Published on September 13th, 2017
A few weeks ago Search Engine Land broke news that Google released an algorithm update they’ve dubbed “Hawk” (which is fitting considering how it swooped in and caught many off guard).
The update is specifically geared toward local search and shouldn’t have a major effect on non-local organic search efforts -- but for small businesses, this could cause quite a game changer.
What is the Google Hawk Update?
The Hawk update is meant to help with some of the filtering Google does with local organic results.
Prior to it, businesses that were close together geographically and within the same industry would end up being filtered out of local results -- most likely because Google thought they might be duplicates. This issue most commonly affected businesses offering similar services in a given area n like hotels or restaurants.
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Let me explain:
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.