by rachel

GOOGLE’S VICINITY UPDATE: THE BIGGEST LOCAL SEO UPDATE WE’VE SEEN IN 5 YEARS

3 min read

[Our November 2021 local search update has concluded. It began on Nov 30 and ran through Dec 8. It involved a rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results. The general guidance for businesses remains the same as covered here: https://t.co/uyXFfmUEIR“>https://t.co/uyXFfmUEIR

— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) https://twitter.com/googlesearchc/status/1471546117125029889?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw“>December 16, 2021]

WHAT HAPPENED:

On November 30th Google quietly rolled out a significant update, with some of the biggest changes starting to appear around December 18th. They later confirmed that there was an Algorithm Update, and the results are pretty astounding. 

Volatility has been off the charts for over a month and finally started to settle down by the beginning of January. 

This is the biggest update to local SEO and the Local SERP (Search Engine Results Page) since 2017. Typically when an Algorithm Update rolls out, Local SEO is affected but not as much as Organic results; however, this most recent update seems to have been specifically affecting Local SEO & the Map Pack.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN:

Google is famously tight-lipped about their updates, so we have had to wait and observe to see what the Algorithm Update affected to know for sure. Here are two of the biggest findings we have discovered so far:

Shrinking of the Map Pack:

 The biggest pattern we have noticed is a shrinking of the Map pack (hence the name, “Vicinity Update”). For a long time Google My Business rankings have been heavily weighted by a variety of factors, with the largest one being Proximity, or how physically close the searcher is to the business. This most recent update seems to have greatly increased the weight of Proximity, which in turn has “shrunk” the size of the map pack. Putting it more simply, businesses are finding it much harder to rank in that 3 pack for locations outside of their home city. However, the positive side of this is that smaller businesses do not have to compete as heavily with bigger franchises snatching up valuable Map Pack space when they are miles away. 

Here’s an example of the Map Pack as it looks since the update:

Query: “Furnace Repair”

Devaluing of Keywords in the Business Name

Another side effect we’re seeing of this update is a devaluing of keywords in the business name. For quite a while we were seeing that including strong keywords in your business name (such as “Plumbing”, “Air Conditioning”, “Heating, etc.) on GBP could help improve rankings, only if done carefully with a full brand name change. Unfortunately, people have been taking advantage of this tactic by stuffing keywords into the business name without doing their due diligence and having their profiles suspended by spam busters. Now after this update, it seems that Google has devalued the need for keywords in the business name, helping to combat spammy listing on the Map Pack. This is not to say that having keywords in your business name will mean negative consequences, rather it will not give as much of a boost in rankings as it previously would have. 

WHAT TO DO NOW?

As usual, it’s always a good idea to take a step back and be PROactive instead of REactive. Every time there is an update, it doesn’t mean that we need to “fix” anything that was “wrong”, rather that we must make sure we follow the same guidelines Google has always used, and ensure that we are studying all the new changes in each update and staying up to date with best practices!

Google’s official recommendations are:

  • Enter Complete Data
  • Verify Locations
  • Keep Opening Hours Accurate
  • Manage and Respond to Reviews
  • Add High-Quality Photos


(For a bit more information on each of these items, check out their official Support article here: https://support.google.com/business/answer/7091?hl=en#zippy=%2Cmanage-respond-to-reviews)

These are just some of the things that we at Wit are constantly doing for you guys, so you can rest assured that we’ve got it handled! We will be doing a thorough sweep of your GBP listing and making tweaks anywhere that could use a little adjustment. 

If you’re wondering how you can get involved, one of the best ways to interact with your GBP is by asking for reviews, responding to negative reviews (negative reviews can actually be good for your business if you handle them right), and updating your GMB listing with photos of you & your team on the job!

For more information or more GBP tips, reach out to your team at Wit Digital today!

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