November 6, 2013 E3

Help! Hummingbird Flew Away WIth My Local SEO Rankings

The search world has been aflutter since Google announced the Hummingbird Algorithm a little more than a month ago (even though the actual algo update happened a month before that). The update, which affected 90% of global searches made huge waves around the internet. Many webmasters felt at least a bit of a pinch, but some folks lost all of their local SEO rankings over the last six weeks or so.

There are plusses and minuses to Hummingbird, with the main benefits befalling the user. Hummingbird seeks to be responsive. The goal is to truly understand the context of a user’s query, rather than simply matching keywords on a page. Hummingbird, coupled with many prior Google updates has forced the SEO world to re-think local internet marketing.

When Hummingbird launched, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land provided a wonderful explanation of what Hummingbird will do for searchers. He said, “What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?” A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says ‘buy’ and ‘iPhone 5s,’ for example. Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that ‘place’ means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that ‘iPhone 5s’ is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.”

So while all of this is fantastic news for searchers, what does it mean for your local SEO ranking efforts?

Create Unique, Original, Longform Content

is really starting to thump websites with content that even hints of plagiarism. In the past, you could get away with stealing someone else’s idea and repackaging it as your own. And that’s ok, borrowing ideas isn’t a crime, especially when those ideas are darn good ones. But if you managed to lift parts of paragraphs written by other people, you might have passed Copyscape, but you may not pass Google’s new standards. Now, more than ever, it is critical to put your own spin on ideas, even if they are industry standards.

One way to ensure you won’t get hit with a duplicate content penalty is to spend time researching your topics. And you don’t have to research out on the internet, either. You can take data that you have at your fingertips, based on your business, and use that to create great content.

For example, let’s say you’re a local real estate broker. Your blog might be full of generic tips for buyers and sellers such as, “How to Stage Your Home For a Quick Sale,” or “Five Tips for Negotiating the Best Price for Your First Home.” Those are staples, and they are evergreen topics, which is great. Your blog should contain evergreen topics. But you’re going to want to spice it up a little bit from now on. You have access to data about median home prices, hot neighborhoods, mortgage interest rates, and probably hundreds of other relevant topics. These numbers may change frequently, but they are things that home buyers and sellers will research in the course of their transactions. If you keep your finger on the pulse of important data that local searchers want to know about and continually create new content surrounding those topics, you’ll rank well for local searches on those subjects.

But it doesn’t stop with data. Google is also placing a higher emphasis on researched articles. These are typically longer pieces of content, 800-1500 words or even longer. You might be used to dropping short blog posts on your site, but now is the time to buckle down and put your reporter hat on. Well-researched and in-depth content is ranking higher than generic, bite-sized content.

These posts don’t have to be entirely about local issues. Because Hummingbird takes the user’s location and context into consideration, it’s safe to assume Google can match your articles with local searchers looking for your services. That being said, you do want to localize content if and when it makes sense to do so.

Answer Those FAQs, Already

Call it what you want: FAQs, Q&A, Help. Taking your most common customer questions and answering them on your website has been a standard local SEO strategy since before SEO even had a name. Many users search in the form of a question. FAQ pages allow you to ask those questions, and then answer them, helping you rank for those queries.

Typically, the questions asked and answered on these page are not geographically specific. So how the heck does this help your local SEO? Well, remember what we said about Hummingbird knowing a searchers exact location? It would stand to reason that if someone is searching for tips on weatherizing their home, for example, and they live in Pittsburgh, PA that the best results for that query might come from a local weatherizing or HVAC company located in or near Pittsburgh. As of right now there is no clear evidence that Hummingbird is that astute, but that’s the direction it’s heading.

What If You Aren’t a Brick and Mortar or You Have Multiple Locations?

Two types of businesses have typically gotten burned in local rankings over the years: Those with no physical brick and mortar location, and those with multiple locations. Optimizing your local business when you operate out of a PO Box has always been a challenge, likewise for small businesses with several storefronts. But Hummingbird can help you rank a little better; you just have to think creatively.

For example, if you’re a business with multiple locations, you can beef up your “locations” pages with customer testimonials. After each testimonial, include the name of the customer and the town in which they reside or do business. You can create unique and interesting new types of content, as well. A lawyer who specializes in car accidents might include a local “accident map” to show were the most accidents happen. Hummingbird has made it more clear than ever before that generating useful and creative content is important. But it doesn’t always have to be standard, vanilla blog posts.

Don’t Neglect Traditional SEO Tactics

The main lesson behind Hummingbird for local SEO is to create new, useful content. But you can’t do that at the expense of everything else. You still have to focus on knowing your target keywords, acquire great backlinks, keep your code clean, update your citations, etc. None of that has changed. But if you’ve neglected your website or cut corners over the years to achieve local SEO rankings, you’re going to have a hard time with Hummingbird. You still have to put the same amount of time and energy into your technical SEO efforts, you just have to double up on your content development efforts. Be creative, have a little fun, and always keep the best interests of your customers in mind.

There’s No Magic Bullet For Local SEO Rankings

It’s getting harder and harder to cheat your way to the top, especially when it comes to local SEO rankings. There is no one specific formula you can follow to ensure your business shows up on page one all of the time. But if you focus on creating strong, localized resources for your visitors, you’ll fare a lot better than your competitors who might still try to take a shortcut to the top.

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