Local Search Results are Recalibrated by Google Algorithm Update
Google rolled out an algorithm update in December 2021 that has proved to be the most significant local search update in the past several years. Google confirmed the update a few weeks ago. In its usual understated manner, Google described the update as “a rebalancing of various factors we consider when generating local search results.”
For local searches, proximity, relevance, and prominence all play a role. Although Google does not disclose the exact weighting of each factor, it is clear that proximity has become more important as part of the rebalancing. This may affect your business listing in local search results.
Google has not announced changes to its guidelines for local search optimization; however, the update does not change its overall goals for local search; instead, it focuses on improving the quality of local search results. To put it simply, it is improving its ranking by giving greater weight to proximity.
A business listing’s relevance to a search term used to determine the top rankings in local search results. This often resulted in the SERPs returning a search result that was far from the searcher’s location.
The updated algorithm favors proximity over distance and helps combat attempts to manipulate the previous algorithm, especially by less-than-local businesses appearing in local SERPs. The ability to manipulate their content has allowed more businesses to achieve local rankings for searches that are geographically distant from their actual location. As a result of this update, businesses that are located close to the searcher are seeing an increase in their SERP presence, while businesses located further away from the searcher are experiencing a decline in their local share of voice.
Another observation underlines Google’s longstanding, closely related secondary goal of fighting spam: we are seeing a shift in the share of voice from businesses with keyword-optimized names to those without keywords. There are no specific guidelines from Google on this point, but its guidelines against keyword stuffing provide some insight.
The local 3-pack results and map design in the SERP are also being updated concurrently. With the new desktop search design, the results are placed on the left side of the page, and the results are accompanied by a square map. Since the update is being rolled out simultaneously with the algorithm update, it’s unclear how the design change will affect results.
Takeaways from the Study
The latest Google algorithm update for local search gives more weight to proximity as a ranking factor. Google’s rebalancing effort is already having an impact on search results: prominent and relevant business listings that are geographically further away from the searcher are dropping in search rank, while nearby, relevant businesses with previously less prominence are rising. Additionally, the SERP is protected from attempts to game the system by reducing consideration for keywords in the business name.
Businesses that are reliant on local customers have a better chance of reaching those customers in the future and should invest their time and efforts into optimizing their business listings. In contrast, businesses that were performing well in local searches far away from their location in the past may no longer be able to do so and will need to recalibrate to serve customers farther away.
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