Google Algorithm Update Recalibrates Local Search

At the beginning of December, Google rolled out an algorithm update proving to be the most significant update to local Search in several years. The search giant confirmed the update last week. In its typical understated fashion, Google described the update as “a rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results.”

The three factors determining rankings for local searches are proximity, relevance, and prominence. While Google doesn’t disclose the precise weighting of each factor, it is evident that with the rebalancing, proximity is taking on greater weight. These changes could impact your business listing in local search.

While Google has not announced changes to its guidelines for local search optimization, the update does not change its goals around local Search. Instead, it focuses on improving the quality of local search results. In simple terms, it achieves this improvement by increasing the weight of proximity in its ranking.

Previously, the relevance of a business listing to the search terms played a more significant role in determining the top rankings in local search results. Too often, this meant the SERP would return a search result even if the business were not close to the searcher’s location.

Working of Search Algorithms

With the quantity of information available on the web, it would be nearly impossible to find what you need without some assistance sorting through it. So Google ranking systems are scheduled to do just that: sort through hundreds of billions of web pages in our Search index to find the most relevant, beneficial results in a fraction of a second, and show them in a way that allows you to find what you’re skimming for.

These ranking systems are created up of not one but a whole series of algorithms. Search algorithms glance at numerous factors, including the words of your query, relevance, and usability of pages, the expertise of citations, and your location and settings, to give you the most helpful information. The weight involved in every factor varies depending on the nature of your questioning—for instance, the freshness of the content plays a more significant role in answering questions about recent news topics than it does about dictionary illustrations.

To help provide Google Algorithm that meet high relevance and quality criteria, we have a rigorous process that involves live tests and thousands of trained external Search Quality Raters worldwide. These Quality Raters observe strict guidelines that define our goals for Search algorithms and are publicly available for anyone to see.

Importance Of Your Query

To repay relevant results for your query, we preferably require establishing what information you’re looking forー the intent behind your question. Comprehension intent is fundamentally about knowledge language and is a critical aspect of Search. Therefore, we create language models to decipher what words we should lookup in the index.

It concerns steps as ostensibly straightforward as interpreting spelling errors and extends to trying to understand the type of query you’ve entered by applying some of the latest research on natural language knowledge. For instance, the synonym system enables Search to know what you mean by establishing that multiple words mean the same. For example, this ability allows Search to match the query “How to change a lightbulb” with pages explaining how to replace a bulb. Over five years, this system created and significantly improved results in over 30% of searches across vocabularies and languages.

Other synonyms, Search algorithms also attempt to understand what category of information you are looking for. Is it a particular search or a comprehensive query? Are there words like “review” or “photos,” or “opening hours” that display a piece of specific information essential after the Search? Is the question written in French, indicating that you want replies in that language? Or are you exploring a nearby business and desire local info?

A critical dimension of this query categorization is our analysis of whether your query is seeking out fresh content. For example, if you search for trending keywords, the Google Algorithm will interpret that as a signal that up-to-date information might be more beneficial than older pages. It means that when you’re searching for the latest “NFL scores,” “dancing with the stars” results, or “Exxon earnings,” you’ll see the newest information.

By giving more favor to proximity, the update helps combat efforts to game the previous algorithm, especially by less-than-local businesses appearing in the local SERPs. Over time, more companies have been able to manipulate their content to win local rankings for searches that, in reality, are geographically distant from the business’ actual location. Following this update, companies close to the searcher are seeing an improved presence in the SERP, while trades further away from the searcher are seeing a decline in the local share of voice.

While the Google Algorithm update’s emphasis on proximity is the headline, another observation underlines Google’s longstanding, closely related secondary goal of fighting spam. We see a reversal, to some degree, in the share of voice for keyword-optimized business names to businesses without keywords in their names. Google has not released any exceptional guidance on this point, but its guidelines against keyword stuffing provide some insight.

It is happening concurrently with an update to the local 3-pack results and map design in the SERP. The new design for desktop search places the effects on the left side of the page with a unique square map to the right of the results. Because it’s being rolled out alongside the algorithm update, it’s not entirely clear yet what impact the design change has on outcomes.

Key Takeaways

Google’s latest algorithm update for local Search places greater weight on proximity as a ranking factor. The rebalancing effort is already impacting search results: prominent and relevant business listings that are further away from the searcher are declining in search rank, while closer, relevant businesses with previously less prominence are ranking higher. Reduced consideration for keywords in the business name also protects the SERP against attempts to game the system.

In the future, businesses that rely on patronage from local customers have an improved opportunity to reach those customers and should invest the time and effort to optimize their business listings. In addition, companies that were previously performing well in local searches happening relatively far away from their locations will need to recalibrate and find new ways to serve customers in other areas.

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