The Google Vicinity Update

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In Google’s most recent update, they made significant changes in how local sites rank in search results. This update was named “Vicinity”. It started rolling out on November 30, 2021, and was fully implemented by December 8, 2021.

The Vicinity algorithm update aims to provide better results to users looking for businesses near them. 

There hasn’t been a local search algorithm update this big in over five years. The timing of this update was terrible, as it happened right before the holidays. It has local SEO professionals and small business owners alike scrambling to maintain rankings.

The Vicinity Update will affect how businesses rank in the SERPS based on their relevance and proximity to users. An update like this can significantly affect your business if you are not paying attention. 

This blog post will uncover all the changes involved with this latest Google ranking update. As a business owner or internet marketer, it’s important for you to understand how it’ll affect your rankings.

How will the Google Vicinity Update Affect My Rankings?

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The last local search ranking update happened in 2016; it was dubbed “Possum.” Possum was all about hiding local businesses from the search results if Google determined that they weren’t relevant to the user.

The December updates have both similarities and differences to Possum. Similarities include a greater focus on proximity, while differences include a new ranking factor affecting the use of keywords in business names.

Proximity

This Vicinity update mainly affects the ranking factor of proximity in local SEO. 

Starting with the Possum update in 2016, we have seen an increase in the importance of proximity to rank for competitive markets. Vicinity begins to push the game even further by heavily weighting proximity and devaluing keywords in business names.

Keywords in Business Names

The Vicinity update has significantly impacted local businesses, with many seeing a decline in their SERP ranking. One segment of local companies having trouble with this update is those with keyword-rich business names.

It’s reminiscent of the 2012 EDM (exact domain name) update. It was once possible to rank higher in search results with a domain name that included your chosen keywords. 

Vicinity took away this advantage in local SEO now, too, devaluing keyword-rich business names in local search results.

This is good news for businesses that worked hard at combating spam over the years. Higher rankings are their reward with this update.

Going forward, businesses that are new and attempting to adhere to Google’s standards should have a higher probability of ranking now as well.

Some local businesses have legitimate business names that include a keyword in their industry. Some examples are legal companies with the keyword “law” in their names or service-based businesses with “cooling and heating” in their name.

They don’t deserve the same treatment as a site that’s ranking by deliberately adding a keyword to their business name for that purpose. However, according to the word on the street, many are still losing rankings because of it.

Hopefully, Google will make amends with another corrective update soon enough.

Map Packs

Another impact of Vicinity is with map packs: maps are now more zoomed in, focusing on the area closest to the user. This knocked some of the businesses just on the edge of the map down in rankings.

It’s resulted in a wider variety of businesses that were not visible before Vicinity now showing up in map packs.

Alongside the algorithm updates, Google also changed the Local Pack layout. Instead of showing results below the map, they appear side-by-side with the map on the right.

As the changes roll out, it’ll be interesting to see if they provide a superior search experience for local consumers, and at the same time, more traffic for local businesses. 

Google has always said that it is constantly exploring ways to connect people with the helpful information they’re seeking. Google doesn’t always get it right the first time around but eventually seems to work things out.

Industries Most Affected by Vicinity

Specific sectors are experiencing the effects more than others. For lawyers, home repair services, realtors, insurance companies, and dentists, there’s a significant amount of fluctuation in location-specific searches.

There were obvious common factors among these industries that affected their outcome in this update. We’re able to group them into two categories. 

Here’s a rundown of which types of local companies came out on top and which ones didn’t fare so well.

Which Type of Local Businesses Came out Ahead?

The businesses that gained rankings in this update include:

  • Those without any keywords in their company name against formidable rivals who do.
  • A business’s secondary location (although the primary location may have lost rankings).

Which Type of Local Businesses Didn’t Fare So Well?

The local businesses that lost more average keyword rankings than others are:

  • Businesses that used to rank in search results for queries many miles away from their actual location.
  • Local businesses with keywords in their business name, even if it’s a legal business name.

Note: The impacts of these changes won’t be evident without using grid tracking. Grid tracking is a technique that displays how far away from your physical location that you rank.

Keep an Eye on Your Rankings

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Keeping track of how your website ranks for relevant keywords in your industry is essential. This way, you can determine whether Vicinity had a positive or negative effect on your site. If negative, don’t panic just yet.

After monitoring for a while, if you find that your rankings have decreased since the update; weigh your site against ranking factors and make necessary changes.

Consider working with a professional SEO company specializing in local search optimization if you’re unsure where to start.

The Vicinity Update was just one of many algorithm updates that Google has released this year. As Google’s algorithm continues to evolve, so should your local search engine optimization strategy.

Improve Exposure in Local Search

According to Google, the general guidelines for improving your local rankings in Google search remain the same. Local business owners and marketers should continue to focus on:

  • Relevance: Match what the user is searching for.
  • Distance: How far away your business is from the searcher’s requested location.
  • Prominence: How well-known your business is, on and off-line.

Google’s Guidelines for Local Search

Within their recommended guidelines, Google also provides advice on how to improve your exposure and local rankings. The essential areas responsible for boosting visibility are:

  • Having a business profile that provides complete data. Your business information makes it easier for Google to match you with users.
  • Verification. Going through the Google verification process gives you favoritism in search and maps.
  • Keep your hours of operation updated. Shoppers want to know you’re open before they make the trip to your business.
  • Interact with business reviewers. Commenting on reviews shows Google and other potential customers that you value your customers.
  • Add accurate and appealing photos of your products and services. Customers want to see what you offer and if it’s a good match for their needs.

Businesses can also improve their rankings with other local optimization techniques, like using schema.org markup and using local citations. 

Using Local Citations

Citations are mentions of your business online from reputable sources, including your name, address, or phone number. The more local citations you have, the more likely your potential customers will find you online.

There are a number of ways to get citations for your business. One way is to use an online citation building tool like Moz Local or Yext. These tools allow you to input your business information and generate a list of citation opportunities.

Another way to get citations is through manual submission of your business information.

Here’s what Google spokesperson John Mueller has to say:

“A company name that’s mentioned somewhere else doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or bad for the company. 

I’d see those mentions more as advertising — if you think people are going to see it and explicitly search out your business, then that’s great.”

Final Thoughts on the Google Vicinity Update

With Google’s continuing development of the local search algorithm, it’s reasonable to expect that user experience will always trump any other factor. User experience has been Google’s main priority since the beginning.

Local businesses need to monitor and adapt while complying with Google’s guidelines to flourish in search results long-term. It’s their search engine, and we have to play in their court. But that’s a part of what makes SEO so exciting, right?

An essential component of local search is still relevance, followed by distance and prominence. This newest algorithm update further refined the distance and relevance factors, but the fundamentals remain unchanged.

Since Vicinity is a brand-new Google update affecting the algorithm for local searches, we’ll have to wait and see how it’ll play out in the coming weeks and months.

One thing remains true: if you want to rank well in local search results, you need to make sure your site is very relevant and close to users. This Vicinity Update is just one of the many steps in their never-ending journey to improve search results.

Have you seen any fluctuations in your local rankings after Vicinity? What are your thoughts on the new algorithm update? Let us know in the comments.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Google Vicinity update, please contact Servicehawk at your convenience.

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