At the beginning of December, Google rolled out an algorithm update that proves to be the most significant local search update in several years. search giant Confirm the update last week. Google, in its typical minimalist style, described the update as “a rebalancing of the various factors we consider when creating local search results.”
The three factors that determine local search rankings are: proximity, relevance, and popularity. Although Google does not reveal the exact weighting of each factor, it is clear that with rebalancing, convergence takes on more weight. These changes may affect your business listing in local search.
While Google has not announced changes to its guidelines for improving local search, the update does not change the company’s goals around local search, but rather focuses on improving the quality of local search results. In simple terms, it achieves this improvement by increasing the weight of proximity in its ranking.
Previously, the relevance of the list of companies to search terms played a larger role in determining the highest rankings in local search results. Oftentimes, this meant that the SERP would return a search result even if the business was not close to the searcher’s location.
By giving more attention to proximity, the update helps combat efforts to manipulate the previous algorithm, especially by less-than-local companies that were appearing in local SERPs. Over time, more companies have been able to manipulate their content to win local rankings for searches that are, in fact, geographically far from the company’s actual location. After this update, companies closer to the Finder see an improved SERP presence, while companies far from the Finder see a decrease in the local share of voice.
While the focus of the algorithm update on proximity is the headline, the old and closely related secondary goal of Google for anti-spam is emphasized by another note: their names. Google hasn’t released any special guidelines on this point, but its guidelines against keyword stuffing provide some insight.
All of this happens in conjunction with an update of the 3-pack local results and map design in the SERP. The new desktop search design places results on the left side of the page with a new square map to the right of the results. Since it is being rolled out along with an algorithm update, it is not yet entirely clear what effect the design change will have on the results.
Google’s recent algorithm update for local search places more weight on proximity as a ranking factor. The rebalancing effort is already affecting search results: listings of prominent and relevant businesses that are geographically far from a searcher lag behind in search rankings, while businesses that are closer, more relevant and previously less well-known rank higher. Less consideration of keywords in a business name also protects the SERP from attempts to manipulate the system.
Going forward, businesses that rely on nurturing local customers have an improved chance of reaching these customers and should invest time and effort to improve their business listings. On the other hand, companies that previously performed well on local searches that occur relatively far from their locations will need to recalibrate and find new ways to serve customers in remote locations.