With a name as transparent as “Vicinity,” you’d be correct in thinking that the latest update to Google My Business must be all about location proximity.
You might also be thinking “Google is constantly tweaking their local search algorithm.” This is also true.
So why is Vicinity worth paying attention to?
Well… have you checked your local search rankings lately?
The last time there was an update of this magnitude to Google’s local search algorithm was way back in 2016—the more opaquely-named Possum update. And people freaked out back then—some rightfully, others not so much.
Should you be freaking out or not?
It depends on, among other things, how much your business relies on local search traffic. If you haven’t looked at the numbers, it’s probably more than you think.
“Wasn’t location proximity already important?”
Yes, but now it seems like it’s going to be a lot more important going forward.
And, just as many other Google updates have been doing in more recent years, this one definitely appears to make keywords a less important part of the algorithm. (What have I been telling you about keywords?)
Not just in theory, either—you can already see how the results of Vicinity have shaken out by comparing rankings before and after it was rolled out.
We knew this was the way things were headed. For years, Google has been recommending that businesses focus more on their brand rather than trying to shove as many keywords as possible everywhere they can possibly fit. That’s the way things have been going, and it’s the way they’re going to continue to go.
Mindlessly repeating keywords and phrases to achieve specific density percentages may have worked at one point, but those days have been over for a while.
“So… is this good or bad for my business?”
Well, it depends. The Vicinity update means that businesses will be competing less with businesses that are located further away from the person searching.
Let’s say Business A has been fighting tooth and nail to rank in local search results with Business B that is located much further away.
If you’re Business A, the Vicinity update might make life a little easier for you.
If you’re Business B, you may have some problems.
At this time, it remains to be seen how much this will actually affect rankings. Proximity has been a key factor in Google’s local search results for a long time.
We know that it’s supposed to be given a lot more weight in the algorithm now, but there are many other factors that affect ranking in local search results.
Businesses who haven’t tried to dupe Google with keyword spam and have followed Google’s guidelines are now being rewarded, while those who invested tens of thousands of dollars in less ethical SEO techniques in years past are now having to clean up their damn act—or start over from scratch.
“What’s Google’s advice for me now that they’ve rolled out Vicinity?”
In their own words:
“General guidance for businesses remains the same.”
Google’s local search algorithm—again, in their own words—determines its results by relevance, distance, and prominence.
Since Vicinity, they’ve recommended that businesses who want to boost their visibility in local search do the following:
- Have business locations verified
- Make sure that all data is entered completely
- Keep opening hours accurate
- Add photos
- Manage and respond to reviews
That’s all great. But if you’re reading this, you probably know it’s not going to be that easy.
One thing you can always bank on about the changes that Google makes to their ranking algorithms is that they always revolve around improving user experience (for the people using the search engine—not necessarily for business owners).
If you’re not trying to trick Google, or the people who find your business in search engine results, you generally have little to worry about. Just keep an eye out for changes like Vicinity, stay flexible, and adapt your strategies accordingly.
I can say confidently that for many of my clients, Vicinity’s changes will have a net positive impact on their GMB rankings.
Keep on the right side of Google’s recommendations—and focus on quality content rather than get-ranked-quick schemes—and you’re unlikely to have Google pull the rug out from under you with these UX quality of life updates going forward.