Digital Transformation Agency

Has your local SEO dipped? This might be why

By Kerry Dye | Head of SME SEO

Vertical Leap

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February 9, 2022 | 7 min read

If your local search presence has dipped since the tail-end of 2021, you may be experiencing the ill effects of an algorithm update. Nicknamed the 'vicinity update', it appeared to place greater emphasis on business locations, having a major impact on local listings. Here Kerry Dye, head of search engine optimization (small-to-medium business) at Vertical Leap shares what she's learned about the vicinity update.

The November 2021 local search update

On December 16, the Google Search Central Twitter account confirmed that a local search update started rolling out on November 30, concluding on December 8, more than a week earlier.

Google normally announces algorithm updates ahead of rollout, on the day of rollout or not at all; certainly not eight days after completion. Google may have simply forgotten to announce this particular update, despite the SEO community reporting heavy fluctuations in local search engine results pages (SERPs) in the first week of December.

Many businesses were caught out by this update during the most important consumer period of the year. Many may still be wondering why poor performance during the holiday season has spilled over into 2022.

What did the update change?

The November 2021 local search update was the biggest of its kind in many years but, for support, Google simply pointed to their usual guidance for local businesses. As with most local updates, this suggests the so-called 'vicinity update' tweaked the balance of the three key ranking factors listed on the same page.

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“Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance and prominence. A combination of these factors helps us find the best match for your search. For example, our algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results.” - How to improve your local ranking on Google, Google Business Profile Help

These three factors are:

  1. Relevance - how well a local business profile matches what someone is searching for. Add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your profile to relevant searches.
  2. Distance - how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we know about their location.
  3. Prominence: how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels or well-known shop brands are likely to be prominent in local search results.

With this update, it appears the distance factor has gained greater emphasis.

Why are some calling this the ‘vicinity update’?

The November 2021 local search update saw businesses drop completely from results they were used to ranking for while others that had never ranked for certain keywords were suddenly featuring in the top results.

This is illustrated in a write-up published on Search Engine Land, showing how the update appears to have affected the distance signal in Google’s local algorithm.

            Image: vl-google-map-pins-before-after-vicinity-update.png

As we detailed on our own summary of the update, this wasn’t the only factor affected:

  • The distance signal appears to have more weight following the update
  • Smaller, more local businesses are ranking above more prominent businesses located further away from the user
  • Businesses previously ranking for searches very far from locations lose visibility
  • Companies with keywords in their business names may suffer
  • Companies not using keywords in their business name (especially those with competitors that do use keywords) may benefit
  • Secondary locations for prominent businesses with multiple locations

Interestingly, smaller local businesses were positively impacted in more cases than larger companies with multiple businesses locations that had previously ranked in distances further away from their physical locations.

This update could be a win for small, single-location businesses that previously struggled to rank ahead of larger competitors.

Get your Google Business Profile in order

The November 2021 local search update makes it even more important for companies to complete and update their Google Business Profiles - especially smaller companies that only have a single business location.

This will maximize potential positive impacts from the update. It will also minimize any negative impact for companies that have lost visibility since the end of last year.

Digital Transformation Agency

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Vertical Leap is the most effective search marketing agency in the UK. We use data science and intelligent automation to analyse millions of data points, allowing us to achieve more scale than is humanly possible and make evidence-driven decisions that get results.

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