Google recently removed a search feature that was a favorite among SEO professionals, but an alternative remains available.
Until recently, Google search users could set a location and view search results as if the user were in that location. This was provided alongside other filters such as date range, which are accessible by clicking on “Search tools” at the top of a results page. SEO professionals used this to understand how results differed for users in various locations. Travelers could use it to get results more relevant to a location they would soon be in.
In a statement to Search Engine Land, Google said the feature was removed because “it was getting very little usage.” This fits an ongoing trend for Google, which has removed several other search filters in years past.
Fortunately, the “Ad Preview and Diagnosis” tool on Google’s AdWords site provides similar functionality. It is provided so that advertisers can see how their ad is displayed for various types of searches, but it works just as well for other purposes. You don’t even need an AdWords account to use it; Google provides a “logged-out” version. On the left sidebar, the location filter can be changed by entering any city, country, or postal code you wish. The searches you then perform will be displayed as if you are located there.
Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land had an interesting theory as an alternative to Google’s official story on why the feature was removed. The European Union’s “Right to be Forgotten” law allows people to opt out of being included in search results. In order to comply, Google must do what it can to prevent European users from seeing search results pertaining to those people. However, those search results remain visible to users in the US and elsewhere. Thus, the removal of the location filter may help Google fulfill its responsibilities by making it more difficult for European users to view results that are filtered in their home countries.