UPDATE – September 16: Ben Fisher has confirmed that the issue of service-area business listings dropping out of Google Maps rankings is a bug. There’s no timeline for a fix as yet, but they’re working on it.
Google may have rolled out a local search ranking update around September 7th.
Local SEOs in the Local Search Forum are reporting ranking drops for service-area businesses (SABs) on mobile, with some SAB Google Business Profiles suddenly not visible on desktop. These drops in rankings have only been seen in Local Pack results, and not in organic rankings.
These changes in rankings seem to have started happening around September 7, suggesting a change in the local algorithm focussed on SABs, on or around this date.
Sterling Sky‘s Joy Hawkins has said:
“I’m hearing a few cases like this lately and I’m starting to wonder if it’s related to the algorithm updates.”
However, she is not able to provide specific advice at this time. As you’ll see below, the whole local SEO community is currently trying to figure this one out.
Above, Joy is referring to Google’s Helpful Content Update (which started on August 25th and took two weeks to roll out) as well as the September Broad Core Algorithm Update, which started rolling out two days ago.
It’s possible that the fluctuations the community is seeing in SAB rankings are tied to these updates, but there’s always the potential of a local-only algorithm update. The last update to the local algorithm that Google acknowledged was the Vicinity Update in late 2021, so we’re certainly due another.
Return of the Kansas Bug?
There’s also talk of these ranking changes being the result of a resurfacing of the ‘Kansas bug’, which “essentially removes back end information about your location and relocates your business to the middle of Kansas.”
For example, Local SEO expert Amy Toman spotted her Texas-based service-area businesses appearing in Kansas.
Seeing it in the US also. The below are seen in Fawn Creek Township, KS; they're SABs based in Texas, Arizona, and Maryland. @GoogleMyBiz please take note. https://t.co/bVleRA2Thy pic.twitter.com/Qj9rZLgqOK
— Amy Toman 🏖😎 (@BubblesUp) September 13, 2022
What do local SEOs need to know now?
At the moment, local SEO experts are working out what has happened, and how to resolve the changes in visibility and ranking.
Advice across the Local Search Forum is to contact Google support if your service-area business is affected by the Kansas bug.
The situation is changing all the time. For example, User Julie-b (as mentioned on the Local Search Forum thread) is now experiencing a fix to the issue:
“Without doing anything, today [my] business profile has bounced back to #2 in the local pack!!”
This quick reversal of fortunes suggests a bug could be at play.
Is this an algorithm update?
Barry Schwartz, of Search Engine Roundtable and Search Engine Land, is reporting the changes as a possible local algorithm update, because they’ve happened around the same time as the rollout of Google’s Helpful Content Update and September’s Broad Core Algorithm Update.
Meanwhile, in Tim Kahlert’s Local SEO Strategies Facebook Group, Kyle Sabraw has said:
“I’ve been hearing a few complaints over the past week that some SAB GBPs are being completely hidden [in] maps, even for branded searches. I’m 99% sure this is related to the rollout of the new algo update, so do a quick branded search and see if your GBP is showing up in maps.”
However, Joy Hawkins has noted more changes with her own GBP for Sterling Sky. That business profile now shows the option for a user to find ‘Directions’ to the business, despite it being an SAB.
Seeing directions icons on Google Maps for service area businesses (SABs) that shouldn't have them – and they don't work. Maybe this is related to all the insane fluctuations we're seeing for SABs. Something is broken… pic.twitter.com/iJq66XGTV4
— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) September 14, 2022
Alongside this, and the possible resurfacing of the Kansas bug, it’s difficult to tell whether there has been the cause of:
a) an individual local algorithm update
b) the impact of the Helpful Content Update or September Broad Core Algorithm Update (or both!)
c) a series of bugs
d) something else entirely
Whatever the case, someone at Google is keeping local SEOs very busy this week.
We’ll of course keep an eye on these changes and update you when something more concrete has been established.
Are you working with an SAB that’s seen GBP bugs or drops in rankings? Let us know in the comments below!