Local search engine optimization (SEO) is in a constant state of change. In the early days of December, many businesses saw their rankings take a dip on local search and were quick to attribute these fluctuations to a possible local search algorithm update, which Google later confirmed. The update was poised to revolutionize the local search algorithm, which, according to early predictions, promises to level the playing field for small businesses.
In this blog, we cover what we know so far about the Google local search update. We dive into its specifics, its impact on businesses and how they can optimize their strategies to take advantage of the latest update.
But first, let’s discuss the local SEO ranking factors used by Google to determine local rankings.
How Does Google Determine Local Rankings?
During a local search, Google returns a list of results relevant to the query. These results are then displayed as a set of three businesses, known as the Local 3-pack, at the top of search results. In terms of ranking those results, Google uses different local SEO ranking factors to determine a site’s ranking.
These factors are:
- Relevance: how well a Google business profile matches the search made by the user
- Distance: the proximity of the business to the location term used in the search. If no location was used in the search, Google would approximate the area based on the user’s current location
- Prominence: the business’s reputation offline based on how renowned a location is to locals. But online reputation also matters as Google collects information about a business from blogs, directories and user reviews
A Look at the Google Local Search Update: What Changed?
In December 2021, Google announced the completion of its November 2021 local search update, which ran from Nov. 30 through Dec. 8. This new update was one of its most significant in recent years as it rebalanced the weight given to local SEO ranking factors in ranking search results. But what changed?
Local SEO agency experts believe that the update adds more weight to proximity as a ranking factor, given that this was already the trend starting with the Possum update in 2016. Since then, Google has placed even more emphasis on proximity. This meant that those who could circumvent the ranking signal in search results were no longer able to rank in searches farther than their proximate area. In addition, those who took advantage of (inappropriate) keyword stuffing in their names were no longer rewarded with a high ranking in local search results.
Here’s an example from BrightLocal showing the ranking changes for one business for a key search term during and after the rollout of the update:
Looking at the two images above, it’s clear that the business in question is now ranking higher in searches in its immediate vicinity. Meanwhile, its rankings in searches farther away have dipped, illustrating the proximity signal’s higher impact on rankings.
How Does the Local Search Algorithm Changes Affect Businesses?
While not necessarily a game-changer, local SEO experts still believe that the new update made significant changes to the local search landscape enough to merit attention from the community.
The latest update levels the playing field because it gives location-based searches more sway in the rankings. This means smaller businesses can enjoy having more real estate on search engine results pages (SERPs), significantly improving their discoverability among nearby users.
“This is great news for smaller businesses,” said Thrive’s demand generation manager, Tristan Harris. “This is more beneficial for local businesses that haven’t invested a lot of time building up their local signals as it will help them rank higher based solely on their location.”
Meanwhile, bigger businesses that have previously circumvented those signals will see their rankings dip in searches farther away from their location. Even if they spend big on local search services, they will no longer rank for searches farther away.
Although small businesses won’t see as much competition in location-based searches, they should continue to follow their local SEO strategies to rank high on search engine results pages (SERPs).
“This new update levels the playing field for businesses that haven’t invested a lot of time building up their search signals,” Harris added. “They should still invest in building up the digital presence of their locations.”
Local SEO Strategies To Boost Search Rankings
It’s helpful to remember that although alterations were made to the algorithm, nothing has changed in the signals used to determine SERP rankings: Rankings will still be determined based on relevance, distance and prominence, with distance now holding more weight.
According to Harris, most of the local SEO strategies still hold true as this update doesn’t appear to be a complete rewriting of the algorithm. “Continuing to invest in building your digital footprint for each location you serve is the best thing you can do to improve your rankings. The more signals you can send to Google showing that you serve a location, are based there and are known in the community (through local SEO citations), the better,” he said.
In order to do that, local SEO experts suggest following local SEO best practices and building up location-specific properties. Some of the most important aspects include Google Business Profile or Google My Business optimization service, building local SEO citations and generating customer reviews.
1. Claim Your Google Business Profile
Knowing how to claim a Google My Business listing, now renamed to Google Business Profile, is one of the most crucial steps in succeeding in local SEO. Most local SEO packages include claiming your Google Business Profile because it allows you to create a business listing and list your location on Google Maps.
So, in case you haven’t already, let us show you how to claim a Google My Business listing.
- Using your computer, open Google Maps.
- Enter the business name in the search bar on the top left of the screen.
- Click on the business name from the search results that corresponds to the correct location.
- Click “Claim this business” underneath the business address.
- Click on “Manage now” to continue with the claim process or “I own or manage another business” if you want to add a different business.
- Choose how you want to verify ownership and follow on-screen prompts to complete the process.
2. Keep Your Business Information Up to Date
Now that you have an online presence, the natural next step is to ensure that your business’s online presence remains current. You can do this yourself or through a Google My Business optimization service. What matters is that you keep your profile updated with accurate and timely information, especially your:
- Business address
- Business hours
- Contact information
- Services offered
- Website link
3. Improve Your Website by Following Local SEO Best Practices
In order to secure high rankings on SERPs, you need to make sure your website is optimized for local SEO. Follow these local SEO best practices to keep your website optimized for local search:
- Creating content (blogs, videos, web pages, etc.) centered around local events
- Keeping your website optimized for mobile users
- Integrating location-based keywords in your copy
- Setting up location-specific web pages
- Building up local SEO citations like online business directories
- Acquiring high-quality backlinks from local sources
4. Implement a Review Generation Strategy
Leveraging online customer reviews is a great way to strengthen your profile and communicate your business’s prominence in your local community. While positive reviews can be a great way to attract and persuade customers, using negative reviews strategically can also give you a boost in rankings.
So make review generation a regular part of your local SEO strategy by encouraging customers to leave reviews. Alternatively, you can also invest in a Google My Business optimization service or local search services to constantly generate Google reviews for your business.
The recent Google local search update affected the landscape to a certain extent. Even if it hasn’t impacted your rankings yet, continue aligning your local SEO strategies with best practices and search guidelines to ensure continued success.
To future-proof your business amidst evolving algorithms, partner with Rize Reviews. Our local SEO agency offers listings management, reputation management and review generation as part of its local SEO packages to help businesses compete in today’s digital business landscape.
Tapping the local SEO services of our reputation management company can optimize your business properties to help you dominate local search rankings amidst an increasingly competitive and volatile marketplace. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our local SEO services.