Google Updates Local Algo with More Web Based Signals – Turmoil in SERPS

Update: Great tip from Joy Hawkins to get a sense of the changes: In fact, if you search Google.ca for anything you’ll see the results that USED to show in the US yesterday (old algorithm I’m guessing)

Last night just before going to bed reports (h/t to Brian Mayo) started drifting in about missing 7 packs in the real estate results. Map results that had been showing on almost all real estate related searches had disappeared from the results as have DUI lawyers. Around that same time Searchineland reported that Google was reporting a major update to the local ranking algo:

Google has released a new algorithm to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. The changes will be visible within the Google Maps search results and Google Web search results.

The core changes are behind the scenes, but it does impact local search results rankings and some local businesses may notice an increase or decrease in web site referrals, leads and business from the change.

Google told us that the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.

In addition, Google said that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.

The Local Search Weather Report is showing higher volatility today and MozCast Feature Graph for local seems to have captured the loss of the 7 pack on a number of searches where it was previously present (although they are showing no decline in the carousel):

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 2.02.47 AM

In searches I follow there has been both ups, downs and the disappearance of the pack where it was previously prominent. In one case a detached listing which had been doing well both organically and locally but wasn’t in the pack returned to the pack.

There also appears to be less duplication of results in both the 7-Pack and the organic where the order of the organic and local results mirrored each other. And in this search at least, the radius of the search has been reduced significantly. The three organic top results were all located in the suburb to the east of the city.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-25-at-2.11

Google noted in the SEL article that the changes were rolling out in the US. Curious if Canada or Europe is seeing a similar turmoil. Your observations would be welcome.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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45 thoughts on “Google Updates Local Algo with More Web Based Signals – Turmoil in SERPS”

  1. Good coverage, Mike. This is a big shake-up, for sure. I’ve seen a 3-pack in one insanely competitive market, and a big rankings shake-up in the same market for different search terms. At least for me, this also seems to have coincided with a couple SAB clients getting whacked for using residential addresses (one of them had been A-OK for over 3 years).

    And check out the results for “lawyer” in Boston. There is some crap in that 7-pack.

    It’s hard to tell who the “winners” and “losers” are. But I certainly haven’t come away with the feeling that the results are of higher quality than before.

  2. @Max
    Real estate and its many permutations seem gone that’s for sure….real estate, realtors, realty, real estate agencies have all seemed to have lost the pack.

    Thanks for the heads up on the SEO results returning. They as well as marketing, advertising and web design have been missing from the results for quite a while and many of those have returned as well.

  3. I posted this on Mike’s G+ post but here are a few of the results I’ve been tracking.

    Seattle Chiropractor big shake up. The “A” listing is totally spammy! (I posted before and after screenshots and more details about that one.)

    Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist dropped from being a 7 pack to a 3 pack.

    Chesapeake dentist dropped from being a 7 pack to a 3 pack.

    Los Angeles personal injury attorney – major shake up.

    Indianapolis plumber – pretty big shuffle.

    But also did see some results move up that were good results and should have. So it’s a pretty mixed bag.

    Likely still rolling out and might be a little rocky til it settles in and stabilizes.

  4. Notices changes very similar to these in the UK market about a Month ago.
    I am in the hospitality sector.

    One and three boxes virtually disappeared seven box appearances reduced where you could be guaranteed a box on certain searches this is not now the case.

    I used to think it was subject to the no of physical searches going on (my sector is seasonal) but I know think they play and experiment a lot more than we are actually registering.

    Maybe the UK was the test pot for the major roll out?

    I used to have a lot of exposure by local but significantly web visits are not declining. I am probably 15 – 20% up on where we were last year.

  5. @Phil
    Most certainly as you say… they give you pepper and take away salt. Its hard for me to believe that SEO’s will stay in the results (but nothing for Local SEOs – what’s that about}?

  6. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for sharing the update. I’ve understoond the update is for the English language only and starting in the US.

    Various local (Dutch) results I follow here in the Netherlands are still pretty much the same as yesterday and the days before.

    Regards, Eduard.

  7. Hi Mike,

    i haven’t observed those changes yet in the .de SERPS. But i can emphasize, that i stumbled upon a few search queries, where the 7-Pack totally vanished and that have been local categories like “hairdresser + city” and similar stuff, which is not tied to the web ecosystem like “webdesign + city” or “seo + city”. Those might also reflect some usual fluctuations…

    It seems they are reducing local results in favor of web based SERPs maybe also just to test, how users are receiving those results.

    Cheers!
    Sebastian

  8. Hi Mike,
    Haven’t noticed any major changes yet to any of the local searches I monitor here in the UK. Estate agent, dentists, restaurant, optician and many others are all still showing regular 7-pack results on google.co.uk. Conducting many of the same searches on google.com occasionally shows a reduced local pack, i.e. down to 5 or 3.
    As always, will be interesting to watch what happens next!

  9. As I searched on italian and seafood restaurants in different cities I noticed what looked to be chains dominating the carousels.

  10. Hey Mike! Thanks for the heads up on the shake up.

    I did a search on some of our Inn’s major cities, and many listings have been shaken about, but what I’m finding most interesting are Group Sites that represent many properties are showing in the 7 pack that never ever showed before.

    Search Phrase: asheville bed and breakfast
    Letter A Result: http://www.ashevillebba.com
    (an unclaimed G+ listing)

    Search Phrase: seattle bed and breakfast
    Letter C Result: http://www.seattlebedandbreakfast.com/
    (a claimed G+ listing)

    Not sure how Google can reconcile group sites with 1 Location, they have never done so before. I wonder if this change will stick. I know if it does, associations and group property sites will be doing the happy dance.

  11. Additional comments which are admittedly conjecture at this time:

    1. The use of the word “traditional” in the google description about the changes possibly suggests google is adjusting the impact of organic results into the pac and into merged listings. This is simply conjecture though.

    2. My experience is that all changes end up positively impacting adwords spends across the board and on the basis of scale.

    3. Consider point 2 above as it relates to the mail advertising campaign started by google several weeks ago.

    I repeat, all is conjecture at this point.

  12. What an interesting update. I’m hoping more details are released soon. Most of my attention is to travel space. I do not see much change in the local carousel and results for hotels.

  13. I’m seeing some notable shake-ups in auto repair. Lost some prominent (and well-deserved, imo) placement in map packs.

    I also agree with @Phil Rozek…not confident the results are “better”.

  14. As Mike added on top Joy shared a great tip! If you want to compare new SERPs with the old results – Canada has not changed yet.

    So check these links Joy shared with us and you’ll see the difference.

    NEW CURRENT RESULTS
    [url]https://www.google.com/search?q=Los+Angeles+personal%20+injury+attorney#gl=us&q=Los+Angeles+Personal+Injury+Attorney[/url]

    VS. OLD RESULTS (Using Google.ca)
    [url]https://www.google.ca/search?num=100&q=Los+Angeles+personal++injury+attorney[/url]

    I can confirm that is exactly the old result cuz I track screenshots of that particular SERP.

    THANKS JOY!

  15. Interestingly enough, “Santa Rosa realty” produces a 3-pack here in northern, CA. I am also noticing the geo-ref (e.g. “Santa Rosa”), appears at the forefront of every single organic listing – regardless of whether the initial query was “Santa Rosa real estate” or “real estate Santa Rosa.” I realize the algo update pertains to Local, but have not seen such a consistent taxonomy of the geo-reference in organic results before.

  16. Mike:

    This may be an outlier.

    In 2 small niche industries that we know pretty well we are seeing expansion of the pac. We are seeing it in ways we never have seen before.

    In the industries we know the leads, the sources of leads, etc. We know the searches are often regional, regardless of geo terms at times.

    In those cases we are seeing expansions of PACs. We are seeing more businesses included from further ranges. We are also seeing some inclusion of smb’s from the pacs that we had never seen before, wherein we suspect google had created its own regional boundaries that search queries didn’t follow.

    In those cases we are seeing the PAC’s now expand beyond prior boundaries.

    Its actually good and bad for our own smb’s but we can acknowledge that the leads and searches come from further out locations so we think the larger geographies are merited, if not always good for our smbs.

    If the admittedly rarer examples of regional smb’s show more logical larger pacs based on actual search patterns could the reverse be true where commentators are suggesting that PACs have shrunk with 3 pacs rather than 7 Pacs.

    I don’t know. Just making the suggestion.

    Also Google is dramatically better at identifying locations down to zip code and parts of cities towns ie North Bethesda and Bethesda currently versus Bethesda in the past.

    Could shrinking pacs reflect a tighter reflection of searches and clicks within google’s data bases.

    Actually if so, they are the only one’s who know since they have all the data.

    Anyway…very big changes.

  17. We haven’t experienced anything with our Canadian clients either. We have clients across multiple industries – when it lands, I’ll be sure to report any movement we experience.

  18. @Mike, take a look at this: http://searchengineland.com/googles-pigeon-update-solves-yelp-problem-boosts-local-directories-197949?utm_campaign=socialflow&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social

    This would seemingly be a complete contradiction to what Google was trying to accomplish with Venice in populating more relevant localized content (partially, over the other directories (search result aggregators)). Hopefully this is just an initially exaggerated impact that evens-out as G works out the bugs because if not this would be a huge blow to local businesses as their search users would be forced to funnel through the IYP’s and Review sites who are trying to monetize facilitation of those organic Google clicks. It does seem that the SMB’s are seeing a greater level of exposure in the carousel and business listings results but this would be an uneven trade-off.

  19. @Mike. Right on. So the instances of the Pack displaying are down and conversely the instances of directories/IYP’s displaying in the normal organic results are up.

    Additionally, for the carousel/local pack/one box results, some SMB’s are seemingly seeing higher ranking than they have in the past. So it’s somewhat of a trade-off, with Google saying we won’t show you (SMB’s) as much via pack results but within those local pack/carousel/maps/one box results, when you do appear you will be seen with more relevance (potentially over bigger multi-location brands) than you had been in the past. And taking the place of the pack results in the organic results are more aggregators like Yelp, YP, TripAdvisor, etc. This totally flips Venice on it’s head if these results hold beyond this initial impact.

  20. So far I haven’t seen shifts in G local packs here in Australia apart from what I consider to be the normal “breathing” of the packs.
    Interestingly though I’ve had one client plummet with Bing local… (hope I don’t get banned for mentioning the B word).
    Must admit I’m watching G like a hawk now. A bit like @Andy – nervous anticipation :-)

  21. Linda
    I just checked four searches from the list and each behaved slightly differently. Once out of the four it happened the way you said but the others were not consistent.

  22. Yes I’ve barely had time to do much testing, but am seeing so many inconsistencies that I’m thinking either:

    A) It’s still rolling out and a little flaky?

    B) Testing going on, on different data centers or something?

    B) “She” is mixing it up to trying to keep us bamboozled and make it harder to figure it out.

    They also could do some tweaking now that it’s hit the masses and they get some feedback. (Not so much from us, but from surfers.) So it could still change more, before it totally settles into a stable algo we can try to understand.

    At any rate – I’m going to try not to focus on it too much for a few days. Will *try to wait til it appears it’s settled in and going to stick. (*Try being the operative word.) ;-)

  23. Hello,

    I’m a Real Estate Broker and a student of the Local Search Community. I’m a currently a user of MOZ Local. We use it as a way to give each individual Realtor in our brokerage their own pin on the map. I have long preached to my Realtors that local search was the way we could get a head of Zillow and Trulia for first page Google rankings.

    I find it suspicious that these local search changes, for real estate related keywords, happened right in front of the Zillow and Trulia merger/acquisition that was announced. I feel this is somehow related. The Zillow and Trulia merger is a game changer for the real estate industry all on its own. Throw in that Google now does not display Realtors/agents/brokers in local search results… Game over! Googles removal of real estate listings only stands to help accelerate Zillow’s ability to monetize by taking larger and larger advertising fees from Realtors who wish to remain relevant.

    The new Zillow will own the real estate market and mold it as they see fit. Realtors may no longer have to work for companies like ReMax and Keller Williams for promotion of their services. The new Zillow will decide who is relevant based on what they pay in advertising fees. Zillow may also make the MLS irrelevant. Real Estate Agents use to have access to proprietary information through the MLS. Zillow makes information available to everyone.

    I just can’t help but think the time of googles removal of real estate agents/brokers has something to do with the Zillow/Trulia merger.

    Where do Realtors/Brokers go from here? Is local search dead for them?

    Chad Brinks

  24. I’m in the hotel vertical and we discovered this morning that Expedia was showing up in the carousel for the query “New York hotels”. This could be a result of the algorithm update working through kinks. Or this could be a test from Google to gauge user interaction with that result. In our industry, it makes more sense to show users pages that will provide them with a variety of options when they use those broad, generic queries because they are in the early stages of researching where they want to book their hotel stay.

  25. @Mike, indeed it is very weird. We’re also noticing more directory-style pages from sites like Yelp, Expedia and TripAdvisor taking up real estate in the pure organic results. SEL also published an article about this on Friday. Basically, these are category pages that features all hotel products in the market specified by the users query. Individual hotel URLs are either promoted to the carousel or relegated to another results page. But again, users who are doing those broad, generic queries like “Chicago hotels” are more likely to click on the results that will show them a variety of options, as opposed to a single hotel.

  26. Such timing! I just got a brand new local seo client in the real estate space, and watched in horror as none of the keywords we used for his business and location produced local results. To play around a bit, I did more searches and saw that some locations DID produce local results.

    My client’s keyword:
    ” real estate” – No local results!

    Other locations I tried with interesting results:
    “los altos real estate” – Full 7 pack
    “palo alto real estate” – Full 7 pack; although DID NOT show a 7-pack on Friday the 25th.
    “simi valley real estate” – Showed 1 blended result this morning; no longer shows it this afternoon
    “redlands real estate” – Showed 1 blended result this morning; no longer shows it this afternoon

    I searched many other towns around California and saw that most did not display any local results.

    A few tests I ran:
    I am located in Mountain View (yep, THAT Mountain View), right next to Los Altos and Palo Alto; both showed 7-packs. I also tried Sunnyvale (also next door to me), and no results displayed. When I adjusted my location in Google Search to my client’s location, my client’s location still did not appear in local results.

    Here’s my tinfoil hat question: Why are Palo Alto and Los Altos real estate searches still showing the 7-pack?

    To verify that this wasn’t related to cookies or anything else, I ran the searches in separate browsers that I don’t normally use, in both standard and privacy/incognito mode (including Chrome), and still got the same results!

    Overall, I’d say the quality of Local SERPs is down, but I am happy to see web design and SEO get local results again!

  27. Hey folks, I have noticed a few clients are now ranking for a city outside their physical location. For example, let’s take the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area of NC. All of which are populations above 100k and none of which had companies outside the given city ranking for competitive keyword searches (lawn care, dentistry, etc.).

    When I Google “Durham lawn care”, I see several companies in the pack listed from Raleigh and Cary. Previously, only Durham companies were shown. Interestingly enough, one of my clients based in Raleigh no longer ranks in the pack for the Raleigh-based keyword searches but does rank for Durham keyword searches (via work we did prior to the shift to only ranking for your location’s city in Maps a couple years back – don’t quote my memory on timing:-).

    The most interesting thing about this scenario is the fact that the business is a SAB, the address is hidden per Google’s advice, and it just so happens to have an address that’s right on the border of Raleigh and Durham. I’m thinking this is due to location to center city being closer to downtown Durham rather than downtown Raleigh. The same could be said about the other listings outside of Durham showing in the Durham search results based on my research.

    Is Google going with proximity to city center for maps rankings rather than simply ranking businesses by the city where they are located? Thoughts?

  28. Oh and the pack is gone for drug addiction keywords but remains for alcohol addiction keywords which says to me the update (maybe refresh of data after algo update) is still progressing.

  29. A client of ours has been the “B” for “plumber in mission viejo, ca” (and other similar search queries) for 2+ years. Now, they are the “E” position. (See: http://goo.gl/XQULWC)Above them is a plumber in a different community (Laguna Niguel, which is next door) and in the “A” position… a listing through Mike’s favorite local SEO company: 29 Prime. Seriously?

    The website is under 29 Prime’s domain with their typical template pages and very spammy. (See: http://goo.gl/k9F1l2 ) So much for the value of “quality content”.

    Has Google’s mantra of “Do No Evil” been replaced by “A Friend of the Devil is a Friend Of Mine”? Perhaps The Grateful Dead will get some royalty love?

  30. Some additional comments…. prior to pigeon there were some non-brand search queries that would trigger a Knowledge Graph for a local business. Businesses with keyword rich names, ie Miami Beach Resort, were benefiting from the increased Knowledge Graph visibility. Pigeon seems to have addressed this type of issue (among others).

  31. Interesting a 7 pack for SEO. However, I don’t see it, unless I leave personal private search and click on the world icon to see non private search. I also noticed this for a few other business categories.

  32. In addition to many others, apparently they removed my industry (apartments) from the pack, and also removed the map. What a terrible update. Not only does it favor the big directory sites, it also makes it harder for uses to locate where what they are looking for is. Whatever they can do to squeeze more PPC bucks out I suppose.

  33. i lost my business.my website is Asian wit Persian language.i lost my ranking from top 5 search result in more than 10 local competitive queries and many less competitive queries to position 30 or more.

    Google is in wrong way.


    please say me ! just say me and say my speak to Google

    : a person that want to buy a credit Sim card charge, and searching a related query, don’t want content! don’t want any article . he don’t want any extra text! he just buy his charge very fast without any marginal.buy Google says: Useful content, useful result! Google! what are you doing and thinking?

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