Google is constantly making changes to it’s ranking algorithm in an effort to provide the most relevant results to its users. On Dec. 16, Google confirmed via an official Twitter account an update to its ranking algorithm for local search. The tech giant rolled out this algorithm update across its platform between Nov. 30th and Dec. 8th, 2021.
The search team at Sterling Sky (a Canadian agency specializing in local search) was one of the first to notice drastic changes in a handful of local search results and dubbed the update “vicinity,” a name which has taken hold in the SEO community. The name is appropriate because it seems to primarily focus on proximity as a ranking factor.
Initial analysis suggests that the bulk of changes relate to the following points:
- Greater weight is given to proximity (how close the searcher is to the business)
- Some map results show a generally smaller geographic area
- Local pack results are more diverse
Local Pack Redesign
Around the same time that Google rolled out the “Vicinity” update, it also changed-up the design of the local map pack in the search results. A Google spokesperson confirmed the redesign in a statement to Search Engine Land:
“We’re constantly exploring ways to connect people with the helpful information that they’re seeking. We’re currently rolling out an update to the Search interface on desktop so when people search for places or businesses nearby, like ’parks near me’ or ’restaurants near me,’ they’ll easily see local results on the left and a map on the right. We expect this to be broadly available over the coming weeks.”
In the new design, users are able to filter their own search results for local businesses by price, ratings, hours of operation, and in the case of restaurants, cuisine.
Will These Updates Impact My Rankings and Web Traffic?
If you operate a brick and mortar local business, the short answer is- yes. Google has always maintained that if businesses adhere to their guidelines, those businesses should have nothing to worry about. In their statement confirming the update, a spokesperson for Google said, “General guidance for businesses remains the same,” and included a link to their guidelines on how to improve local rankings. That said, it is in Google’s best interest to push their guidelines whenever they can. Here are some important things to consider, and how your local search visibility may be impacted.
The initial data suggests that Google is cracking down on some local SEO tactics which have always been frowned upon. One major tactic that is no longer seeing results is keyword stuffing in the Google Business Profile (GBP) name. At one time, you may have been able to add a target keyword (or two) into the name of your local business and see a ranking improvement for your listing. With this new update, there appears to be no benefit to doing so. So if you experienced great local pack rankings in the past by relying on this tactic, you will no longer see a benefit and your business profile may decrease in rankings.
Reviews on your GBP have been an increasingly important ranking factor, and this update places more emphasis than ever on how customers feel about your business- coupled with the fact that for many industries, users are now able to sort their local results by reviews. This means that you need more and better reviews than your competitors if you want to be seen.
As noted, this update places a much heavier emphasis on the location of the searcher in relation to the location of the business. For example: If in the past you tried to skirt Google guidelines by adding city names outside of where your business is actually located, you may have been getting impressions for searchers outside of your geographic area. With this update, we expect that this tactic will no longer be effective. Google wants to show the most relevant results to users, so if your business is located outside of the vicinity where a searcher is located, you may either not show up in the local map pack- or you may show lower than previously for that searcher.
What Can I Do to Improve My Local Rankings in Google?
At Geek Town USA, we always recommend following Google’s guidelines. That way, when algorithms shift, you can be confident that your visibility and rankings will remain intact. The task of managing your GBP can also be daunting and time consuming, which is why we offer Online Reputation Management services, GBP Optimization services, as well as a Review Dashboard to help you gain and manage your online reviews. Please let us know if you would like to know more about these service offerings by giving us a call at (248) 268-9000 or by filling out our online form.