Google Bug Causes Widespread Shifts In Local Search
Our clients frequently ask for our take on changes in the digital and search marketplace, particularly those that will require a shift in strategy and/or tactics for marketers.
Below is a brief look at a bug that has widely impacted local search results from Google. As this was written, the company had yet to say definitively what caused the disruption. We will continue to monitor the effects and provide our analyses as things progress.
Recently, many local search results appeared to have experienced a significant shift in rankings. While at first it seemed as if Google had quietly updated its local search algorithm, the company acknowledged that this massive shift change was due to a bug.
What Caused The Bug?
While there has yet to be an official announcement identifying the source of the bug, many SEOs believe that this issue stems from one of two possible sources. The first theory is that the bug originated deep within Google’s location algorithm, causing it to ignore users’ set location. For example, if a user’s location is set to Seattle, Washington, the bug is disregarding the IP location and set search location. As a result, Google delivers results that can range up to 100 miles outside of Seattle.
The second theory places blame on the recent update to Google Maps as a result of inappropriate hacking. On Thursday May 21, Google issued an apology when certain Google Maps searches returned wildly inappropriate results (such as the White House). Google has yet to confirm a relationship between the two, but the date of the company’s official “Google Maps Googlebomb” apology coincides with the beginning of changes in local rankings, leading many SEOs to believe the two events are closely associated. Google’s mention of “building upon a key algorithmic change [it] developed for Google Search” has only furthered the validity of this theory in some quarters.
What Does This Mean For Local Businesses?
For now, the bug is impacting how far away localized searches have to be in order to rank. Searches are appearing to be less localized, with some users reporting businesses ranking that are up to 100 miles away from their set location. The bug is also drastically increasing the frequency of local packs returning for results, as shown by the image below.
With fewer limitations on businesses returning for results, there is more competition for SERP real estate, leading many businesses to see fluctuations in their rankings, impressions and traffic from the past two weeks.
What Should You Do?
Because these changes are the result of an algorithm bug, there are limited steps that can be taken to prevent or counteract the implications. Google has reported that it’s placed high priority on exterminating the bug, and some SEOs have already started to see their rankings and traffic return to normal.
Despite these apparent improvements, monitoring web traffic and rankings in the short term will be imperative in determining when Google’s resolution of the bug has been accomplished. Monitoring rankings is also essential in determining if any fluctuations are the result of penalization or internal factors. If a drop in rankings and traffic persists past when Google officially announces a fix, it is most likely site-specific and will require a deeper look into the website to identify any technical or on-page factors causing the issue.
As for the bigger picture, now would be an ideal time to review any local search optimization strategy currently in place. Elements such as citations, local listings, and landing pages may have played a role in how significant traffic and rankings were impacted during the time the bug was active. One thing to take into account is the recent Google Doorway Algorithm that caused a significant decrease in traffic on local directories such as Yelp.com and Yellowpages.com. If analytics are showing decreased traffic from these local directories, it is a result of this Doorway Algorithm update and is unrelated to the local search bug.
–Expert opinion from Acronym, with special thanks to Kelly Marcus.
Kelly is an SEO Analyst on the Travel Team at Acronym Media. Kelly supports the team in executing a variety of efforts including on-page, off-page, and technical optimizations with special focus on local search optimization. She has enhanced the SEO strategy for high-profile clients such as Four Seasons, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, and Denihan Hotel Group.
Prior to Acronym, Kelly graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with degrees in Public Relations and Psychology. She has past experience in public relations, marketing, paid search, and social media.