Around September 1, 2016, Google updated its local search algorithm in a significant way. Although Google has not confirmed the change, many industry experts and tracking tools are reporting large fluctuations in local search rankings.
This Search Engine Land article uncovers some of the most important changes. While not all brands might see major shifts in local rankings, a few of the most notable changes are below:
- Out-of-city businesses rank for city-specific keywords – Companies with locations outside the city limits have a better chance of ranking for searches within the city. Google is understanding that the best “local” business isn’t always the “closest” business. This primarily benefits service businesses with suburban or rural locations that work in and around cities and larger towns.
- Google is better at understanding business relationships – If Google sees two listings for the same location, they are likely to pick one and hide the other. Google’s technology, according to the article, allows them to identify business connections outside of address (such as a business licensing, the same ownership group, parent companies, or individual practitioner vs. office listings).
- Small keyword variations produce different rankings – Although there’s no clear difference in intent for “target minneapolis” and “target minneapolis mn”, Google is producing slightly different results for both. Google has determined that the searcher’s behavior is not the same for each keyword, so the results are not the same.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MARKETERS?
Customers want to buy local. If a local 3-Pack of results ranks for a keyword, the searcher is likely looking for a local business to meet their needs. Google recognizes this trend, which coincides with mobile searches eclipsing desktop searches, and is taking steps to improve its ability to serve the best local results to searchers.
Expect short-term abnormal rank fluctuations. Any algorithm update (local or organic) is followed by a period of volatility within search results. Google adjusts the dials on their algorithm to fine-tune each update, so local rankings could be in a state of flux for some time.
Traditional local best practices still apply. Because Google has not confirmed or commented on any local search algorithm update, continue following local SEO best practices. Important tactics include presenting consistent location information on local websites, optimizing for local-specific keywords, and creating a website page for each location.
Focus on your local brand. NHI recommends building engaging and informative local content, cultivating a positive brand reputation (through online reviews), and establishing a thoughtful user experience that meets the localized needs of the customer. Showcase local community involvement on site and on social media.
INFORMATION SOURCE: Search Engine Land