exact same for months. SEOs would wait for Google to push an update, and then everything would change. So, it’d be like Google re-indexed the whole web, they push a new update out, and you’d have to find out where did I land? Where do I rank now? Where will I rank for the next three months?

It’s not like that anymore. Google’s rankings are constantly changing based on new input, I guess this is RankBrain, all their AI stuff. It’s learning all the time. It’s shifting and adjusting all the time. This is really important for people to know that their rankings are in constant flux.

You can see that in the image above, basically every one of these rows represents a business, listed in the legend below. You can see that the business which is represented by the orange line, AAP Auto Sales, is ranking in position 25 for a long time and then jumps to position 15 and then back down. The rankings are moving by the hour.

We did this across a number of different keywords. We made sure to run all these searches on the exact same IP using the exact same browser signature. Ensuring all the results were not impacted by other factors. The only factor was time. We ran it every single hour using the exact same browser fingerprint. This is how the results change.

We searched for auto dealers and plumbers. The plumbers maybe look a little bit more stable than the auto dealers. We also studied personal injury lawyers and there was quite a bit of jumping around in the position 50+ range. We studied pest control and it was pretty busy. There was a lot of moving around, different businesses jumping up and down in the search results, hour by hour.

So what did we learn?

  • Local and organic rankings are in constant flux, they’re always changing.
  • Rankings can change by the hour and typically do.
  • The top 20 positions tend to be more stable than the rest.

The main takeaway here is that you really should expect to see differences from your local rank tracking tool or any other rank tracker you use. If you’re comparing your results with what the tool is reporting and you see it’s different, that doesn’t mean that tool is inaccurate. It just means they checked at a different time than you. Most the rank tracking tools crawl in the evening so that in the morning, you can see all your results.

The differences you see are expected. You should really expect to see different results. If you sit down at your computer and you check today. Then you check again tomorrow or you check again in the evening, you may see different results.

We have a fantastic local rank tracking tool. I encourage you to check it out. We can track very precise, localized rankings from any location. We love to track by zip code and that’s what we suggest when setting up your campaign. We report separately on the local pack, local organic rankings, and the local finder rankings.

We love it and think it’s pretty fantastic for a local rank tracking tool, and I encourage you to check it out. That’s all I got for you. We will see you next time.


Darren Shaw

Darren Shaw founded Whitespark in 2005. The company specialized in web design and development, however, Darren's passion and curiosity for all things local search led Whitespark to focus primarily on local SEO in 2010 with the launch of the Local Citation Finder, followed by the Local Rank Tracker.

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3 comments on “Did You Know Local Rankings Change Hourly?

  • Thanks Darren – we are now reporting Local Rank tracking stats to our clients every hour of the day – my staff are threatening to quit, and my clients are going nuts 😉
    jk – it’s Wednesday 😉

  • Hey Darren,

    This is insane. I really don’t know about it. This is micro analysis that you have done very well as always. My question for you about this is, how i take benefit or how we change the strategy? Is this affect my business? Is SEO job tough day by day? I am really worried about this. Can you please clear this?

  • Hello, Darren! Everything cool out there?

    I know that for a business to appear in the Google 3 Pack (and now Google 2 Pack on mobile devices) there is the question of proximity, however the business that has the Google My Business listing well optimized hardly loses its ranking. But I confess that I was worried. Do companies in Google 3 Pack risk losing their ratings?

Comments are closed.