The ‘Vicinity Update’: Winners and losers from the November 2021 local update

This update seemed to be focused on changes around proximity and distance.

Chat with SearchBot

Google announced last week that it rolled out an update to the local search and map pack results. It began on November 30 and finished on December 8.

We noticed really dramatic differences in ranking on December 6, 2021. My agency named the update “The Vicinity Update” because the most significant impact we saw was that Google made it so that smaller, less established businesses that are closer to the user are now ranking better than overpowered businesses further away. Google said that it “rebalanced” the factors that make up the algorithm and we have observed that proximity got a big boost while some relevance factors declined. 

What industries did it impact?

This update was dramatic, and in my findings, is the biggest update we have seen in local search since the Hawk update in 2017. Some industries are seeing the impact more than others. We are seeing huge differences for lawyers, home services, insurance, dentists, and many others. It’s important to note that you won’t likely see the impact of this update unless you are doing grid tracking that shows you how far away from your office you rank.

The winners

The winners in this update are:

  • Businesses that don’t have keywords in their business name but have strong competitors that do.
  • Secondary locations for prominent businesses. For example, I’ve seen almost uniformly, across every example I’ve looked at, that the primary location for a business took a hit but their newer offices increased. Here is an example in the insurance vertical:
Top 3 Rankings BeforeTop 3 Rankings AfterDifference
Business A – Main Location848668-180
Business A – Second Location679730
Business B – Main Location12298-24
Business B – Second Location214625

The losers

The losers from this update are:

  • Businesses that ranked really far from their office.
  • Businesses with keywords in the business name.

For example, below are screenshots from a business that meets both criteria. One of the keywords that describes their service is a part of their actual LLC name. They used to rank really far from where they are located and no longer do.

A local business that has keywords in its name ranks much worse further away from its location after the Google November 2021 local update.

The pins indicate the location the user is searching from. Green pins indicate the business ranks in the top three results, yellow pins indicate the business ranks near the top three results and red pins mean the business does not rank near the top three results.

Why we care

Google has weighted keywords in the business name too heavily for as long as I can remember. This often leads to businesses adding them, regardless of the fact that it breaks Google’s guidelines, because it has such a significant impact on ranking It has also led to Google showing fake listings in the search results instead of real businesses. With this update, businesses that are newer and trying to follow Google’s guidelines should have a much greater shot of ranking. 

If you have questions about how the algorithm update impacted you, feel free to chime in over at the thread at the Local Search Forum.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Joy Hawkins
Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006 and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

Get the must-read newsletter for search marketers.