Chatter between Local SEO’s across the internet has not been this exciting since “Bedlam” in 2019… If you find this sort of thing exciting that is (I sadly, I do). Bedlam was more of a bug than an update, as it turned out. Some are even saying not since August 2015 has the “3 pack” been as volatile as it is at the moment. Back then the map results were drastically reduced from 7 businesses to just 3, leaving many businesses nowhere to be seen.
In a similar fashion, businesses that ranked highly just a month ago, are now vanishing from the map pack. Google (via their @googlesearchc Google Search Central twitter account) confirmed on 16th December that their “November 2021 local search update has concluded”. The update was aimed at “rebalancing…various factors we consider in generating local search results”.
Our November 2021 local search update has concluded. It began Nov 30 and ran through Dec 8. It involved a rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results. General guidance for businesses remains the same as covered here: https://t.co/uyXFfmUEIR
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) December 16, 2021
As usual, Google has been fairly nondescript with their naming convention, but due to its nature and the impact it has had on results, it has assumed the name “Vicinity update”.
What Impact has the Vicinity Update Had?
It seems that the major “rebalancing” that Google refers to, is to try and address proximity as a ranking factor. We have known proximity is important in Local SEO for a long time, and as a result savvy businesses have implemented various tactics to optimise their profiles and websites to achieve ranking benefits far from their physical locations. With this latest update, it seems to be Google’s attempt to clamp down on this perceived “gaming” of the system. Broadly speaking, initial results seem to suggest that businesses that now rank are closer to the searcher, and in theory at least, are therefore more relevant. From a businesses perspective, it may be that they will not have to worry so much about competitors that are outside their immediate vicinity. (There’s that word again.) Experts have noticed that map results have shrunk in size as a result, as in the area of the displayed map is now smaller. Coupled with this, Google are in the process of rolling out a new design for map results on desktop, which shows a square map to the right of the list of 3 businesses, (as opposed to the rectangular map above). It hasn’t reached all locations as yet, but it is expected to become the norm imminently.
Any other things to worry/not worry about from a Local SEO perspective?
Another long known ranking factor that some businesses have tried to game in the past, is the presence of keywords in the Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business aka GMB) name. So a profile named “Acme Personal Injury Lawyers London” might have in the past performed better from a ranking perspective than “Specters Solicitors”. Although this practice of keyword stuffing was and is against Google ToS (unless the name is an actual registered business name of course) many businesses did sneak in a keyword or two regardless. Research from Sterling Sky into the update, indicates that these gamers are vanishing from the map pack. As a result, bona fide businesses should reap the benefits from now on.
In their tweet above, you’ll see Google reiterating that their advice for business owners remains the same, with a link to their guidelines, which basically are to use the Google Business Profile as much as possible. Make sure your data (Name Address Phone Number – NAP, opening hours etc) is correct, get reviews (and answer them), and add photos of your business.
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