Local Search & Map Pack Update — What Google’s ‘Vicinity Update’ Means for Your Dental Practice

The Most Dramatic Update Since 2017

Google’s algorithm upgrade, termed the ‘Vicinity Update,’ was officially rolled out on December 8th and, without a doubt, this is the most important rankings change we’ve seen since the Hawk update in the last four years. The weighted factors that govern your practice’s search rankings have been rebalanced, and this is dramatically affecting local search and map pack results — bringing both good news and bad news for your practice visibility.

Google's latest algorithm update and how it may affect your website rankings

This change centers around updates for proximity and distance and “we are seeing huge [rankings] differences for lawyers,…, dentists, and many others.”1 In essence, smaller, less-established businesses that are closer in proximity to the searcher are now ranking better than overpowered businesses that used to rank highly, even though they are further away.

Let’s unpack this update and see what PBHS is doing about it.

The Good

Dental practices that are closest to the searcher’s physical location will see an immediate increase in their local search and map pack rankings as Google attempts to serve the intent of local searchers more precisely. Correspondingly, prominent dental practices with multiple locations will see an increase in the rankings of their secondary locations, both due to proximity and recency.

Dental practices that have been battling against strong competitors, who have historically ranked highly due to the overemphasis of weighted keywords in their business names, will see sizeable immediate gains.

The Bad

Dental practices that are farther away from the searcher’s physical location will see a decrease in their Map Pack (Map Listings) rankings as Google gives priority to proximity. In general, this effectively makes it more difficult to attract new patients from greater distances and makes an effective SEO strategy even more important to the growth of your practice.

Dental practices that have historically ranked highly, due to the inclusion of dental-specific Keywords in their actual business names, will see the biggest hit, as Google levels the playing field and further strengthens its position against keyword stuffing.

For Our Clients

Fortunately, the majority of our dental marketing clients will see positive results from this latest algorithm change. This is, in no small part, because PBHS strictly adheres to all of Google’s Best Practices and, consequently, the success of our search engine optimization campaigns do not rely on artificial gambits, such as keyword stuffing, which have long been overweighted in rankings determinations. In fact, such rectifying algorithm changes have historically benefited our clients as Google adapts to provide higher value search results and close artificial loopholes.

The biggest winners will be our clients that have been struggling to compete against larger competitors that are actually farther away from the patient than our clients. Hurray! This is incredibly exciting, and it’s great to see more relevant listings now being given the attention they deserve.

Your SEO Partner

Algorithm updates, like the ‘vicinity update’, clearly demonstrate the shifting reality of search engine marketing for dental practices. Other SEO companies, that rely on “tricks” to climb the Google rankings, might seem to help initially, but in the end, result in unexpected issues later-on.


At PBHS, we make sure your listings follow and leverage Google’s Best Practices from the start; thus, insulating your practice against these types of update upsets. Exactly what you’d expect from the only company exclusively endorsed by ADA Member Advantage.

Are you ready to experience the PBHS advantage? Start with a complimentary website evaluation and search rankings analysis to find out how you rank among the competition. Click here or call PBHS at (800) 840-5383 to get your report today.


  1. Search Engine Land. “The ‘Vicinity Update’: Winners and losers from the November 2021 local update.” 20 November 2021 (Joy Hawkins).

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