Google Updates to Local Search

Google engineers have worked pretty hard and have made plenty of changes to their local search algorithm over the years. PageRank, the algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their search engine results, is a way of measuring the importance of website pages. While Google shares general facts about its algorithm, the specifics are a company secret, as they help the company remain competitive. Using automated programs, called ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’ working on a large index of keywords is how Google stands apart when ranking search results. This determines the order in which Google displays its results on the search engine results page. This algorithm also assigns each Web page a relevancy score. Lets take a look at the history of Google’s local algorithm and its effect on physical stores
1> Google released the Local Business Center in 2005 and merged it with maps and created a one stop shop for information on local businesses. This was great for users as relevant search results were condensed onto a single location with working hours, contact numbers and driving directions being available instantly. This increased the importance of updated locations and other information across business directories and was a significant moment in SEO evolution.
2> 2007 saw the release of ‘Universal Search’, a landmark moment for local search. It brought together traditional search listings and listings from other search engines. Universal Search also combined results from Google’s vertical-focused search queries like Images, News and Video. This was followed by Google ‘OneBox’, which was shown within organic search results, bringing a whole new level of exposure never seen before. This affected local traffic positively as store listings were better positioned to catch the eye of Google users.
3> In 2010, Google re-purposed ‘Local Business Center’ and launched Google ‘Places’. Here a number of important changes were made, like adding new image features, local advertising options and the availability of geo-specific tags for certain markets. Next step was aligning the Places pages with localized search results. The emergence of Places consolidated their commitment to bringing local search to the fore. This forced local businesses to make local search a priority with SEO, in their advertising strategies.
4> 2012 witnessed the launch of the ‘Venice’ update. Prior to this, organic search results defaulted to more general nationwide sites. But with the Venice update, Google’s algorithm could take into account a user’s location and return organic results reflecting that city or state. With this, users could just search for products without adding any location to the search query. This also helped companies with a footprint in many cities as potential customers were shown an outlet nearest to them. This made getting a better ranking with less effort possible.
5> ‘Project Hummingbird’ brought about significant changes to Google’s semantic search capabilities. This update brought about better understanding of long tail queries and provided better results to specific customer questions. This forced businesses to change their SEO strategies to adapt and survive. One or two word phrase keywords were no longer healthy SEO practices, and for a business to be successful, they had to target long tail keywords and common questions.
6> The ‘Pigeon’ update of 2014 further defined how businesses ranked on Google localized SERP’s. The goal was to refine local search results by aligning them with Google’s SEO ranking signals. Content quality and site architecture were linked to local search results. Businesses needed to account for these criteria to continue ranking well on local searches.
7> Another major breakthrough for Google was the the following ‘RankBrain’ update. This incorporated artificial intelligence into the search engine. Using its machine learning software, Google’s search engine was able to teach itself how to effectively process queries, and ranked web pages more accurately . Hence, if you wanted your business appearing on the first SERP, your site should have the relevant content to back it up.
8> In 2015, Google scaled back its local search results from seven listings to a just three. This change didn’t affect the mechanics of SEO much, but limited visibility on the first page and increased the importance of ranking high in local results.
9> The ‘Possum’ update of 2016 leveled the playing field when it came to businesses in adjoining communities. Prior to this, local search results were limited to businesses in a specific geographical area. This update recognized the users location to determine what businesses were both relevant to their query, and nearby. User location became important with the rise in number of mobile devices and people searching on the same.
Predicting when the next major change in local search might happen and its impact on search rankings can be difficult as Google rarely announces or explains updates. Despite that, here are a few local SEO tips that are bound to survive.
-Managing local listings for name, address, contact number and reviews regularly.
-Adhering to organic search best practices, cultivating localized content and acquiring local links for store location.
-Marking up your locations with structured data, particularly ‘Location’ and Hours, and going beyond if possible
When in doubt, look at what your successful competitors are doing, and follow their lead. If it works, it works — that is, until Google makes another ground-shaking algorithm change.

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