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Local SEO 911: Algo Updates? Changes? Hold Onto Your Wallet.

As I mentioned in my last income report, I want to get back on track this month when it comes to publishing new content, and there is no better topic than this.

One of my favorite topics, is local SEO, and I tend to see things a bit differently than many of the experts out there. I don’t care about discussing theories and promoting hyped up methods that aren’t working, just what I view as beneficial to your business, or client’s business.

There’s been a lot of recent changes, some talked about more than others. Some of these changes include:

  1. Descriptions removed from GMB profiles
  2. Local algorithm shake up (allegedly)
  3. Core algorithm change (allegedly)

In this post I will discuss these changes, and share with you my opinion on what you should do to stay above water…

When Google Changes, We Must Follow

Look, I understand the frustration many of you have when it comes to SEO in general. You don’t know who or what to believe when you’re trying to learn, and you don’t know what to do when Google changes everything.

This is something you need to learn to deal with, and eventually something you will look forward to. After all, SEOs in general have difficulties trying to change. People are still selling “high PR links” even though PR hasn’t been publicly updated in YEARS.

When a major shakeup happens, you are at a level playing field with most of your competition. A little bit of testing, gets you ahead of your opponents.

There’s no sense in objecting to the changes. In the world of SEO, you have to embrace the change.

Nothing is static. We’re in a liquid industry that can potentially change on any given day. If you can’t handle that reality, then you aren’t going to be successful providing this very essential service.

Google No Longer Displaying Descriptions

Mike Blumenthal reported in early August that descriptions were being removed from Google My Business. However, the change wasn’t fully rolled out to every Google TLD until about a week later.

If you follow some of the posts at different search forums or communities, you get the impression that no one cares, that the description never mattered for rankings, and never made any difference when it comes to calls to action because nobody ever saw the descriptions.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe they have ever tracked links or calls to action that were specifically added to the descriptions, because if they did they would probably see the same impact I’ve seen from those descriptions. For example, a tree service in texas received over 20 clicks a month to a landing page in the CTA, which converted at 45% visitor to lead, and lead conversions were at 50%. At an average job of $650, $2,600/mo was generated from a simple link.

Those useless revenue generating descriptions…

Why This Matters In Local SEO

Now we can debate the visibility of the descriptions used on GMB listings all day long, but the thing that probably matters most to you NOW, is what difference does it make going forward?

Here’s where the impact is… Listing optimization is probably more important than backlink creation. Don’t hold me to that… but those business descriptions made it very easy to expand on your target keywords, showing additional industry and location relevance. Even if they weren’t highly visible, they impacted local search results.

Now that has been fully removed, you can expect business names, and the domain itself to hold a much higher level of impact. EMD’s are more alive now, than they have ever been when it comes to local search. Keyword loaded business names, are also more prevalent now than they have ever been before.

This small change, that people seem to not care about, has added more weight to the areas that SEO insiders have been complaining about for the last couple years. If something in an algorithm changes, or weight is removed from one thing, it doesn’t just disappear, it gets allocated to a different area.

Believe it or not, this change is a big shakeup.

Local Search Algorithm Change

According to Search Engine Land, another change happened in local results. A lot of people have their opinions on what it was about, or if it even is an update to the local algorithm at all.

The debate seems to be focused on whether this was related to a spam filter vs. local algorithm change.

Google hasn’t said anything about it except John Mueller that commented on updates in general, saying it wasn’t related to penguin.

Here are my thoughts:

1.) It probably was a “quality update”. Literally right before any suspicion of an update, I noticed a LOT of spammy listings ranking much higher than they should have been. This seems to happen right before a quality update happens. Spam gets sent to the top because of a filter or overlay that’s added.

2.) If this is an algorithm change, it’s probably related to how Google determines “quality” businesses. Spam is an ongoing problem in local search, and will continue to be until Google changes the way it determines ranking. I have strong reservations in giving Google credit on this, since history tells us they don’t really have a plan in combating spam in the local search arena.

All the evidence suggests this is NOT an algorithm update. Unless the evidence suggests otherwise, anyone that is trying to make money off of you with their secret information on what works post-algo, they have some snake oil to sell you.

What You Need To Know Going Forward

Whether this Local SEO change is just a quality update or an algorithm change, the focus is around quality. Based on my tracking, businesses that have a lot of supporting content both for their industry and location, have been doing well.

Sites with thin supporting content, for example, a site with just a home, about, services, and contact page, are not doing as well.

It goes deeper than that though.

Sites with a strong citation and social media “fortress”, are doing better than those with a weaker footprint.

I believe the days of citations being the local version of a backlink, are long gone. I don’t believe citations, NAP consistency, or any of that crap directly matters for ranking improvements anymore. However, I do believe a lack of citations can prevent rankings, and be seen as a lower quality business and possible lead broker/generation site.

Most of the listings experiencing a loss in rankings that I’ve looked at, have a strong correlation with low citation footprint, which supports the idea that this is related to a quality update and not an algorithmic change.

Maybe citations aren’t as important for ranking benefit, but if they are being used as a signal that determines whether a business is legitimate or not, then it does have indirect influence. So don’t worry citation sellers, you are still needed, you’re just a commodity now but hey, commodities still make money.

Core Algorithm Change?

When Search Engine Land, and SEroundtable both reported possible changes to the core algorithm, the evidence being used is just a handful of complaints on various forums.

I’m skeptical of people claiming an algorithm change. Yes, we understand that Google makes 1,000+ updates/tweaks each year. Are the complaints and hype about a new core algorithm, valid?

Let’s take a look at what John Mueller from Google has said:

My thoughts: No major update, just RankBrain related. 

When I looked at my Google Webmaster Tools, it shows an update happening on August 31st.

WMT hasn’t updated since then for me, but apparently it is a bug and being worked on.

Google has said what is displayed in Webmaster Tools is an error, and not a real update. It’s fine to be skeptical when it comes to Google and trying to determine whether they are telling the truth or not. In this case, I believe they are telling the truth.

The data I have looked at, suggests that the ranking fluctuations are less about SERP movement and more about how Google is handling the search term to understand user intent, history, and the end goal of finding the information they want.

For example, this update should impact local organic search more than a broader national search.

If this is a tweak to RankBrain, then it isn’t about ranking signals, it’s just about understanding the intent of the search. For example, if you are in New York and you’re searching for a bed and breakfast in Portland, without a state identifier, Google will use historical data, previous searches, location, etc. to determine which Portland results should show up for you. Portland, Maine will more likely show up for a New York searcher, than Portland Oregon.

This update can also benefit a broader national keyword selection by using supporting content to see which sites are the most relevant to the user’s intent.

All in all, everything I am seeing, suggests this isn’t a core algorithm change but a tweak in RankBrain. Rank Brain isn’t something that is a ranking signal, it’s just something that Google uses to determine the type of results it will display.

This would explain why Wikipedia has dropped for certain keywords that have a high level of buyer intent. It also explains why Wikipedia has gained for keywords that seem to be early research stage keywords that have less buyer intent. The same applies to Amazon, many pages dropped that have keywords with low buyer intent, while keywords with higher buyer intent have increased.

This also should effect many local directories. It seems that Thumbtack was hit pretty hard on a local level in organic search, while sites with more location relevance have increased. Yelp, same story except when it comes to the research phase of a specific business.

There’s very little evidence that supports the case for this being a major algorithm change. Everything suggests it is related to Rank Brain.

Final Thoughts

Ranking fluctuations are normal. When one person brings to everyone’s attention, negative movement in the SERPs, everyone seems to freak out, race to their rank checkers, and if there’s movement they automatically assume it’s some new major algorithm change.

Instead of freaking out, thinking the sky is falling and the world is going to end, it’s time to take a deep breath and look at evidence objectively and adapt your strategy if necessary.

In this case, there’s a lot of hoopla but little evidence to support it. Be prepared to get bombarded with emails by marketers wanting you to join their next “no fluff” webinar where they teach you how to rank post algo, and spam images with exif data so you can rank. :/

I’d rather sit over here keepin’ it real than hoping to extort a few bucks from people that are naive.

Questions? Comments? Flames? Post em up below!


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