August and September has been a bit of a bumpy ride in search results. Many sites have seen a series of ups and downs as Google tests search algorithm updates. Google implements changes, then reverting those changes, only to make a few tweaks and re-implement. There were several algorithm changes that seemed to be significant over the past 2 months. One of these was a big local algorithm change in late August.
Google Local Search Algorithm Update – Hawk
Joy Hawkins, a local search expert, noticed a big change that happened on August 22, 2017 that appears to be a bit of a rollback of the Possum update. This was an update that helped businesses outside of city limits and focused on the IP of searchers, etc. A number of local businesses that previously were filtered out by Possum because of their physical location are now appearing in local packs again. The one exception is for businesses that share the same address as others in their building. Those still appear to be filtered.
Marie Haynes observed a client who started to see a nice uptick in local visibility and traffic on August 22, 2017:
Some Local Packs Removed
We noticed that one of our own clients observed a downturn due to the local pack has been completely removed from a number of SERPs relating to their business. This change specifically caters to larger players in their space, specifically listing sites… the type of sites that businesses need to pay/advertise in order to be visible. This is generally less than fair to local businesses providing stellar service, because there is no realistic way to compete with the authority of enterprise corporations.
How Google Defines Geographical Areas
The way people use search is complicated. Even more so when they are looking for something in particular within a geographical area. Google is actively changing how it defines regions. Yesterday, while taking screenshots there were some serious changes happening. First screenshot is around 3:00pm on 9/18 and the second is around 4:00pm.
Notice that the map orientation changed but also the second organic result. My guess is Google trying to determine is the Northern part of the state should be included in Virginia results or be more closely related to DC. I get that, NoVA is different from the rest of Virginia. However, what makes even less sense is if you type out the state fully, the results are also different! I guess Virginia is only comprised of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, everyone else just doesn’t count. Screenshot below was taken at 4:00pm on 9/18 as well.
So what do we take away from this? Right now, Google treats state abbreviations and full names as separate locations. Since the results are not state-wide, I suspect the areas that are shown are determined through volume trends/ machine learning. I can also say that Google is changing things constantly, these changes might be reverted today, tomorrow, or never. SERPs seem to be ever changing, maybe not on universal algorithm level, but more on a location, category, or individual query level because things are getting more and more customized to the user. How do you control this? You don’t, you can’t. Then what do you do? It’s simple, just do what Google asks of you. Create an easy to use, secure, and generally all around great website with valuable content for your users and optimize for crawlers. How do you do that? User friendly design, technical SEO, a serious content strategy, ongoing research and monitoring. Be proactive, not reactive! Remember, we can help with our ongoing SEO services.