Google Update for Local Search is Confirmed
Starting in early November, there have been rumblings and rumors about updates to Google’s algorithms. It started with people noticing changes to their GMB rankings in local search results. Over the next few days, marketers focusing on local search had dubbed this update the "Bedlam update", named for the chaos and confusion it caused.
It also appeared that the update was focused mostly on business’ relevance to a query rather than location or proximity to the user.
Google has now confirmed that it did indeed roll out an update related to how it processes local queries and creates results for those queries.
In early November, we began making use of neural matching as part of the process of generating local search results. Neural matching allows us to better understand how words are related to concepts, as explained more here: https://t.co/ShQm7g9CvN— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 2, 2019
As mentioned in the Tweet from the Google Search Liaison account, this update is like the neural matching update Google released in March 2018.
Google is referring to this update as the November 2019 Local Search Update.
Details on the November 2019 Local Search Update
As specified in the above Tweet, the update started in early November (though we don’t know the exact date) and was completely done rolling out on December 2, 2019. However, since this update is AI-based, you should expect to see continuing changes and fluctuations as the algorithm continues to learn.
As explained, there are always going to be fluctuations because we're always updating our systems and content itself changes. But the larger changes noted early last month from the neural matching update should be settled down.— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2019
It’s a global change and so applies to search results in all countries using all languages (that Google supports).
2019 November Local Search Update relates to a previous neural matching update
Google started using neural matching in its non-local organic search back in 2018. This 2019 Local Search update is basically an application of that update to how it processes and understand local search queries and local search results.
We already used it from last year for all organic web results. It's now applied to local listing (IE map pack etc)— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2019
So you might see changes to what businesses appear in Google’s local map pack SERP feature:
This update is to better understanding language
Since this is a local search update, one of the most important takeaways from the various explanations and discussions is that this update is focused on language and relevance: better interpreting the words used in users’ queries and how closely related those words are to the (different) words used in the business’ website and GMB listing.
Google used this example last year to explain how neural matching works in search:
For example, neural matching helps us understand that a search for "why does my TV look strange" is related to the concept of "the soap opera effect." We can then return pages about the soap opera effect, even if the exact words aren't used...— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 21, 2019
For local queries, it could work something like this: One user searches for "home improvement store near me" while a second user searches for “hardware store near me”. Both people are looking for the same sort of store, so it makes sense for Google to show the same local results to both users.
Neural matching allows them to better understand this relationship.
This update does not take into account how close a user is to a business when it ranks locations in its local results. With the caveat that the 2019 November Local Search Update could help Google better understand that queries using different names could all be referring to the same location.
It's about language, not proximity. But to the degree that language might help us understand something is related to a place, it may have an influence.— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2019
This November Update has nothing to do with BERT
Helpfully, Danny Sullivan comes out and says it. This update doesn’t impact how BERT is working in Google search.
No. Neural matching is separate from BERT. There's no change to what we've said about BERT.— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2019
However, it is somewhat similar to the concepts behind how the Hummingbird algorithm works. And, like with Hummingbird, it applies to how Google understands both user queries and the content it finds online.
"Content" in this context refers to all information Google has about a business. Meaning both website and Google My Business listing.
How to Respond to the November 2019 Local Search Update
The official advice given by Google is, as usual with these sorts of updates, is "nothing".
The use of neural matching in local search doesn’t require any changes on behalf of businesses. Those looking to succeed should continue to follow the fundamental advice we offer here: https://t.co/tPkyuyMjsP— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 2, 2019
Businesses who find themselves doing less well in local search results after this update should focus on the basics of optimizing your GMB listing:
Enter complete business information beyond just NAP
Verify your locations
Keep your NAP information and opening hours accurate and consistent
Respond to your customers’ reviews
Add high-quality images of your business
One note from Danny Sullivan to pay attention to, though, is that the November 2019 Local Search Update can actually make local SEO easier for business owners. Instead of worrying so much about using all their keywords and potentially looking like spam, businesses might not have to feel so much pressure.
It's not spam-specfic. It's about better understanding overall. But potentially that may help with spam, especially of that type and generally maybe helping businesses not feel pressure they have to shove every keyword into their name.— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 2, 2019
Continuing Local Search Update Updates
While the rollout for this update is done (according to Google), we’ll keep this article up to date with the latest information we get from Google and around the industry.