What Big Brands Need to Know About Google’s Filter

I work with a lot of insurance agents and they often tell me that their biggest competitors are the other insurance agents that work for the same company as them. As it is with most big brands, there are multiple offices in the same city and those individual locations all want to rank first on Google for the exact same thing.

An accidental discovery

I stumbled across something a few months ago when troubleshooting ranking for one of our insurance clients, and everyone I’ve shared this with was just as surprised as I was.

The discovery? Google filters out a ton of pages for big brands (organically), which seems to have a direct impact on which locations rank in the local 3-pack.

To illustrate this, I’ll look at a few examples. Usually when I search for a branded term, the people that rank high in the 3-pack also rank high organically, as illustrated below.

What’s interesting is that you’ll notice there are only 3 organic results that belong to this brand before you start seeing small business directories like Yellowpages or Yelp.

However, when you add &filter=0 to the end of the URL string, you will see that most of these location pages are being filtered out. Adding this search operator to the URL is the same as if you went to the last page of results and click the message that states:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the [X] already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

This isn’t just happening to one brand; it’s happening to most.

It also doesn’t just happen in the insurance industry. Any big brand that has multiple offices/branches that are serving the same city would possibly run into this. Here is another example for the search “H&R Block Houston”:

Why is Google doing this?

Most people are aware that Google filters duplicate content. They want to provide their users with unique results, not a repetitive list of the same thing over and over. This is part of why they have a filter — to keep a single domain from completely dominating the search results page.

How does Google decide who gets filtered?

Whichever pages have the highest ranking power and are the most relevant are the ones that end up showing first and avoid the filter. As no surprise to anyone in the SEO community, the common factor I see influencing this the most is links. Often the first couple that show up have some good local links from some charity they sponsored in town or some professional organization they’re a part of that the other offices don’t have.

What should big brands be doing differently?

  1. Make the pages for your locations more different. When I compared two of the filtered pages for one insurance brand, the content on the two different agents’ pages was 77% the same. I looked at two location pages for a tax accountant business in the UK and they were 81% the same. A lack of unique content is an easy way to trigger Google’s filter since the pages look like duplicates. Be wary of using widgets that copy the same content to every page.
  2. Take advantage of targeting zip codes or community names so that each location can rank better for different types of keywords that are more central to their area. For example, there’s a community called Unionville which is inside the city of Markham, ON, yet most franchises target only Markham on their sites.
  3. Try to get more links to the individual location pages so they’re more authoritative. Many sites automatically link to the homepage for a big brand instead of linking to the page that lists the information about that specific location.

Other uses for &filter=0

I also use this feature regularly to find out if Google is confused about which page to show for the keyword I’m targeting. If I want to do a good job at local SEO, I don’t want Google to be confused! Often it will reveal pages that Google thinks is related to that same keyword, even if it’s slightly different (“dog trainer” vs “dog training”). I once had a client who had his homepage ranking and service page (that we wanted to rank) filtered. By removing some of the duplicate content on the homepage and changing some things in the meta tags, we were able to solve that problem and saw his ranking increase over the next couple months.

Have you found other good uses for the &filter=0 search operator? Tell me about them in the comments.