A new year means new SEO speculation and trends. While there are some components of search engine optimization that have worked for several years and will continue to work, there will always be new trends that you need to shift your focus to.
August 22, 2017: The day the ‘Hawk’ Google local algorithm update swooped in
I recently reported on an algorithm update impacting the local results that happened on August 22, 2017. This was a strictly-local update, from what I can tell so far, which means that it had no impact on the non-local organic results.
The update, which I have dubbed “Hawk,” was a change to the way the local filter works. To get some history here, Google actively filters out listings from the local results that are similar to other listings that rank already. Basically, Google picks the most relevant listing of the bunch and filters the rest. It’s very similar to what they do organically with duplicate content. (Note: Google is typically loath to confirm algorithm updates, usually only saying that it rolls out several updates every day, so these observations are based on an analysis of how local results have changed rather than on any official announcement or acknowledgment.)
The filter has existed for a long time to help ensure that multiple listings for the same company don’t monopolize the search results. In September 2016, the Possum algorithm update made a significant change to the way the filter works. Instead of just filtering out listings that shared the same phone number or website, Google started filtering out listings that were physically located near each other.
This was very problematic for businesses. It meant that if another business in your industry was in the same building as you — or even down the street from you — that could cause you to get filtered out of local search results. Yep, that means your competitors could (inadvertently) bump your listing!
On August 22, 2017, Google refined the proximity filter to make it stricter. It still appears to be filtering out businesses in the same building, but it is not filtering out as many businesses that are close by.
The local search community settled on the name “Hawk” for this algorithm update, because hawks eat possums. This is one of the few times where I don’t see any negative outcomes as a result of this update and just wish Google hadn’t taken a year to realize the proximity filter was way too broad.
As with most things, Google started out with the best of intentions.
The filter originally existed to make sure a single business couldn’t dominate the results by having multiple listings, effectively kicking competitors off the page. What ended up happening in practice, however, was that competitors who were close geographically ended up kicking other options out of search results.
With Hawk, Google has now responded by bringing the size of the geographic area that controls the filter down.
By making this smaller, Google is looking to target and remove businesses that are using the same address multiple times to try and get into the listings. This is an improvement over the previous version, but still causes problems with businesses within the same industry that are in the same building (e.g. a large building of medical offices).
While, some businesses may still struggle, like those that share office space (e.g. commonly seen in medical or service practices), the majority of businesses will be much happier with this iteration of Google’s local search. No longer will neighboring competitors be able to bump you from the rankings (even if just inadvertently).
And, as with all things Google, this new update is much better for the searcher. They will have much better experience when looking for all businesses in the local area matching their search criteria. They will be served with all options as opposed to only seeing the one which was lucky enough to rise to the top amongst those in very close proximity.
A Brief History of Local Search Google Algorithm Changes
Google has put a lot of effort into ensuring local search delivers the greatest value to the searcher.
The Possum update, launched in September 2016, was the first to fight against duplicate listings or content. Additionally, this update made the physical location of the searcher much more important and provided a boost for businesses that fell just outside of physical city limits.
Prior to that, the Pigeon update made Google local search much more usable.
It allowed searchers to use neighborhood names and gave greater prominence to businesses that used those specific neighborhood identifiers (which is why local landing pages are so prevalent and useful). Pigeon also made local search much more social by giving strong prominence to results from review sites like Yelp.
Local SEO Tips
So what can you do to improve your local SEO ranking post-Hawk?
Below are some timeless tips that aren’t likely to become obsolete no matter what happens with the next animal-themed update from Google.
Get (Good) Reviews
Google has shown time and time again that they put stock in what other people think of your business or website. If someone else confirms that it is good, then Google is much more likely to put it in front of the next person because it is more likely it will meet their needs.
Encourage your customers to review your site on Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, anywhere that makes sense for your industry..
Google Business Listing
This should go without saying, but make sure your Google business listing (Google My Business) is correct and up-to-date. This is where Google goes to check much of what it thinks it knows about your business, so make sure it knows the right thing! This is also usually one of the first things that comes up when you search your business name.
Make sure all your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed. Don’t ignore the basics of technical SEO on your website, as Google will look at that even when returning local results. Make sure all of your pages have appropriate length SEO titles and meta descriptions (and work in geo-specific keywords if you can) and that they load quickly without any broken images or links.
You can even go so far as to create geo-targeted landing pages. This strategy entails creating a specific landing page that talks about the services you provide locally and making sure to use geographic keywords like neighborhood names or addresses. Just be very careful when doing this not to create overly similar or duplicate content to other pages on your website.
Check Other Local Listings
Double check the local listings (in incognito too) to make sure your business is showing up. Doing this will alert you to any potential filtering that Hawk may be doing. Also make sure there aren’t any other listings using the same address as yours that may be causing confusion.
If you have a brick and mortar business, local SEO is incredibly important in helping to bring customers to your door. Make sure you stay on top of how local search results look in your area, to help alert you to anything that may be missing from your strategy. Google regularly updates its algorithm, so your local SEO strategy will constantly be evolving.