Google introduced the major core update in March 2023. Most of the time, core updates affect both organic search results and map pack rankings. After doing some analysis on a company that saw significant drops in its local rankings between the last month and this month, some patterns have emerged that lead me to believe that, indeed, Google has turned the dial on an important local ranking factor.
We noticed that there were major changes to the organic results around March 15, 2023, but the Local Pack results were not updated until around March 29, 2023.
The update seems to have prioritized primary categories as a ranking factor, leading to some significant changes in the visibility of certain companies.
The categories themselves also appear to have gained strength with a broader match to the search query. For example, a search for “electronics” will return more entries for “computer stores”, while a search for “furniture” will return more entries for “upholstery stores”. Similarly, a search for “baby store” now shows more “clothing” type listings.
Main category strengthened as a ranking factor
One of the most noticeable effects of the update is this Weak listings benefited from having a primary category that matches the search query.
This means that businesses that previously struggled to rank due to a lack of meaningful SEO signals are now more visible in the Google search engine.
I have found many dozens of examples of this pattern.
Generally, larger general businesses with many secondary categories lost visibility on searches that matched their secondary categories to more targeted listings.
Categories have been enhanced in their query matching
Besides strengthening the primary category, I also believe that a query match on the category has been extended to less related categories.
Again, this is just an example demonstrating the many instances of this pattern I’ve found.
Some categories match more related keywords, increasing competition
For example, entries for “Electronics Store” now compete more directly with entries that have “Computer Store”, “Internet Store”, “Phone Repair”, etc. as the main category. As these types of deals are fairly common, competitive pressures have increased dramatically.
Similarly, “baby store” listings now compete more directly with numerous related clothing store categories.
When query matches expanded categories into more distinct categories, or expanded into categories with more listing competition, the impact on ranking was significant.
It’s important to note that secondary categories may not have lost strength in the algorithm update, but when competing against competitors with primary categories that match the search query, listings with only one secondary category search query are now at a disadvantage.
Overall, this algorithm update has had a significant impact on local pack rankings for some companies. By prioritizing core categories as a ranking factor, Google has made it more important for businesses to select specific and relevant categories to increase their visibility on search results pages.
The caveat, as with all Google algorithm updates, is that their impact may not last. At the time of publication, only a few weeks have passed since the algorithm was confirmed by Google as ready. It’s very possible that Google will revert some of these changes. They’ve done this with various major local algorithm updates over the past few years.