How has Google's local search changed throughout the years?
Deciphering the algorithm that Google has can be nearly impossible. If it could be deciphered completely, then surely it would be abused. Over the years, Google has made many changes to keep up with user demands.
These updates by Google usually have the hardest impact on local businesses. Most local businesses don't have large teams or even dedicated employees to handle their search optimization. To make this even more difficult - Google isn't 100% transparent with the exact changes they make or how to make updates so the changes help.
Local search has evolved greatly over the last 10 years. Below is a timeline of the major updates by Google.
2005: Google Maps and Local Business Center merge
After releasing Local Business Center in March 2005, Google merged it with Maps, creating a central location for local business info. For users, this condensed relevant search results to include directions, hours and contact info.
This was a significant update in local SEO. This created a completely different look and way that users could find business information in a single click.
2010: Local Business Center becomes Google Places
In 2010, Google rebranded Local Business Center and created Google Places. This was more than a name change, adding new image features, local advertising options and the availability of geo-specific tags.
To keep up, local businesses needed to make local search a priority.
2012: Google goes local with Venice
With the Venice update, Google’s algorithm would take into account a user’s location and return organic results reflecting that location. This was a massive change, because it allowed users to search without using local modifiers.
2013: Hummingbird arrives
Hummingbird brought significant changes to Google’s semantic search capabilities. Most notably, it helped with better understand long-tail queries, allowing it to more accurately show results to specific user questions.
2014: Pigeon lands
Two years after Venice, Pigeon further defined how businesses ranked on Google localized SERPs. Pigeon linked local search better with ranking signals like high quality and site architecture.
2015: Google cuts back
A smaller but important update, Google scaled back local search results from seven listings to three. This change didn’t affect the mechanics of local SEO, but it did limit the visibility on page one of search results.
2016: Possum stirs the pot
The Possum update attempted to level the playing field local search and adjoining communities. Pre-Possum, local search results were often limited to businesses in a specific geographical location. A store in a nearby area, just outside the city limits of Seattle for instance, would have difficulty ranking or even appearing for search queries that included the word “Seattle.”
Instead of relying solely on the search term, Possum leveraged the user’s location to more accurately deliver results that were relevant and nearby.
2017 and beyond
Predicting when the next major change in local search will occur and how it will impact ranking and SEO practices is nearly impossible.
That being said, here are some local SEO tips that likely will never go out of fashion:
- Manage your local listings for accuracy in NAP (name, address, phone number) and reviews.
- Adhere to organic search best practices and cultivate localized content with local links for individual store locations.
- Mark up your locations with structured data, particularly address, hours, phone number, contact info and more.
When in doubt, look at your successful competitors, and follow their lead. If it works for them, it works for you ... until Google makes another algorithm change.