On 5th November 2019, there were numerous reports that Google had rolled out a local search update. Due to its volatility and the number of sites affected, it earned the ominous nickname ‘Bedlam’.

“We started seeing huge changes in the local results (map packs) on this date,” said Joy Hawkins, Local Search Ranking Factors Contributor for Moz. “Every client I checked had shifted and most of them were major.”

Despite the fact some local SEO changes were corrected in the days that followed, Google didn’t confirm the update for nearly another month. On its @SearchLiason Twitter account, Google explained:

“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.”

So, what do you need to know about Google’s Nov. 2019 Local Search Update?

Neural Matching – What Does it Mean?

When announcing the Nov. 2019 Local Search Update on Twitter, Google confirmed that it had begun using neural matching for local search results.

Neural matching allows Google to better understand when user search queries have some sort of local intent, even if the business name or description aren’t included.

It pointed to a previous tweet from the SearchLiaison account in March 2019, which stated:

“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…”

At the time, Google said that searchers or webmasters didn’t need to do anything; neural matching was simply a part of its core systems designed to naturally increase understanding.

Nov. 2019 Local Search Update – Why Does it Matter?

Thanks to Google’s confirmation of the update, local SEOs now know that data showing ranking changes at the start of November wasn’t just their imagination. They can also start updating and amending their sites to better meet Google’s neural matching.

Advice on how to stay on top of the ever-changing world of local SEO remains the same – relevance, prominence and distance are the keys to favourable rankings.

  • Relevance – Add complete and detailed business information to help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.
  • Distance – If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location.
  • Prominence – Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve your local ranking.

Seeing as neural matching was already affecting 30 per cent of queries last year, it’s clear that Google will continue to adopt AI-based systems for search, including local SEO.