Google confirms biggest local search algorithm update in five years

Many local businesses have noticed huge fluctuations in their local search rankings over the past few weeks, with Google now confirming a major update to the local algorithm.

Released between November 30 and December 8, this update was called “Neighborhood” by Sterling Sky. This is the biggest change to the local algorithm since Possum in 2016 and caused a widespread ranking break.

Google confirmed the update in a tweet on December 16:

What is it about?

This update gets its name from the fact that it appears to primarily aim at proximity as a ranking factor.

While proximity has long been an important signal for local search results, it’s also true that businesses can optimize to successfully position themselves away from their actual location.

Through the Vicinity update, Google now appears to crack down on this problem, which will naturally make local search results more relevant to the user. In terms of the benefit to businesses, this gives them a greater chance of ranking well in relevant local searches, as they will compete less with companies further away.

When it comes to adding keywords in the business name of a Google (GBP) business profile, Sterling Sky’s research found that the update has reduced the potential benefit of doing so.

Sterling Sky data revealed that companies using keywords (improperly) in their name have now largely seen a drop in search rankings. This is likely to be a win for companies that have consistently followed Google’s guidelines on keyword stuffing and for those who have invested their time in combating name spam.

Local search expert Claire Carlile said, “I’m thrilled to think this update has reduced the impact of keyword stuffing in company names.

“I see a tremendous amount of increased map visibility for a company in the healthcare niche that now has greater significance as competitor lists that were full of keywords have slid down the rankings. I’m super interested in what others see! “

Changes to the local search ranking

Towards the end of the Vicinity launch, our Local RankFlux tool detected significant changes in the volatility of local search.

Local RankFlux tracks daily keyword ranking movement to measure fluctuations and identify suspicious updates to Google’s algorithm, providing a score out of ten for each day.

During the implementation period, the volatility of the research gradually increased until it peaked at 6.2.

As you can see from the data above, search volatility has slowly returned to normal levels in the wake of the November 2021 local search update.

Huge ranking fluctuations have been observed across a wide range of different industries within the local sphere.

Here is an example of how the ranking of a key search term has varied for a company during and after implementation.

December 1:

Local search grid

December 15:

Ranking results Local search

As can be seen from the two images above, the activity in question has increased its rankings in the immediate area.

The upgrade of the possum

Before Vicinity came along, Possum was the last major change in the local search algorithm. Launched in 2016, Possum served to better filter results in the Local Pack and Local Finder. This largely meant that if several businesses of a similar nature operated in the same building, most of them would be excluded from the results.

At the time, local SEOs also theorized that Possum was placing greater emphasis on proximity as a local ranking factor and that it was also reducing the influence that a website’s organic authority has on Local Pack / Finder rankings.

Google Local Pack redesign

The Vicinity update was released around the same time that Google made design changes to the Local Pack. The redesign means that in the coming weeks, all Local Pack results will return a list of three results on the left with a map on the right. . The old design, which features three results under one map, has been the norm since 2015.

The new local package design:

Local package redesign

When local SEOs started sharing sightings of the new Local Pack design in early December, many also reported big changes to rankings and traffic. Some attributed this to the redesign, while others were turning their attention to a potential algorithm update.

While commenting on the redesign, Google said it “constantly explores ways to connect people with the useful information they’re looking for.” As Vicinity rolls out alongside the new Local Pack, it remains to be seen whether this will provide a better search experience for local consumers and better search traffic for local businesses.

What does Proximity mean for local entrepreneurs?

In the tweet confirming the change, Google said, “The general guidelines for businesses remain the same,” along with a link to guidelines on how to improve local rankings.

The guidelines explain that the algorithm determines results based on relevance, distance and relief, so nothing has changed here. Within this advice, Google also suggests that to increase visibility, local businesses should:

  • Enter your complete data
  • Check the locations
  • Keep opening hours accurate
  • Manage and respond to reviews
  • Add photos

As Google continues to develop the local search algorithm, it is to be expected that the user experience will always be at the heart of any resulting changes.

Local businesses will need to continue to adapt to the landscape and strictly adhere to guidelines to achieve sustainable research success.

Have you been affected by the Vicinity update? Let us know everything in the comments below!

Alix Coe

Alix is ​​BrightLocal’s Content Marketing Manager. They focus on sharing insights into the world of local SEO, with a particular interest in reporting the latest industry news.

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