Biggest Google Update: The “Vicinity” Update

Search Engine Optimization

In late 2021 the SEO community and our team at Inbound have noticed many unconfirmed Google updates. Quite a bit has changed since 2021, including the page experience rollout, and it looks like local SEO might be changed dramatically for the time being. Heres what we have found, what to expect, and potential solutions for your business.

Google Maps in 2022 is more GEO Focused More Than Ever.

Over the past few months we have found a massive change has taken place in how Google displays SERPS (Search engine results pages) otherwise called organic map packs or local map pack/listings. For both Desktop and Mobile.

Previously a user entering a keyword with the intent to find a local business, would see a much larger radius of businesses in the map packs. Meaning businesses from 10+ miles away could compete for your business. Results were pretty similar whether you typed in a geo term with the phrase or not. For example Houston SEO Company versus SEO Company.

 Desktop Search Result 2022 – Without GEO Modifier

We are finding that these map packs default to a very small radius if a geo modifier is not used with a keyword. As of today it defaults to a 5 mile radius. I am sure you know what this means for your business. This screenshot is a snippet from the SERPs for personal injury lawyer , without a Geo modifier like Houston or Dallas and Austin.


Desktop Search Result 2022 – With GEO Modifier.

Here is the search result for the term Houston Personal Injury Lawyer. You are seeing a larger radius , closer to Houston. Location of search Is not centered, instead  the closest area in Houston and opened up the radius. Previously this search result would be centered on houston and every personal injury lawyer in the city had the ability compete for the same customers in the city, and not just their sector of the city.


What is the Vicinity Update? 

Googles Biggest Local Update in Years.On December 16, 2021 Google confirmed an update to their local search algorithm. Google has modified their local search algorithm so that local businesses show up for customers in their specific area, and businesses further away can no longer outrank businesses in their specific locale.

What Does The “Vicinity Update” do?

The update is focused on target proximity as a ranking factor. This is an obvious factor for local rankings, but it was a bit general and would allow business to rank in other areas outside of their actual zone in the city they were located.

Google now seems to be focused on showing more relevant results to the user. Primarily based on their location and the business in the area. Businesses will no longer be able to compete against competitors further away. From our observation further away is 5 miles or more. This is a bit too focused for our taste and I highly doubt many businesses will agree with this update, since they compete across a large area and so do their competitors.

Another change is adding keywords to the business name of your GMB profile. Thanks to Brightlocal (a citation and local audit tool we use), we have found some research by Sterling Sky. This research shows keywords in your business name has decreased a business listings advantage in ranking. Big time.

The Sterling Sky data revealed that businesses using keywords (inappropriately) in their name have now largely seen a drop in search rankings. This is likely to be a win for the businesses who have consistently followed Google’s guidelines on keyword stuffing, and for those who have invested their time in fighting name spam.

Bright Local

What does this mean for businesses in 2022?

At Inbound we work primarily with service based businesses such as compensation consultants, divorce lawyers, criminal lawyers, personal injury lawyers, doctors, dentists, pressure washing companies and the like. What we know for sure, and with certainty, is that Google Maps has been their key revenue source for years. It simply works the best. With Googles recent unconfirmed updates, this is going to cause quite a bit of pain for businesses that thrive on Local SEO. Obviously businesses in very dense populations will not be effected as badly.

What Can We Do To Alleviate Loss of Traffic due to the Vicinity Update?

There are quite a few things that can be done to improve and grow new revenue streams for your business.  It depends primarily on your business type. For clients such as attorneys or doctors, it is imperative you have an SEO who understands the landscape and changes that happen on a daily basis on Google.  The game has become 10 fold harder if your SEO campaign is not optimal or hyper focused on a specific area of service. Here are a few steps to take in order to keep your revenue streams flowing.

  • Keyword Generated Business Titles: Remove Keywords From Your Business Name if it was changed to manipulate Search.
  • Alternative Marketing. Far too many businesses rely heavily upon organic traffic. The problem is that you cannot rank at the top of Google everyday of the year. At times like these, there is nothing you can do to regain traffic if Google decides to make a fundamental change to how they display search results. Instead, focus on current customers, word of mouth, newsletters, street level advertising, social media and anything else that could be worth while. Do not blindly throw money at these tactics. Instead track and analyze what works. None of these will ever generate the same amount of traffic as ranking well in Google Maps, but they will alleviate some of the pain when unconfirmed updates are made by Google, which can last months at a time.
  • Organic SEO: Although majority of service based clients will find most of their customers through local SEO, there is still a large amount of traffic to be found via regular organic results. Here are a few quick things you can do to start focusing on Organic.
    • Strengthen your foundation, run a site audit and make sure your website is up to date in regards to the page experience update.
    • Normally maps show up on top of SERPs for major keywords like Dentist near me, but they do not show up on Long tail terms such as How Do I Alleviate TMJ Pain. This is where new and informative content can drive new customers via organic.
    • Create new content that is hyper focused, and detailed on services offered. Do not forget to optimize current content with up to date information.
    • Make sure your website is user friendly. If you are receiving visitors, make the most of it and ensure they are not being run off by 404 errors or slow loading websites and poor page layouts.
  • For Local Map Pack tactics,  you want to double down on optimizing your Google Maps listings. Audit everything from citations and ensure your top listings (YP, Yahoo, Yelp, Bing local) are fully filled out and targeting the correct services. This includes creating new citations. Finally, if your lease is running out soon, you might want to consider moving into an area where the population is dense with potential customers. If you have neglected to signup for yelp or MOZ local, now is the time to give it a try and see if you can grow your visibility.

What Can We Expect With These Latest Changes in Local Results?

One thing we can guarantee is that Google is constantly updating their algorithm and running tests to see which changes the end user prefers and provides the best experience. They have been known to create problems during these tests and it can take weeks or months for them to patch the problem. They are also known to revert changes because user behavior showed them it was not an optimal change.  Follow algorithmic changes here at SEOroundtable and Mozcast.

We believe the more recent changes have made search more cumbersome for the end user,  and they do not provide the user the information they are looking for.  Instead they are facing the user to open up the radius and find more competing businesses.

This default radius update may work for dense populations, but that does not account for the areas in the world that are spread out across miles of roads and neighborhoods, such as suburban neighborhoods like Katy, Sugar Land, The Woodlands, Conroe and etc.

More than likely, Google will realize their users are not finding what they are looking for in a small radius and instead are clicking the more businesses button and zooming out. If this is a normal occurrence, we can expect Google to revert these changes and open up the default radius for users.

If you are effected by this and have seen a huge drop in traffic since the end of 2021, please reach out to us and we can run an in-depth technical and manual audit to give you an honest analysis on how to get your business back on track.

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