Google has confirmed a local algorithm update took place in early November 2019 and has been rolled out on a global scale. The update is based on neural matching, which is an AI method used to connect words with concepts and could help tackle spam in local search results.
Starting November 5, the industry started seeing quite a bit of volatility in Google Local rankings. The majority of those changes were updated further on November 10 (resulting in many of the November 5 changes being reversed). Changes continued, with a significant ranking change on November 13, only to be reversed a few days later.
Joy Hawkins named this update “Bedlam” based on the absolute chaos she was seeing everywhere. Hawkins hadn’t seen this many drastic changes since the Possum update in 2016, which was a major change in the way Google treated proximity.
Hawkins noted that she was seeing changes that were mostly related to relevance with the “Bedlam” update. She noticed that Google is doing a lot better job of understanding a broader set of search terms that apply to a single business.
NOV. 2019 LOCAL SEARCH UPDATE
On December 2, 2019, Google confirmed via Twitter that a local algorithm update using neural matching for local search results was rolled out in November 2019.
Google began using neural matching in 2018 primarily to better understand how words are related to concepts. It can be compared to a “super-synonym system.” The use of neural matching means that Google can do a better job going beyond the exact words in a business name or description to understand conceptually how it might be related to words searchers use and their intent.
The Local SEO industry now has clear evidence it was not just our imagination that rankings were changing based on local search results. Since Google is now using neural matching to better understand local queries, Google may now also show different local results because of it.
One of the most significant impacts of the update (which is most likely good news to many) is that keyword spam in a listing’s business name will not be favored as much as it once was. Although Google once relied on keywords in the business name to provide relevant results, it will now use neural matching to pull relevant results beyond just the business name or description. This will help local businesses that are more relevant to the searcher’s intent rank higher.
Google’s expansion of understanding relevance with neural matching could be a great stride forward for local search. However, although Google claims the update has officially rolled out, many industry experts speculate that the algorithm is still learning what to rank as relevant, based on volatility in local search rankings.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While it may be natural to default to panic-mode, in theory, this update should mean that your business is more likely to benefit from site and store visitors with truly local intent. Google’s advice to businesses remains the same: relevance, prominence and proximity are the keys to ranking well in local. Continue focusing on those best practices and avoid any blackhat or spammy techniques.