What Google’s Vicinity Update Means For Local Business Owners
A significant update from Google always causes a bit of a stir, but when the tech giant introduced its Vicinity update at the end of 2021, many businesses felt more shaken than stirred.
Many websites reported major differences in Google’s local 3-pack results. There were reports of fluctuating and falling rankings. Some said they’d noticed that businesses which had dominated previously had slipped right down the rankings. Others said their local search results and traffic were significantly down, particularly on Google maps. The timing of all this turbulence was clearly linked to Vicinity (an update which Google tweeted had been rolled out between 30 November and 8 December last year) and whilst things will certainly settle over time, many websites have work to do on their local SEO.
What Google’s Vicinity Update Means
The update was essentially about Google putting greater value on ‘proximity’ as a key ranking factor and building on its stated objective of improving user experience. Proximity has long been an important factor in local search results and it’s now playing an even more crucial role in making local search results more relevant. I think it’s great news for both users and local businesses.
Why it’s a win for local businesses
Historically, business have been able to optimise their Google My Business listings so that they can rank in local searches even though they were outside of that particular area (and in some cases, a long, long way from it!). This update reduces the likelihood of businesses manipulating their ‘local’ rankings through the inappropriate use of keywords. In other words, keyword stuffing is no longer a way to gain an unfair advantage. This all means that legitimate local businesses won’t have to compete with those located outside of their locations anymore. Google has basically levelled the local playing fields.
If you’re just getting started with GMB check out my free Beginners Guide to Google My Business.
Why it’s a win for users
Users get relevant, highly targeted results. Google itself said that it is ‘constantly exploring ways to connect people with the helpful information they are seeking’ and this update is a good example of their objectives in action.
Around the time of Vicinity’s release, Google also changed the design of its Local Pack. Instead of the three results below the map (a format that had been in place since 2015), the refreshed design now features the list of three results on the left with a map on the right. The map is now square, not rectangular and smaller.
Google’s advice via Twitter was that ‘General guidance for businesses remains the same’ and the tweet included a link to advice on how websites could improve local rankings. I agree that the early volatility will settle and that local business should follow Google’s guidelines to boost their online visibility. I also strongly recommend that local business owners take a close look at their SEO to see where they can adapt and improve tactics. Their aim should be to make their online presence as helpful, useful and relevant to users as possible.
Under Google’s guidelines, local businesses should ensure their:
- Data is complete. Their NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) details must be consistent and accurate
- Location/s are verified
- Opening hours are up-to-date
Local businesses also need to be vigilant and diligent when it comes to reviews. All reviews – good or bad – deserve (and need) a response.
Local businesses should also be evaluating their Google Business Profile (GBP) as this honestly is their most valuable tool for increasing organic traffic, boosting visibility and improving rankings for local search terms. GBP was previously known as Google My Business.
As mentioned, data should be complete, consistent and current. The fluid Covid-19 landscape with constantly changing rules and requirements for businesses is a good example of why website owners need to be on the ball with regards to updating information. Businesses should also be refreshing content on their GBP listings regularly and adding photos.
Vicinity is the biggest local search algorithm update in five years and should positively impact local business owners and local consumers. Search results should represent the local business landscape more accurately, delivering much more relevant, targeted and niche results.
So if you’re a local business owner, you can’t change the location of your operation – it is what it is – but you can make an effort to re-evaluate and perhaps restructure your SEO strategy in response to Vicinity.
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