Between November 30 and December 8, 2021, Google rolled out a local search update meant to improve local search results. The Google December 2021 local search update is the first official one in 6 years, since 2016.
Dubbed the “Vicinity update” in the SEO industry, this update adjusted the criteria for ranking in the Map Pack to bring more relevant search results to users based on their location. For businesses, this means a greater chance of ranking well in relevant local searches without competing with businesses that are located further away.
Another key change in this update is the fact that using keywords in Google Business Profile listing names has been devalued.
What led to this update?
It is widely known that Google is investing heavily in improving user experience. Google’s end goal is to have its search results help people and they will continuously update their algorithm to do so.
However, when an update is significant—as with this local search update—they also publicly confirm it.
The Vicinity update is responsible for improving the relevance of local search results and making sure any previous advantage of adding keywords to the Google Business Profile (GBP) listing name has been suppressed.
Will this impact my visibility in local searches?
Because this update is widely related to proximity to a physical location, if you’re experiencing fluctuations in the number of calls from Google Business Profile listings, whether they have increased or decreased, this is most likely the result of this update.
Based on our research and tests, this update is focused on local results and surrounding zip codes, making it more difficult for businesses to rank in areas farther away from their physical location.
With regards to the listing name spam, we do not anticipate any negative impact for our clients as we have not relied on spam tactics in the past.
Our recommendations and next steps
As previously stated, our 2022 local search strategy focuses heavily on Google Business Profile (GBP) listings and gaining local search visibility for top keywords in the area where our clients have physical locations.
Please note that, when optimizing local listings, we always use the Google guidelines for local rankings. This includes avoiding spam tactics such as adding keywords to the GBP listing name. As such, the current update is likely to be a win for our clients as we have been invested in fighting name spam.
Here’s a visualization of before and after the Google December 2021 local search update (note the dip in rankings on December 13):
The Google tweet confirming the change stated that “general guidance for businesses remains the same,” which is good news for our clients as we base our strategy on long-term results by following official guidelines.
Our main focus moving forward is to ensure we are optimizing local listings for the main keywords and obtaining rankings in the location zip codes. We will also look to target surrounding areas, but this may be more difficult in the future due to the Vicinity update.
Other noteworthy items
- Should your ranking on the local search results be affected, it does not indicate that your previous local SEO strategy was not sound. It simply means Google is using different algorithms and locations to determine which Google profile listings to deliver for a search query. As a result, we need to re-analyze the local search results and ensure we’re meeting all requirements to rank in the top 3.
- If you’re getting more calls from local search results, we may still need to optimize GBP listings to ensure they are relevant for localized searches.
- An important note to make here is that changes can always be reversed. If Google data shows that the intended user experience improvement was not achieved, they will make adjustments. As such, one of the primary things we focus on when managing our client portfolio is monitoring patterns and changes and continuously improving the local SEO strategy so pages continue to rank and generate leads.
What’s next for local search?
Moving forward, we are testing and researching the implications of this Google local search update to make sure we have the best plan in place for each client. If there are cases where a local listing is not in the Google map pack for main keywords, we will initiate a competitive analysis and listing analysis to find ways to gain or regain position.
Hennessey Digital is committed to staying on top of Google core updates like these and sharing our POV on how clients may be affected.