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The Vicinity Update - Google Business Algorithm Update

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Although Google has made several major algorithm updates over the years, the most recent update that took place in December has had a significant impact on local businesses of all sizes.

The most recent update is being refereed to as 'The Vicinity Update'.

How does Google determine local rankings?

There has been an evolution to the way that businesses are ranked over the years.

Relevance

This refers to how well a local business profile matches what someone is searching for. Google looks to the business details you added to your business profile to better understand your business and determine whether it is relevant to the searcher.

Distance (a.k.a proximity)

This refers to how far your business is from the location term that the user types into their search. In the event that they do not type a location (ex: plumber), Google will calculate a distance based on what they know about their location.

Prominence

This refers to how well known Google feels your business is. Google determines prominence by looking for mentions of your business across the web. Things like links from trust worthy websites, mentions of your business in articles, newspapers and directories all play into this as well. Your review count and review score also factor into this, and also another reason why keeping a steady stream of good reviews coming in is so important.

Your organic ranking (how well you rank for the results underneath the map listings) also influences your business prominence and in turn helps you rank higher within the map rankings as well.

If you'd like to read further on this, you can visit Google's support article - How to improve your local rankings on Google

What is the vicinity update?

This update influences the way that Google looks at 'distance' or proximity from the searcher. As shown above, distance is a key factor in how Google determines local rankings.

For the past several years, we've seen listings able to rank strongly even if they weren't close to their searcher. Also, having keywords in the business name was a strongly correlating factor as well.

Since, the vicinity update we are seeing the distance in which your listing can show up and the impact of keywords in business names both decrease.

Within Google's support articles, they mention that when a searcher does not type in a location with their search (ex: plumber toronto), they will automatically calculate the ideal distance away from the user that they will pull business listings from. This calculation of the area looks like what has been effected.

Since this area is now reduced, it means that the footprint of many local listings have been reduced as well. Which results in less eye balls on your listing and less actions taken by searchers.

This update also seems to have impacted the effectiveness of keywords in business names. Having keywords in business names was a tactic used that helped businesses rank higher and around a bigger distance vs. businesses that didn't have keywords. For example, if there was two plumbing businesses competing for the same market, the one named 'Toronto Plumbing Services' would more likely be shown in top positions, for a wider area, than a busienss named Roy Sons Mechanical. Although this was an effective tactic in the past (although frowned upon in Google's eyes), businesses that relied on this tactic seem to be impacted the most. Not only has their listings footprint been reduced, but the help that keywords in their business name has been reduced as well.

How did it impact local businesses?

There are numerous reports of businesses ranking for less keywords (especially the ones with keyword-rich business names) and those that were playing by the rules, showing up more often.

Listings that were dominating search results before are dominating less, and many listings that weren't able to perform well before are doing better.

With that said, with any updates like this there is always collateral damage. There are hard working businesses that were playing by the rules who have also seen their rankings drop and have experienced a business impact. Less visibility means less calls, and less calls means less business and revenue.

What can you do about it?

Short of establishing new locations to expand your footprint, your best bet is to continue to work hard on establishing relevance and prominence in Googles eyes. Continue to work on ranking well in the organic search results by maintaining a well structured website, with key service pages for your service areas. Also, keep your business listing active and continue to post updates and show Google that you're a business that cares for their customers.

  • Enter complete data
  • Verify your locations
  • Keep your hours active
  • Manage & respond to reviews
  • Add photos
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