You’re not dreaming. Google made a rather sweeping change to their search algorithm in November, and it’s had quite the impact already on a number of websites around the world. Named, rather un-inspiringly as the “November 2019 Local Search Update” it uses a technique that Google is calling “neural matching” to deliver local search results to somewhere who is searching for you in your local area.
And this is how it works.
Let’s say, you are a café in Humpty Doo called, “Humpty Doo Café.” Because your name contained many of the same things that people would type into Google to look for you, for example, “café in Humpty Doo,” you had a natural advantage in Google search results. This is because, for the longest time, Google has assumed that if your business was called Humpty Doo Café, that you were probably a café in Humpty Doo.
This new update is rolling out ongoing changes to the way that Google “thinks” when it comes to bringing up the best search results for you. Which means that it will look at much, much, more than the name of the business when it considers what you’re looking for. It will look more at context, location, and a combination of factors to better match your “intent” when you’re searching. The search process will go much further to work out what your endgame is. Are you searching for A Humpty Doo café, or THE Humpty Doo café? Are you searching for a café in general? Or for food… or coffee? Depending on what Google assesses as your “intent” you could see a very different result from another person typing in exactly the same thing to the search box.
It’s clear that Google has changed something recently. In fact, last year when this neural matching was first introduced, it was affecting around 30% of all search queries. This year, with a much more broad rollout to the area of more localised search, that number will be much higher. But the old tried and true Google advice still applies when it comes to search results for local business.
Be relevant to what you really are. Be prominent in your community and online. Be close to where the searching is done. Attempting to be found as a “local” web designer on the Sunshine Coast when you’re actually in Darwin isn’t just misleading, it’s about to get punished.