Google rolled out the broad Core Update in March 2023. Most of the time, the core updates impact both organic search results and map pack rankings. After performing some analysis on a company that saw significant drops in their local rankings between last month and this month, some patterns have emerged that leave me to believe that, yes, in fact, Google did turn the dial on a major local ranking factor.
We found that there were major changes to the organic results around March 15, 2023, but the update to the local pack results didn’t happen until around March 29, 2023.
The update appears to have prioritized primary categories as a ranking factor, resulting in some significant changes in the visibility of certain businesses.
The categories themselves also appear to have increased strength on more of a broad match to the query. For example, a search for “electronics” now turns up more “computer store” listings, while a search for “furniture” brings up more “upholstery shop” listings. Similarly, a search for “baby store” now turns up more “clothing” type listings.
Primary Category Has Strengthened as a Ranking Factor
One of the most noticeable effects of the update is that weak listings have benefited from having a primary category matching the query.
This means that businesses that previously struggled to rank due to a lack of meaningful SEO signals are now more visible on Google’s search engine.
I have found many dozens of examples of this pattern.
Basically, larger general businesses with many secondary categories have lost visibility on queries that matched their secondary categories to more focused listings.
Categories have been Broadened in their Query Matching
As well as the primary category being strengthened, I also believe that a query match to the category has been expanded into more loosely related categories.
Again, this is only one example demonstrating the many instances of this pattern that I have found.
Some Categories Match to More Related Keywords, Which Increases Competition
For example, ‘electronic store’ listings now more directly compete with listings that have ‘computer store’, ‘Internet Shop’, Phone Repair Shop’, etc. as their primary category. Since these types of stores of fairly common, competitive pressure has increased dramatically.
Similarly, ‘baby store’ listings now compete more directly with numerous related clothing store categories.
Where categories have been query match broadened into more different categories, or have been broadened into categories with more listing competition, the effect on rankings has been significant.
It’s important to note that secondary categories may not have lost strength in the algorithm update, but when pitted against competitors with primary categories that match the query, listings with only a secondary category query matching are now at a disadvantage.
Overall, this algorithm update has had a significant impact on local pack rankings for some businesses. By prioritizing primary categories as a ranking factor, Google has made it more important for businesses to choose specific and relevant categories to increase their visibility on search results pages.
The caveat, as with all Google algorithm updates, is that their effect may not last. At the time of publishing this, it has only been a few weeks since the algorithm has been confirmed as finished by Google. It’s very possible that Google rolls back some of these changes. They have done this with various major local algorithm updates in the last few years.