Calvin Casalino, Senior Product Manager
Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights
Casey Drummond, Director, Client Success, Enterprise Business
Blog Date: February 2022
In late 2021, Google released its largest local algorithm update in 5 years, known as the "Google Vicinity Update." Yext's VP of Industry Insights, Duane Forrester, did a deep dive on the updates and provided us with his thoughts on Google's major changes and key takeaways for Yext's administrators.
Keywords in the Business Name
The Google Vicinity update partly focused on domains/businesses who were choosing to put keywords in their business name. Google appears to have corrected this and is no longer rewarding this type of behavior. This won't really affect "brand names" but instead focuses on keyword-rich instances. While your business name is technically a keyword, it's seen as a brand, and that's not what this update is focused on. Google is specifically focusing on combating spam and ensuring that your listed business name accurately reflects your business name in the physical world.
Proximity from the User Making the Search
The other main aspect to this update is that Google is more heavily weighting proximity as a ranking criteria. This means that when a user does a search, which in most instances is on a mobile device, Google is putting increased weighting on where the user is when they make that search and is trying to show the user more items related to the search that are nearby them. This also means that if your business was ranking for a search and were far away in proximity from where the user was when they conducted that search, your business is now less likely to rank the farther you are away from the search itself.
Google, last year, introduced improvements to the fidelity of information collected for, and available via, Google Maps. They are more aware of more things in the real world, have applied that into Maps and everything downstream that touches that Map data (Maps, mobile map app, GMB, map pack listing, etc.) is either undergoing, or will undergo, improvements. Part of this update is about allowing the map to capture more, and greater, details about any area around a searcher. Some SEO experts have also noticed the effect of newer businesses ranking higher than normal. Opening new stores correctly and listing them right away is more important than ever. Google values the searcher experience a great deal, so fresh, accurate data is critical.
Google Local Pack Redesign
As part of this SEO change, Google also made a UI change to their local pack in search. Previously, when Google surfaced a local pack in search, they would display a map with three top listings underneath it. Now, those three listings appear to the left side of the map. Google stated "We're constantly exploring ways to connect people with the helpful information that they're seeking. We're currently rolling out an update to the Search interface on desktop." Overall, this UI change should not change your listings strategy, but keep tabs on important metrics like Get Directions just in case.
Table Stakes for Winning in Search
Ensuring your local listings and your website have consistent name, address and phone number information is table stakes for helping to win in search. Leaders in the space also have structured data on their local pages further communicating that they have a richness of data attributes about their location - helping them to potentially win the search which is increasingly likely to be more complex. As an example, consumers are no longer typing in "restaurant near me" Instead they are searching for things like "restaurant near me that accepts reservations and is vegan". Additionally, a new location strategy is increasingly important. Using Google's "coming soon" functionality for businesses that are opening soon is a great way to ensure your listing is ready to go when your new location opens.
In general, Google and other search providers use dozens of factors to determine ranking criteria including local page speeds, content, a consistent signal of data all saying the same thing, local relevance, reviews, services offered, domain history, trajectory of review sentiment, mobile user experience, proximity, etc. The best brands are aiming to invest in these areas to set themselves up to win for the long run. The immediate takeaways from this update is to no longer add keywords to a business name if it is not the official business name as Google is no longer rewarding this type of behavior. Further, being seen as deeply ingrained in the community around the business will pay dividends in the long run. People want to know about the local business before they engage with them, and increasingly, there is a social consciousness aspect attached to buying decisions with consumers.