Google Vicinity: Many local businesses have noticed considerable fluctuations in their local search rankings over the last few weeks, with Google confirming a critical update to the local Algorithm.
Rolling out between November 30th and December 8th, this update has been named ‘Vicinity’ by Sterling Sky. The Algorithm is the most significant change to the local Algorithm since Possum in 2016 and has caused widespread ranking disruption.
Google confirmed this update in a tweet on December 16th:
What about Vicinity?
It looks like Vicinity got its name because it seems to 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 rank far from their actual business location successfully.
Through the Vicinity update, Google now appears to be clamping down on this, naturally making 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 companies that are further away.
When it comes to adding keywords into the business name of a Google Business Profile (GBP) listing, research from Sterling Sky found that the update has decreased the potential advantage of doing so.
The Sterling Sky data revealed that businesses using keywords (inappropriately) in their name have now primarily seen a drop in search rankings. Now it is likely to be a win for companies who have consistently followed Google’s guidelines on keyword stuffing and those who have invested their time in fighting name spam.
Changes in Local Search Rankings
Brightlocal’s Local RankFlux Tool Towards the end of the Vicinity rollout showed significant changes to local search volatility. Local RankFlux tracks daily keyword ranking movement to measure fluctuations and identify suspected updates to Google’s Algorithm, providing a score out of ten for each day.
During the rollout period, search volatility rose gradually to a peak at 6.2 according to the Brightlocal tool.
The Old Possum Update.
Before Vicinity hit, Possum was the last significant change to the local search algorithm. Rolling out in 2016, Possum served better to filter the Local Pack and Local Finder results. Several businesses of a similar niche
were operating in the same building; they would filter them out of the search results. (* Problem with some of the Virtual Office Buildings. Make sure you check what type of businesses are using the address.
At the time, local SEOs also theorized that Possum emphasized proximity as a local ranking factor. It decreased the influence that the organic authority has over Local Pack/Finder rankings.
Google Local Pack Redesign (aka 3-pack)
Google released The Vicinity update around the same time that Google made design changes to the Local Pack. The redesign means that all Local Pack results will return a list of three results on the left with a map on the right over the coming weeks. The old design—which features three results below a map—has been the norm since 2015.
The new Local 3-Pack design.
As local SEOs began sharing sightings of the new Local Pack design in early December, many reported significant changes to rankings and traffic. Some attributed this to the redesign, whereas others turned their attention to a potential algorithm update.
While commenting on the redesign, Google said it’s “constantly exploring ways to connect people with the helpful information.”
As Vicinity rolls out alongside the new Local Pack, this remains unknown if this will provide a better search experience. SEO After Coffee feels local consumers will have a better search experience as businesses will receive more traffic.
What does Vicinity mean for local South Carolina 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 to boost visibility, local businesses should:
- Enter complete data
- Verify locations
- Keep opening hours accurate
- Manage and respond to reviews
- Add photos
- Add Posts
As Google develops this new algorithm, we expect that the user experience will always be important to any resulting changes. SC Local businesses will need to continue to adapt to the new search landscape. Also, closely adhering to the guidelines to achieve sustainable search result success.