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The "Vicinity" Update: Google's Biggest Local Search Algorithm Update in Five Years

Google's search algorithm has minor updates almost daily, with most of them being hardly noticeable. Around November last year, many local businesses noticed relevant changes to local page rankings. In December 2021, Google confirmed through a tweet the conclusion of their November 2021 local search update, also known as The "Vicinity" Update.

The "Vicinity" Update is Google's most prominent local search algorithm in five years. Before this, the last major update was The Possum.

The Possum Local Search Algorithm Update

On September 1, 2016, Google launched the local search algorithm update, The Possum. It was perceived to have been created to diversify local results, with more emphasis on proximity as a local ranking factor.

This update created a better filter for results in the local pack and local finder. If several businesses of similar nature operate out of the same building, it tends to filter out most of them from the results. Some companies seemingly disappeared as they don't reflect on local search results, but they're still there. That is why it was coined - The Possum Update.

It was also noticed that after The Possum update, it was easier for businesses outside city limits to rank higher for keywords with the city's name.

November 2021 Update aka The "Vicinity" Update

As the name suggests, the Vicinity update places proximity as the primary ranking factor. Proximity has been a consistent target of local search algorithm updates. However, many businesses have found ways to optimize and rank in local searches, even if they're far from the searcher. This is what happened after the Possum update.

The Vicinity update has addressed this concern. Since it was launched, it was observed that small companies nearer to the searcher ranked higher than more prominent companies located further away.

Businesses with multiple online profiles and those with keyword-rich profiles observed a considerable drop in their local rankings after this update. While"," those companies who consistently followed Google's guidelines on keyword stuffing have experienced an increase in ranking.

With the Vicinity update, Google made design changes to the Local Pack. Local Pack results are displayed on the left with the hyper-focused square map on its right.

How Does The Vicinity Update Affect Local Business Owners?

The tweet from Google confirming the update stated that the general guidance for businesses concerning local ranking remains the same. The local search algorithm will still rank results based on a combination of these three factors, as defined by Google:

1. Relevance

Relevance determines how well a local business's profile matches the searcher's query. Help Google understand your business by ensuring your business information is complete and accurate.

2. Distance

Distance determines your proximity to the searcher. Ensure your address is correct and verified.

3. Prominence

The prominence of a business refers to how well known it is, both in the offline and online world. The more reviews and positive ratings you have, the better it is for your local ranking.