Google has definitely kept us on our toes this year with many adjustments to the algorithm, but they may have waited until the holidays for the one that will hit small businesses the most significantly. The big local search update that rolled out in December seems to have a significant impact on local maps listings, and thus local search presence.  It has caused a massive shakeup in which businesses are showing up for what searches.  As always, Joy Hawkins at Sterling Sky has done a great job breaking things down, but I wanted to cover the highlights here and let you dig in and follow Joy for the details if you like.

For the purpose of the general overview, here are the highlights.

What Seems to be Rewarded?

Proximity or vicinity as Joy dubbed it. The map itself seems to have changed format and is presenting a smaller overall space. Proximity to the searcher or to the town being searched appears to have been given more weight. Businesses that were ranking highly for towns where they were not directly sitting in may see a significant drop in exposure in terms of views and clicks. Though you don’t have much control of your specific location, it seems to be a bigger weight in the rankings.

As Joy put it, “Businesses that previously completely dominated the entire market are almost all seeing huge declines in how many SERPs they show up in.” Keep a close eye on your Google Business statistics and of course overall traffic and see ho much you are hit or helped by the update.

What Has Dropped in Importance?

Google has typically incentivized businesses to “cheat” with their name by rewarding keywords in the name of the business. The reasoning for this was based on brand. For example, someone searching for McDonald’s should see McDonald’s pop up most in those searches. For this reason, Google “had to” put a decent weight on the name, but filtering out keywords vs. brand mentions is difficult. They seem to be getting better and businesses with fake names that are just keyword spamming tended to get hit hard by this update.  Injury lawyers and locksmiths and some other industries known to have a lot of cheaters should see a lot of change in their local search rankings. In general, this should be a step in the right direction, but I’m sure a few businesses with honest names are going to see some changes from this.

What Should You Do?

In general, keep playing by the rules. This update seems to hurt people that have cheated with their business name. If you keep doing a great job, creating content that helps your customers and keep asking for reviews and staying active in your community, you will be on the right path.  In very competitive industries, you may want to reach out to a trusted SEO expert like You Can Be Found for additional assistance. Generally, if you are trying to cheat or outsmart the Google algorithm, it is going to eventually catch up to you.  In some cases, it takes longer than others, but it catches up.