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Vicinity Update and The New Google Business Name Filter
Local optimization experts who monitored rankings knew that this was a large Maps on Google update that mainly affected keywords in the business’s name.
Last month, Google confirmed that a local search update occurred in the first week of December 2021. Local optimization experts who monitored rankings knew this was a large Maps on Google update.
Business Profile Photo Requirements and Recommendations
By Yan Gilbert
Google Platinum Member, SEO Expert & Founder of Local Falcon
Google rarely confirms map updates, so this was refreshing to see, sending out a tweet on Dec 16th. Google has stopped naming updates, but SEOs at SterlingSky have dubbed this update as the ‘Vicinity Update‘, and it seems to have stuck.
As it normally goes with Google updates, Google will usually turn up some dials and turn down others, and by the end of the update, a lot of what initially happened gets rolled back. Given that the update was pretty much right before many people took a vacation, this gave us time for the data to come in.
In the meantime, there were a lot of first impressions speculating about the Vicinity update. First and foremost, it is called the ‘vicinity update’ because it was seen to affect the proximity ranking factor the most. Tons of businesses were affected by this update across many keywords, and there is still a lot of SEO chatter going on. I’m going to add my analysis to the collection.
Before & After Google Vicinity Update 2021 Analysis
Let’s take a look at some before and after ranking scans using our rank tracking tool Local Falcon to give you an idea of the number of changes that happened. Here we have a scan for a “furniture store,” and you can see that the scan performed after the update has a dramatic increase in rankings.
A lot of speculation centered around the visual changes to the three-pack, where the new three-pack now has the map to the right of the listings and more prominent images.
Mostly though, people were wondering about the new map shape and zoom level and the reduction of the strength of keywords in the business name.
Notice how the newer results are much more zoomed out than the previous result, and only one listing with keywords in the business name also stayed in the three-pack.
Do the Zoom Level Changes Affect Rankings?
In the above example, the zoom level was much higher in the newer result than in the older search result. However, take a look at these two images below:
The important thing to note in these results is that even though the searches are for different keywords, the same three businesses are in the display. When you take a look at the map zoom level, they are essentially the same. True, the new map is larger, so more area is displayed, but the zoom level is the same.
This demonstrates that Google chooses the businesses to display and then adjusts the map to suit.
Explicit Location Searches Affected
As mentioned, the Vicinity Update was coined because it was apparent that the proximity ranking factor had been adjusted in a major way. Search queries that include a location have been affected the most, so let's take a look at an example for a search for ‘Toronto Exterminator”.
Contrary to the ‘bed bug exterminator’ map zoom level, this search has the map zoom level coming in much closer. Google has taken the ‘Toronto’ part of the search and really narrowed the focus of the results to businesses that are very close to the centroid of downtown Toronto.
Listings close to what Google determines as the center of the location are seeing a large visibility boost for searches that contain the location in the query.
This applies to listings that are showing their address or hiding the address. What is important is the verification of the address and the proximity to the location center.
Keywords in the Business Reduced as a Ranking Factor*
There have been a lot of examples shared in the SEO community that businesses that were previously ranking very well due to the presence of keywords in their business name have lost ground. Looking back to the “bed bug exterminator” screenshots above, the keyword-stuffed business names are underlined in red.
Two of the three businesses no longer appear in the new updated three-pack display. However, one business with keywords in the name still appears and is ranking first!
There must be something else going on…
Let’s share another example…
Here we have reported from Local Falcon of a search for “SEO Toronto,” showing five different businesses with “SEO Toronto” in the business name.
Why did one keyword-stuffed business improve while three others fell in rankings?
Three of the keyword-stuffed businesses lost rankings for that keyword, one maintained its position, and one even increased.
If keywords in the business name were reduced as a ranking factor, wouldn’t all the listings be affected negatively?
But they’re not.
Clearly, there is some other element in play here.
Introducing the New Business Profile Name Filter for Google Search and Maps
There already exists a proximity filter on Google Maps.
The proximity filter triggers when businesses have the:
- same location (or extremely close to each other, like inside a large office building, for example)
- same primary category
Google wants to show variability in the search results. If two businesses have the same location and primary category, then the algorithm will choose one listing to display and demote the other.
The results concerning the keywords in the business name indicate that Google has created a new ‘Similar Name Filter.’
Here are scans for the business “SEO Toronto” (the fifth business in the graph legend above). Before the Vicinity update, they ranked second across an extremely wide area. After the update, however, we see a strange result where most of the area is dominated by alternating ‘4’s and ’20+’s.
We see that the business is potentially still ranking well for this query. However, the algorithm seems to decide if the business should show at all. This results in a pattern where either the business is not ranking at all or when chosen ranking very well (because of the ranking strength of the keywords in the business name).
Essentially, the name filter compares businesses in the same category. If there is too much overlap between the business names, which often happens when the same keywords are added, then the algorithm chooses the best one or two to display (based on other criteria), and demotes the weaker listings.
Reviews Increased as a Ranking Factor
There is also evidence that the influence of reviews has also been dialed up. We’ll be sharing more information about that in another article shortly. However, the graph above shows that the business that increased (blue line) after the Vicinity update had the most reviews and the most recent reviews.
What are you seeing with the businesses you monitor? Feel free to join our private Facebook group thread and provide more examples and ideas.