What to know about the ‘Bedlam’ local search update

Posted on December 30, 2019 • Written by Jeff Williams
Bedlam local search update confirmed

Members of the Search Engine Optimization community are constantly keeping a lookout for changes in the search rankings that might indicate that Google has made an update to their algorithm. Recognizing that an update has occurred is the first step in adjusting one’s strategy to take advantage of newly introduced ranking factors or recovering from newly imposed penalties. However, because Google only pre-announces major core algorithm updates, there is often a lot of uncertainty about smaller algorithm changes: when observers spot unusual fluctuations in ranking, is it a sign of an unannounced update, or merely regular churn? Therefore, when Google does make an announcement to officially confirm that an update has taken place, it garners a great deal of SEO attention. Google recently made just such an announcement, confirming that the speculated “Bedlam Update” was in fact an official algorithm update which they called “the November 2019 Local Search Update.” This article will tell you everything you need to know about the history behind the update, what’s noteworthy about it, and what to expect moving forward.

The History of the Bedlam Update

The update which is now commonly referred to as Bedlam was first noticed by people and automated tracking tools which registered an unusual amount of volatility in Google’s My Business local pack rankings. Depending on which specific source one consults, the update began around November 3-5 and continued through the 10th. Based on the magnitude of the changes, people were prepared to declare the hypothetical update to be the largest since Google’s 2016 Possum update; and they gave it a number of nicknames, including Bedlam. However, without an official statement from Google, there could be no certainty over what exactly the update entailed, or even if it truly was an update rather than, for instance, a bug. While speculation flourished based on personal anecdotes and alleged patterns in which types of site had gained or lost in ranking, there were no hard facts. That all changed this December when, a month after the update had rolled out, Google officially confirmed that what the community had been calling Bedlam was their November 2019 Local Search Update and provided details about the change.

What’s Noteworthy About Bedlam?

According to Google, the Bedlam Update was designed to apply neural matching to local queries in order to allow their search algorithm to better understand user queries. Neural matching is an AI method for teaching an algorithm how to connect words to concepts, thereby allowing it to deliver more relevant results than merely attempting to match keywords — a method which can fail when a user performs a search using different phrasing that means the same thing but doesn’t match the specific keywords on a site, or be abused by spammers who stuff their sites full of irrelevant keywords in an attempt to manipulate the rankings. According to Google, the goal of this update is the same as all of their updates — to provide more relevant, higher-quality content in response to user queries — and neural matching is simply one more method of attempting to achieve that.

What to Expect Moving Forward

With Google’s announcement coming a month after the update was released, Bedlam’s roll out has long since finished. However, that doesn’t mean that users won’t continue to see ongoing changes. As a neural AI algorithm, Bedlam is not static – it continues to learn and improve how it relates concepts and defined relevance. For webmasters wondering what to do in order to maximize gains and minimize losses from this algorithm, Google’s advice is to build a site in accordance with Google’s webmaster guidelines. Because the algorithm is working to send users to relevant and high-quality sites, having a site that conforms to Google’s quality guidelines will increase the chances of traffic being sent your way.

As a learning algorithm that will continue to develop over time, Bedlam is designed to learn to deliver users more useful and relevant content in response to their queries. While the algorithm’s roll out is complete, the AI will be continuing to learn and improve itself; so even in the absence of further modifications of Google’s algorithm, it will continue to be an evolving and changing factor for local rankings into the future.

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“Google My Business Local Listing Update This Week” by Barry Schwartz. Search Engine Roundtable. November 7, 2019. https://www.seroundtable.com/google-my-business-local-listing-update-28493.html

“The Bedlam Update [November 5-10, 2019]: What You Need To Know” by Joy Hawkins. Sterling Sky. November 12, 2019. https://www.sterlingsky.ca/the-bedlam-update-november-5-10-2019-what-you-need-to-know/

“Here’s what you need to know about Google’s newest local algorithm update” by Craig Mount. Search Engine Land. November 12, 2019. https://searchengineland.com/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-googles-newest-algorithm-update-possum-2-0-324927

“Local SEOs still seeing volatility in ranking with Google’s latest algorithm update” by Joy Hawkins. Search Engine Land. November 18, 2019. https://searchengineland.com/seos-still-seeing-volatility-in-ranking-with-googles-latest-local-algorithm-update-325300

“Google Confirmed The November 2019 Google Local Update – Here Is What We Know” by Barry Schwartz. Search Engine Roundtable. December 3, 2019. https://www.seroundtable.com/google-november-2019-google-local-update-confirmed-28624.html

“It’s Neural Matching: Google Explains the November Ranking Shakeup” by Damian Rollison. Street Fight. December 3, 2019. https://streetfightmag.com/2019/12/03/its-neural-matching-google-explains-the-november-ranking-shakeup/

“Google Confirms November 2019 Bedlam Update is Based on Neural Matching” by Stephanie Newton. Bright Local. December 4, 2019. https://www.brightlocal.com/blog/google-confirms-november-2019-bedlam-update-is-based-on-neural-matching/309/

Jeff Williams

Written by Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams is an SEO Project Manager at Fruition. He uses his deep understanding of SEO and internet marketing to guide clients, optimize websites and ultimately improve search rankings. Jeff continues to focus on understanding the technical aspects of SEO factors that affect website rankings in the major search engines. He has recently found a passion in local marketing and helping business carry out effective digital marketing strategies, taking a lead role in developing Fruition’s local SEO services.

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