On December 2, 2019 Google announced that in November they released what they call the November 2019 Local Search Update and that the rollout was complete.
If you weren’t aware, in November 2019, Google local results and Google Maps results were way out of whack. I was seeing Google My Business pages bounce around in the 3 pack from position 3 to 38 and then up to #1 all month long.
Was this part of the November 2019 Local Search Update? I’m not so sure. Google claims the update rolled out in November, however, the fluctuation continued throughout the month of December as well. Either the person at Google who announced the algorithm change was misinformed of the timing of the update or the update was unrelated to the local fluctuations. That could be the case as Google My Business has been a total dumpster fire since 2018.
What is the November 2019 Local Search Update?
I’ll get to the problems later in this article because the November 2019 Local Search Update is clearly not acting as Google representatives claim it does. That said, I’ll go over how I think it works.
The November 2019 Local Search Update supposedly uses “neural matching”.
That should mean absolutely nothing for certain key searches, such as “pizza near me” or “Bankruptcy Lawyer in Raleigh NC”.
What “neural matching” could take into account, however, is the generation of 3pack results based on something you’re looking for. For example, if you’re looking for an “Auto parts store with Chevy parts in stock”, a 3 pack could be generated based on retail outlets near you which supply OEM Cheverolet automobile parts.
The announcement: November 2019 Local Search Update:
Here’s the announcement so you can see it word for word:
In early November, we began making use of neural matching as part of the process of generating local search results. Neural matching allows us to better understand how words are related to concepts.
The use of neural matching means that Google can do a better job going beyond the exact words in business name or description to understand conceptually how it might be related to the words searchers use and their intents.
Neural matching in local search — which we call the Nov. 2019 Local Search Update — has now fully rolled out. However, as with web search, results can change as there are smaller updates that happen all the time, as well as content itself that constantly changes
The use of neural matching in local search doesn’t require any changes on behalf of businesses. Those looking to succeed should continue to follow the fundamental advice we offer here: https://support.google.com/business/answer/7091
A Note on Neural Matching:
Neural matching sounds way cooler than it actually is, and overall, Google’s local 3 pack results are worse than they were 5 – 10 years ago. It truly is a neglected chunk of Google which absolutely infuriates many business owners.
You would think neural matching would somehow read your brainwaves and pop search results into your phone for Krispy Kreme doughtnuts near you as soon as you were craving something sweet. But, it’s not nearly that cool.
Google’s “neural matching” algorithm is basically in place to help the search engine understand people better.
Google defines it well:
Neural matching is an AI-based system Google began using in 2018 primarily to understand how words are related to concepts. It’s like a super-synonym system. Synonyms are words that are closely related to other words
For example, neural matching helps us understand that a search for “why does my TV look strange” is related to the concept of “the soap opera effect.” We can then return pages about the soap opera effect, even if the exact words aren’t used.
Neural matching helps Google better relate words to searches.
And there’s nothing special searchers or webmasters need to do. These are part of our core systems designed to naturally increase understanding.
Keyword Spam and What Google got Totally Wrong.
Aside from the date of the algorithm update possibly being totally misreported, a Google employee, who I actually really like, Danny Sullivan, said the algorithm could help “businesses not feel pressure they have to shove every keyword into their name.” That’s most definitely not the case. In fact, I have written about why it may be a great idea to name your company specifically for Google’s Local Search results. The spammers understand keyword stuffing works well, as you’ll see below.
Neural matching did not appear to significantly impact spam, in fact, spam in the 3 pack seems worse than ever now DUE to the keyword stuffing. When this was brought to Google’s attention, they said people can report the spam. However, if you work in Local Search at all, you’re well aware that “suggest an edit” on Google My Business profiles is a big waste of time and very, very rarely results in spam being removed from the local 3 pack (instead, use the Google My Business Redressal Form which I wrote about here).
A quick search of Bakersfield Car Accident Lawyer shows all of the spam infecting local search results. As a note, this was a problem I documented well back in 2018 and personally delivered important information to Google on which they have not yet acted on in 2020!
What I like most about this update is that there’s really nothing to go out and do IF you’re already doing everything correctly. There’s no sudden thing to change, however, I will note that Google My Business is monitoring the content of websites and I have noticed some of my clients showing up in 3 packs for all kinds of neat, new, random, interesting terms thanks to content that is on their site somewhere. Comprehensive pages and blogs covering a variety of important, local topics does indeed help surface more 3 packs than competitors get.