Google Local Search Algorithm Update – 2014

On July 24th, Google released a major local search algorithm update that impacts Google Maps and Web results.  Here’s a quick overview of the Google local search update.

As with any major algorithm update it is still too early to tell what the exact impact will be, however there are various reports from searchers and online marketers as to what changes they are seeing thus far.  One thing to note is that this algorithm update has only been rolled out to US English results and has not yet been rolled out in Canada as of yet.  If you want to compare results, try running some local queries in Google.com vs. Google.ca.  Google is not releasing a lot of details on the update, but here are some of the observations that are being made:

  • There appears to be less duplication of search results between local and regular organic search results.  It appears that this update will impact the amount of real estate that a business may be taking up on the SERP.
  • Directory listings such as Yelp listings appear to have gained more prominence prompting some to question the relationship between Google and Yelp.  Expect to see sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor to show up more prominently based on strong ranking factors (Read:  Links, Ratings, Rich Markup etc) than say your little mom and pop merchants.  Google did say that this update is tied more closely with typical Web ranking factors, of which there are hundreds of ranking factors in Google’s “secret sauce”.
  • Google appears to be providing results within a closer, more defined radius based on your current location.  This would, in essence, provide a more relevant set of results, would it not?
  • Some verticals such as real estate are reporting that they have lost all of their local listings.  Not sure if this is just a temporary side effect or if these listings will return at some point.
  • MOZ was reporting that in some cases the 7 pack of local listings were not showing up in many local searches.  This could be temporary however and the MOZ data is but a sample.
  • Some are reporting that they are seeing a lot of 3 Packs rather than the 7 packs.  Could this be Google simply showing the most relevant results in a closer radius based on your location?
  • While they never used to match up on every query, the Google pack order appears to no longer match the Google Maps results like they used to with many queries.

What this means is that depending on the vertical, it may just have become a lot more difficult to get your site listed for local queries.  Specifically if you are in the hotel or restaurant business you may need to monitor this algorithm update very carefully.  One thing is for sure, you will want to ensure that your business listing in directories such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, and even YellowPages is accurate and updated (preferably with a link to your actual business).

Action Items for You – the Site Owner

  • Be sure to annotate the date of July 24 with “Local Search Update” in Google Analytics
  • Monitor your organic traffic around or slightly before July 24th and continue to monitor it over the next couple of weeks.  Look for any anomalies in traffic patterns.
  • Ensure that your local content is well optimized and up to date with NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number).  Quality content is still your best recipe for success in Search.
  • Follow local search best practices:
    • Develop individual landing pages that are unique for each of your locations
    • Use rich markup and schema to mark up your local content
    • Remove any irrelevant, duplicate or old listings
  • Monitor your referral traffic from notable directory type sites such as Yelp, YellowPages, or Trip Advisor.

What This Means for You?

This may provide an opportunity to revisit your local search strategy.  At the very minimum you should be monitoring your local search activity.  For example, in the past, if you searched for City + Keyword and your location was elsewhere, it didn’t matter much as you could change search location for that city and results would be the same.  However now the results are vastly different and to perform an accurate search you need to reset to location of the query.  Always perform some spot checks for local queries in your niche.  Check to see if your visibility has changed.  Do you have high quality local content and landing pages?  Is your information up to date and accurate?

Oh and one last thing, the folks at Search Engine Land have dubbed this the “Pigeon Update”.  Not sure why they get the distinction of always naming Google updates but for now that is what folks in the industry are referring to.  Remember this update has only been rolled out to US English.  It is too early to tell with all of the changing results and fluctuation as to what changes (if any) you may need to make.  Just because this update is being hyped as a “major” update does not necessarily mean that you need to make “major” changes to your website.  Don’t chase the algorithm, chase your audience, or better yet, have them chase you.