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Google Hummingbird’s Effect on Local SEO

We discussed Hummingbird, the most recent update to Google’s algorithm, back when it arrived on the scene in October. A month later, we delved into its misconceptions and truths, concluding that the flighty little bird really hadn’t changed the tried-and-true rules of SEO. Quality content and relevant, authoritative links are still essential to SEO efforts, we decided, and there is no reason to fear this new update. But what has Google Hummingbird’s effect on local SEO been?

Last month, SEO expert David Mihm announced that Google Hummingbird’s effect on local SEO has been significant. His observations of Google Hummingbird’s effect on local SEO reveal that (contrary to many SEOs’ original reactions) local search results have lowered in quality since Hummingbird arrived on the scene. The results are noteworthy and (for some) could even be game changing.

Let’s dig right in.

Google Hummingbird's Effect on Local SEO

Google Hummingbird’s Effect On Local SEO

1. MORE LOCAL RESULTS FOR NON-LOCALIZED KEYWORD SEARCHES

First, many localized organic results are appearing for generic keywords (i.e., un-geo-modified keywords, like “pet store”). These localized results are not only benefiting small businesses; they’re also rewarding national directories like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Findlaw. When geo-modifiers are used (like “pet store springfield mo”), there are even more local search results. However, many of the pages appearing are content-thin directory pages receiving hefty benefits from the Google algorithm. Panda and Penguin (which were supposed to restrict the visibility of these directories) need to step up their game and get rid of these useless directories. I suspect they will.

local search results for "pet store"

local search results for “pet store”

 2. HIGH-QUALITY DIRECTORIES WITH REGIONAL CONTENT ARE DOING VERY WELL

Going off our last point, we should add that many high-quality, well-optimized, regional directories are achieving high rankings, some even being rewarded with a spot “above the fold”. Despite some SEOs predicting that these directories’ success was waning, they’re achieving very high visibility, especially in small- to mid-size metro areas.

note the directories displaying above the local results

note the directories displaying above the local results

3. REDUCED AUTHOR/PLACE BLENDING

Authorship has been separated from places since Hummingbird’s inauguration. Very well-optimized small businesses can earn both organic and “pack” search results. This is great news for small businesses that take advantage of setting up Google Authorship.

this business has an organic listing AND a "pack" listing

this business has an organic listing AND a “pack” listing

4. POSITION 4 IS THE NEW 1 WHERE PACKS ARE CONCERNED

The majority of local search “packs” are displayed in position 4, especially for generic local searches. This is helping national and regional directories compete with local results, as there are generally three directory result above the “pack”

here is a local search "pack" with three results above it

here is a local search “pack” with three results above it…’A’ is really in the #4 position

5. SMALL BUSINESSES NEED TO STEP UP THEIR GAME

Small business websites almost always rank lower than national directories (like Yelp, Angie’s List, and YellowPages) for small-market phrases that have been geo-modified (“electrician springfield mo,” for example). To improve this, small businesses need to work on their SEO. They should include geo-modified keywords on their title tag, within their page content, and as anchor text for links.

6. MANY BUSINESSES WOULD BENEFIT FROM THE BARNACLE SEO STRATEGY.

The Barnacle SEO Strategy helps businesses rank higher by attaching their website to a larger, trusted website. By leveraging the power of an authoritative domain, some small businesses are able to greatly increase their visibility. Since Google seems to be giving directories a boost in organic results, the reward for a well-placed barnacle (directory) listing could be helpful.

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Note: Mihm’s analysis of Google Hummingbird’s effect on local SEO included graphics and more in-depth information, so if you’re interested in those details, please head on over to his article here

Google Hummingbird's Effect on Local SEO

Concluding Remarks On Google Hummingbird’s Effect On Local SEO

The results of Mihm’s study of Google Hummingbird’s effect on local SEO are perplexing for numerous reasons. The quality of local search “packs” has been improving, for one thing, so why would Google decrease its visibility? Why are we seeing more “search results in local search results” when Google has been fighting against this practice all along? Why minimize authorship profiles (by jamming in relatively worthless directory listings) just when authorship profiles are gaining use and popularity?

I wish I had a good answer for you. Google may be looking ahead to a future where mobile phones and wearable technology (like Google Glass) are dominant, tailoring their algorithm to fit phones’ card-style layouts. That’s merely a speculation though. Maybe they are just struggling to find the right mix of directories, local search “packs”, and organic results tied to Google authorship. What is Google’s true intent? Only time will.

All of these changes may cause you to reevaluate how you approach a local SEO campaign. Of course you should also try to improve the freshness and the quality of your website, providing unique content that is relevant and regularly updated. But including geo-modified keywords within your SEO and looking into the barnacle strategy could also help your website work in harmony with Hummingbird local SEO effects.

How has Hummingbird affected your website? Will you be making any changes due to that zippy little bird’s influence? Let us know with a comment below.

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