For a couple of years now, Google Maps has decreased the influence of proximity upon rankings. However, what if your search query includes the keyword, “downtown”?
If the query includes “downtown”, such as in the phrase “downtown coffee shops seattle”, or “downtown hotels, nashville, tn”, then proximity appears to be given a whole lot more importance.
If you test across a number of keywords and large cities, you’ll find that there are a significant number of search combinations where there appear to be some special search behavior invoked — searches including “downtown” seem to cause the algorithm to drop back to a shorter radius within the centroid of the downtown areas of cities, and the ranking weight of the proximity seems to be intensified.
Is it due to special functionality or keyword relevance?
In some cases, the difference in rankings could be due to businesses which are closely associated with the “downtown” keyword, having that term in their homepage titles, or in their descriptions on their Google Place pages.
However, in other cases, there’s a less-clear association with the term as a keyword, giving some reason to suspect that there may indeed be special functionality that gets invoked when “downtown” is included with the search query.