Google’s Biggest Local Search Update in Five Years

Many local businesses may have noticed huge fluctuations in their local search rankings over the last few weeks, with Google now confirming an important update to the local algorithm.

Rolling out between November 30th and December 8th, this update has been named ‘Vicinity’. This is the largest change to the local algorithm since Possum in 2016 and has caused widespread ranking disruption.

What Is Vicinity ?

This update is named after the fact that it seems to primarily target proximity as a ranking factor.

Although proximity has long been an important signal for local search results, it’s also been the case that businesses can optimize to successfully rank far from their actual business location.

Through the Vicinity update, Google now appears to be clamping down on this, 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 to rank well in relevant local searches, as they’ll be competing less with businesses that are further away.

When it comes to adding keywords into the business name of a Google Business Profile (GBP) listing, the update has decreased the potential advantage of doing so.

Businesses using keywords (inappropriately) in their name have now largely seen a drop in search rankings. This is likely to be a win for the businesses who have consistently followed Google’s guidelines on keyword stuffing, and for those who have invested their time in fighting name spam.

What does Vicinity mean for local business owners?

In the tweet confirming the change, Google said, “General guidance for businesses remains the same”, alongside a link to guidelines on how to improve local rankings.

The guidelines explain that the algorithm determines results based on relevance, distance, and prominence—so nothing’s changed here. Within this advice, Google also suggests that in order to boost visibility, local businesses should:

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

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

Local businesses will have to continue to adapt to the landscape and closely adhere to the guidelines in order to achieve sustainable search success.