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Google’s October Surprise? New Update to Local Search Algorithm

A picture of Google's October Surprise? New Update to Local Search Algorithm with The King Of Search

(Note: Okay, so they actually pushed this update out in mid-September, not October, but a “September Surprise” isn’t a term, and it’s basically October now anyway. Besides, Halloween stuff starts appearing in stores in May now, so as far as I’m concerned—the second half of the year is October now.)

Google’s been keeping those updates flying fast and furious lately, with yet another major update to their ranking algorithms this week.

It seems like it was only last week I wrote about the rollout of Google’s brand new “Helpful Content Update.”

In fact, it was last week.

Add that update and this update to the September 2022 Broad Core Update rollout that’s also currently in progress—and you’ve got one busy month for SEOs.

So what’s the story this time?

Well, as always, these types of updates can be difficult to pin down precisely—especially when they roll out on top of other updates.

But based on the chatter and reports we’re seeing so far… it does appear that this is an entirely local-specific update.

Most of that aforementioned chatter seems to revolve around things like:

  • SEOs whose clients’ rankings have suddenly tanked, or in some cases, disappeared entirely from the local pack.
  • People noticing that they’re getting “directions” icons for businesses that shouldn’t have them. (i.e. “service area businesses” that don’t have an address listed)
  • Throwing spaghetti at the wall about what exactly the hell is going on.

Here’s the thing, though: Google hasn’t said much about this one.

In fact, they haven’t said anything at all.

A picture of Google's October Surprise? New Update to Local Search Algorithm with The King Of Search

So how do we know an update even happened?

Well… a certain “local search forum” on the Internet lit up with reports of GMB/local search ranking changes last weekend.

Shortly thereafter, a certain “search engine round-table” picked up on the chatter, and started rooting around for more info.

And then, social media went nuts with reports from digital marketers, people who call themselves digital marketers, and regular joe business owners alike.

What’s been discovered so far has been… not much. No official word from Google on the matter.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gleaned from all this, but we’re really relying on the collective observations of many different people who have “SEO” in their Twitter usernames at this point. And you know how that goes.

A picture of Google's October Surprise? New Update to Local Search Algorithm with The King Of Search

So with that caveat in mind, here’s what we think we know so far:

  1. This update apparently happened sometime this past weekend. There is disagreement about the specific day the update started. (which sounds like it just took some time for the roll out to complete)
  2. It only affected GMB/local search results, not organic results.
  3. The reports of changes seem to be originating mainly from the US and Canada, but that could be a bias of the biggest discussion about it so far being on an English-language forum.
  4. One SEO who manages over 200 Google business profiles said only 6 of them have been affected, and all 6 previously had a residential, virtual office, or PO box address attached to it at one point. Other SEOs seem to be concurring with this, but we don’t have enough data points to know for sure if that’s a significant factor.

Are there any actionable insights here for those of you who manage GMB listings?

Maybe. If your rankings have tanked, it might be worth thinking about whether you had a virtual office, UPS, PO box, or other mailbox-type address attached to your listing at any point.

If so, Google may be de-emphasizing your business listing as a result. As you’d expect, they definitely keep all of your business’ old addresses on file even if you’ve since deleted/changed them. (You know, in case they ever want to pull something like this on your business 9 years after the fact.)

A picture of a phone with the Google My Business app installed.

The question is—is that the effect Google intended from this latest local search update? Or is it just a side effect of whatever this surprise update was trying to accomplish?

At this point, we just don’t know.

For what it’s worth, we haven’t had these types of drops in our own clients’ GMB/local search rankings. All we can do is speculate on what’s going on with other companies clients’ local search rankings, and keep an eye on our own clients.

No one can accuse Google of resting on their laurels when it comes to tweaking their ranking algorithms. And good on them for trying to weed out the bad actors from their search results.

We’ll have to wait and see what else comes out about this one.

Google will probably eventually get around to saying something about this (they usually do—even if it’s one word).

P.S. Joy Hawkins has a really good thread on the Local Search Forums with lots of observations and info from those who say they’ve been affected by this update. Check it out if you want to deep dive into this one.

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