Google Algorithm Update: What You Need to Know About Local Search

Towards the end of 2019, rumors of a Google algorithm update began popping up on social media and forums. People noticed fluctuations in rankings that were higher than usual in November, but it wasn’t until early December that Google finally confirmed the update.

Nov. 2019 Google Algorithm Update

The much-speculated update turned out to be the Nov. 2019 Local Search Update. As the name implies, it affects local search. Specifically, the new update will help users find the most relevant results for local search that matches their search intent.

In a series of tweets confirming the update, Google Search Liaison said the search engine started rolling out the update in early November 2019, i.e., Google generated local search results using neural matching, which basically is a “super synonym system,” as the company describes it.

The search giant rolled out the update globally and in multiple languages, so the impact on rankings not only affected the U.S. but all countries that the search engine is available in.

What is Neural Matching? Google’s Danny Sullivan explains that neural matching is an AI method which helps the search engine better connect words to concepts—as opposed to RankBrain, another AI-based system Google released in 2016 and it uses to relate pages to concepts. Drawing from its massive directory of synonyms, the new algorithm will be better able to comprehend the concept behind the search by understanding how the words in the search query are closely related to each other.

As applied to local search, neural matching helps Google know when users have local search intent even when the business name or description (or exact search terms) aren’t included. Some SEO experts think users might get different local results using the same or similar query.

How Will This Google Update Affect Local Businesses?

Google started using neural matching in organic search in 2018, and it impacted 30% of queries as of September that year. The Nov. 2019 update is new to local listings and applies to all the ways the search engine gathers information about businesses, including Google My Business listings.

Sullivan says the new update “may help with spam.” It should lift the pressure of inserting every keyword into business names, which owners often feel they need to do to keep up with spammers. The update is also expected to rank businesses better—especially within their local geographic area—even if their business name or description aren’t optimized to user queries.

What Do You Need to Do?

Nothing. Yup, Google says there’s no special action that webmasters or searchers need to do. The company, however, reminds businesses to follow the advice provided in its basic local ranking guide,

if they aren’t already. In essence, there are three keys to consider in improving businesses’ local ranking: relevance, prominence and distance.

By this time, the Nov. 2019 Google algorithm update, part of the search engine’s core systems “designed to naturally increase understanding,” has rolled out fully and had time to settle down. However, Google cautions that there are always going to be fluctuations from smaller updates as it continually strives to improve search.