Google’s ‘Vicinity’ SEO update – what does it mean for my practice?

In November 2021, Google introduced the rollout of its ‘Vicinity’ algorithm update. Understanding the impact of this update is important, particularly as it has brought some of the most significant changes to local search engine optimisation (SEO) since the Possum update in 2016. 

What exactly is the ‘Vicinity’ update? 

The largest update of the local search algorithm in five years. Primarily targeting proximity, this algorithmic update is relevant to all local businesses, especially veterinary practices. 

Google wants to further improve local search results and its latest strategy is to ensure that local businesses are only ranking well for relevant local search engine results pages (SERPs) and not results outside of their immediate geographical area. This has meant that many businesses have been overtaken by smaller businesses that are located closer to the location of the searcher. 

Our SEO expert Chris says,

“We have seen this update already influencing where businesses are being seen and leads to a reduction in visibility when targeting a larger area.”

“The reasoning behind this change is understandable from Google’s perspective, showing the closest businesses to searchers on mobile, however, this is a double-edged sword. In some instances, Google My Business listings with no reviews or ratings show up in the local pack just due to being the closest to the searcher’s location. This, surely, is not ideal for searchers, and possibly not what the searcher wanted at all.”

What does vicinity mean for my veterinary practice? 

This update has been penalising businesses leveraging keyword stuffing techniques, whereby their SEO efforts incorporated keywords beyond those with maximum relevance. 

This may affect you in several ways.  

It may mean that you can focus more closely on using natural language, without worrying about ensuring that you’re incorporating a variety of category keywords. 

Alternatively, you may need to invest in ranking for terms related to your locality. This is more unlikely, however, as you should already have been focusing on ranking in SERPs for your immediate local area as your practice is a valuable part of your community. 

‘Vicinity’ and the redesign of Google Local Pack 

Notably, this update came at the same time as the Local Pack redesign. Now, all Local Pack results will serve a trio of results positioned on the left side of the screen with a map located on the right side of the page. From 2015 until now, Local Pack results have been positioned below the map. 

Pay close attention to Google My Business 

Additionally, the search giant recommends that all local businesses should ensure their Google My Business (GMB) profile is in order to maximise SERP visibility. There are several points to note here. 

“Because locality is now more dominant in the ranking factors of local businesses optimising your website and your Google My Business listing is even more important, as these are only things you can influence.” 

Chris has put together his top four action points for veterinary practices to implement now to help reduce (or should we say maximise) the impact of the Vicinity rollout. 

  1. Completeness

Start by ensuring that every element of your GMB profile has been completed. This includes verifying your location, which most veterinary practices opt to do by post. The process is simple and involves a postcard with a unique verification code being sent to your practice. 

  1. Accuracy

Next, review every piece of information for accuracy, paying particular attention to your opening hours and don’t forget to mention changes to opening hours during upcoming events.  

  1. Personality

It is also beneficial to add photos of your practice, taking care to ensure they reflect your brand, personality and ethos. 

  1. Engagement

The final component of a well-maintained GMB page is to manage and respond to every review. This will help you to demonstrate that you’re engaged with your business and your audience. 

Moving forwards, it is wise to expect that Google will continue to prioritise user experience (UX) which is likely to involve the continued adaptation on the part of local businesses like yours. 

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