The most significant change to Google’s local search algorithm since 2016 is now live. Implemented in the first week of December 2021, some law firms have already seen immediate impacts on their local search engine rankings from the “Vicinity” update.

Google’s responses to questions about this upgrade reveal the company has “rebalanced” the factors they consider when it comes to the order of results displayed in Google Maps. So far, a greater emphasis on a listing’s proximity to the searcher’s query seems to be the most significant change in ranking factors.

To account for this algorithm update, attorneys and firms should consider the impact of proximity and hyperlocal keywords going forward.

Proximity is Now More Important Than Ever for Local SEO

The biggest impact of this change so far seems to be for those who had offices far away but were still able to rank competitively for very local keywords. In the past, some firms have been able to optimize their sites and business listings to rank in local packs far away from their actual office locations.

These brands are starting to see a drop in their ranking positions.

The Vicinity update could be problematic for law firms that could take advantage of the lack of focus on exact proximity in the past.

Local businesses attempting to stuff local keywords into their business profile listings against Google’s best practices have also seen a drop in rankings due to the vicinity update.

For the most part, the “losers” in this transition were law firms and companies in other industries who never should have ranked at the top based on their actual proximity to the searcher’s intent in the first place.

Some law firms with well-known primary locations might have seen those take a hit with the Vicinity update but might have seen their second and third office locations scale in the rankings simultaneously.

The key takeaway is that area law firms that have not practiced keyword stuffing in their listing names but have competitors who tried this tactic are likely to see solid rankings. Those firms should continue to invest in local SEO efforts while following Google’s best practices.

Now some of the big dogs who monopolized local search results despite having an office location far away are out of the picture, which holds promise for law firms with great office locations.

Understanding Map Pack Changes Connected to Vicinity Updates

Another key update that coincides with this new focus on actual proximity is the display of the map to the right of search results rather than above search results.

Here’s an example of a January 25, 2022 search for “personal injury attorney downtown Chicago.” See how the law firms that show up are in a particular region of downtown, with their info-based listings appearing on the left.

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The map is now a square rather than a rectangle, too. This narrowing of view could indicate that Google is looking at a smaller geographic area when users search for local businesses.

This result for “personal injury attorney Celebration, Florida” reveals a few law firm office locations close to a golf course and high school with the town name in them.

Two of the top three also have offices on a street with the same name as the town, which could be another potential clue about how Google interprets the searcher’s intent.

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Note that an upcoming law firm has already established their Google presence with a note that says “Opens Apr 20.” That’s a good note for new firms and those opening new offices to lay claim to local SEO benefits as soon as possible.

Similarly, this search for “personal injury attorney Sandusky, OH” reveals several firms concentrated in one area of Sandusky and near attractions with the city name in it.

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What Should Firms Do to Optimize?

Start with an analysis of what key rankings your law firm might have lost in recent months. You’re likely to discover the loss of more generalized terms that were featured in question box answers, for example.

At the same time, you might spot improvements or sudden rankings for neighborhood or area search terms relevant to your personal injury practice.

For firms that could benefit from additional keyword optimization, revisit your keyword lists. While, by most accounts, firms who were keyword stuffing to claim ranking results for areas miles from their office will no longer succeed, you can take advantage of new opportunities to refine your local search rankings.

Here are some other ways to keep your local SEO profile aligned with these changes:

  • Make sure your entire listing on Google and Google My Business has accurate data
  • Verify every law firm office location
  • Revise open hours as necessary
  • Add photos of your firm on a monthly basis
  • Respond to any reviews posted

Final Thoughts on the Vicinity Update

As with all things SEO, continue to optimize and focus on best practices. Keep profiles updated and optimized for all law firm office locations, leverage local SEO keywords across your content marketing, and continue to monitor fluctuations in your local search rankings.

At Rankings.io, we make it possible for you to thrive with local SEO based on campaigns built specifically for lawyers. Contact us today to learn more about local SEO for your firm.