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Vicinity Algorithm Update Report

The Vicinity Update that occurred in December 2021 affected Google Business Profiles (formerly Google Business Profile) across the world and across industries. Certain businesses were affected more than others. This report focuses on the effects on the legal industry. 

Of the law firms surveyed, 30% were negatively affected by the Vicinity Update. An additional 25% had slight changes to rankings that may or may not be due to the Vicinity Update. Any slight changes could be due to other Google Business Profiles (GBP) in the market being hit hard or boosted due to the algorithm changes. However, there are a myriad of other factors that could be at play. The firms that did see a substantial negative change that we attribute to the Vicinity Update had rankings fluctuate during the two-week period, dropped once the update was over, and plateaued at the lower ranking for weeks after the update.

While 30% of the firms surveyed for this study were negatively affected, by the end of January many had bounced back to their pre-vicinity update rankings and traffic levels. This was in part due to shifts in their marketing plans based on the specific drops they incurred. These new plans took into account the newly ranking competition, their backlink portfolio, and their GBP URL page structure. All geogrids and rankings in the following report are before and directly after the update to show the full effect.

Any firms that have not bounced back are being filtered by competition that is too close physically on a map. Currently, the only keywords that firms have not been able to regain are geo-specific or ‘near me’ terms, which are now hyperfocused on the searcher’s physical location versus a firm obtaining a city-wide monopoly.

Certain trends did arise in the data. For example, law firms with ‘niche’ practice areas had a higher likelihood to incur little to no effect from the update. ‘Niche’ firms for this report are considered to be any focus other than personal injury, criminal defense, and family law.

While the data set is nearly split half and half between ‘big’ and ‘medium’ sized markets, medium-sized markets had drastic changes both positively and negatively. This shows that even with lower competition shake-ups still occurred. In previous algorithm updates, normally higher competitive markets were affected more often. This is not the case with the Vicinity Update.  There does not seem to be a trend of certain US states or regions being affected more or less than others.

Finally, keywords in the GBP name may have been affected by the update. Other agencies have seen a potential correlation between the two. But our data set showed that while GBPs that historically included keywords in their name tended to be negatively affected, GBPs that had added keywords within the last year tended to be positively affected.

 

Overall Analysis

 

For this report, our team looked into the following variables:

  • Vicinity Update Effect
  • Market Size
  • Practice Area Type
  • Keyword in the GBP Name

The Vicinity Update effect was determined by how rankings fluctuated. All firms included in the data set had ranking geogrids pulled before and after the update, so our team was able to see exact changes caused by the algorithm update. Out of our data set, ~25% of firms were negatively impacted to some degree. Only ~6% saw a major drop.

 

Percentage Results Based on Market Size

The market size was determined by the population of the main geo for each firm. Metropolitans like Atlanta, Washington DC, Houston, and Indianapolis are included in the ‘big markets.’ Some examples for the ‘medium markets’ are Alpharetta, GA, Chattanooga, TN, Tustin, CA, and McKinney, TX.

Below are pie charts showing the overall breakdown of the data set for big versus medium-sized markets and how firms per market size were affected by the update. While there are slightly more medium-sized firms in the data set, they were more likely to be positively affected or not affected at all. Big markets with more competition tended to fluctuate rankings more and firms were negatively impacted.

 

Percentage Results Based on Practice Area

Only 25% of the firms in this data set are considered a ‘niche’ practice area. For the purposes of this study, Criminal, Family, and Personal Injury laws are considered not niche. All other types of law are considered niche. Niche includes, but is not limited to, Immigration, Business, Whistleblower, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Very few of the niche firms were affected negatively by the algorithm update. This is most likely due to less competition which led to less ranking fluctuation.

We did, however, see firms who do not cover the same niche practice areas rank in the three pack for types of law they do not provide. For example, criminal attorneys ranking for whistleblower terms or real estate attorneys ranking for business terms. This is most likely caused by the niche fields not having an accurate primary category selected. Google does not currently offer a “business lawyer” or “whistleblower lawyer” category, so it is more difficult to rank for these terms if your firm only handles those types of cases. We did not see this issue occur for “immigration attorney” as that does have its own GBP category.

 

Percentage Results for Surveyed Firms with Keywords in the GBP Name

Other marketing companies and experts in the field have noticed a trend of GBPs containing keywords in the name losing rankings. We saw similar results with our data set but found an interesting distinction. The firms with keywords in the name that had rebranded in the last year tended to be positively affected or not affected at all. Only one firm that had a historical keyworded name had positive results, the other 14 were either negatively affected or had minimal change.

This is most likely due to the Googlebot crawling the brand more frequently or for a longer period of time. Therefore, keywords in the name may have more of a negative effect on the brands that have been using this tactic for longer. One firm, which changed its name to include keywords mere weeks before the update, only saw a boost in rankings.

 

 

Positive Changes

 

Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyer

The firm had previously been outranked by their competitor, who is situated East of their office. The competitor was outranking the firm when a searcher was in or nearby their office. But after the update, the firm now ranks #1 at their office space and in three packs to the West, in which the firm is one of the closest available options.

The firm’s geogrids, before and after:

The above and all following geogrids in this report are centered on the firm’s office unless otherwise stated.

 

Cincinnati Personal Injury Lawyer

This firm has historically had difficulty ranking in downtown Cincinnati. However, after the update, the firm jumped from 7th to 2nd. The #1 firm in the center dot is also located downtown and is only 0.4 miles away from the firm.

The firm’s geogrids, before and after:

#1 Competitor geogrids, before and after:

 

Negative Changes

 

Alpharetta Divorce Lawyer

This firm has historically ranked very well across the Alpharetta and Northeast Atlanta suburbs. After the update, they had been pushed out of the three packs by firms that are physically located very close to their office. Due to this close proximity–in this case, actually sharing a parking lot–the firm has lost rankings to their competition and is being filtered by other factors, such as having fewer GBP reviews.

Firm’s geogrids, before and after:

Competition locations:

 

Lincoln Personal Injury Lawyer

This firm is located on the East side of Lincoln and has historically ranked well in the surrounding area, but has had difficulty ranking downtown where the competition is. After the update, the firm was replaced in the downtown area by even more competitors who are physically closer but not as well built-out digitally. For example, this firm beats its competitors in terms of GBP reviews, domain authority, and backlinks, but because they are not downtown, it cannot rank downtown.

Firm’s geogrids, before and after:

The bottom right corner that dropped from 2 to 3 was replaced by a firm that is physically the closest but hadn’t been ranking well before the update.

Competitor Geogrid, after update:

X is their office. There is no competition SE of their office.

 

Major Drops

 

Gulfport Personal Injury Lawyer

This firm is new to BluShark Digital and has not been built out using best practices yet. The website is being redone, very few backlinks exist, and the GBP is not fully optimized, nor are there many GBP reviews. It is important to note that firms that have not been well built out online were likely hit harder by the update than those who focus on digital marketing.

This firm dropped from ranking just outside the three-pack to barely being on the first page of results. This decrease occurred for nearly all main keywords. Unlike the other examples, the new ranking competition is not close to the firm OR to any other competition.

Firm’s geogrids, before and after:

As you can see from the map below, the #1 and #2 ranking competition are firms that are not physically close to others. This causes their GBP to stand out and not be filtered by others. Additionally, both #1 and #2 are well built out digitally, have a well-built website with keyworded content, GBP reviews, and a well-rounded backlink portfolio. Conversely, #6 and #8 are also not close to competition but do not do as well from a marketing perspective, so they are outranked by competition in downtown Gulfport.

 

Saratoga Springs Divorce Lawyer

This firm had previously ranked in the 3 pack across Saratoga Springs and the surrounding area, despite being Northeast of the city center. Contrary to other ranking changes we have seen, the new ranking competitors are not physically close to the firm. In fact, the new top five firms are closer to downtown.

Firm’s geogrids, before and after:

Map of Competitions office locations:

#6 is the Firm

Here are the geogrids showing how the update affected the top competition in Saratoga Springs:

#1, before and after:

#2, before and after:

#3, before and after:

#4, after:

Note: This competitor was not ranking on page 1 before.

#5, before and after:

It is important to note, while this firm had previously ranked well in Saratoga Springs despite its low review count, this is a place for improvement.

GBP Reviews and Star Rating Comparison:
  • #1 – 15, 4.5
  • #2 – 15, 4.2
  • #3 – 13, 4.0
  • #4 – 2, 4.5
  • #5 – 20, 4.7
  • #6 (firm) – 4, 5.0

It is interesting to note the different primary categories for the top six firms as well. Historically, only GBPs with the divorce or family law attorney primary categories would rank for the applicable key term searches. However, now we are seeing “attorney” GBPs rank who have family-related content on their website.

Category Results:
  • #1 – divorce lawyer
  • #2 – attorney
  • #3 – attorney
  • #4 – family law attorney
  • #5 – attorney
  • #6 (firm) – divorce lawyer

 

Strange Results

 

Medford Personal Injury Lawyer

While the Vicinity Update seems to have done its job across markets, there are some strange results that occurred. This firm in Medford was negatively impacted by the update and is now outranked by competition that is far away. Additionally, the firm has a much better digital presence than the new ranking competitors.

Firm’s geogrids, before and after:

Competition locations:

For reference, #8 and #15 are 35 minutes apart.

Over the next few months, we expect incorrect results like this to be fixed by Google as they work out the kinks of the algorithm update.

 

 

Content retrieved from: https://blusharkdigital.com/case-study/vicinity-algorithm-update-report/.