Let’s cut to the chase: no, it didn’t (see Betteridge’s Law of Headlines). But Search Engine Land tells me the Hummingbird stuff really drives the page views these days, so you only have yourself to blame. 🙂 That said, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, along with all of the other awesome updates Google has made over the past year, has forced me to reevaluate how I approach a local SEO campaign. First, some background on Hummingbird: Google wants to do better at matching queries to results, particularly as voice search becomes more popular and people start asking their phones complex questions instead of typing simple searches. According to Danny Sullivan: Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. Danny provides a great local search example to illustrate the change:
“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 how do you apply this to your Local SEO strategy?
Invest In FAQ Content
The FAQ has been the go-to SEO strategy since time began (circa 1998). Over time, your sales staff probably answers the same set of questions from potential customers over and over again. These are the same queries that customers type (and now speak) into search engines. By adding the most popular questions to your site, either in a dedicated FAQ section or on a blog, you now are more eligible to rank for these queries. “But wait,” you say, “most of these types of queries are not necessarily local, right?” That’s true. There’s nothing inherently local about the phrase, “how to get rid of mold spots on ceiling,” and the current Google SERP for that query shows a lot of national DIY site results. But if you think about Hummingbird’s goal to “focus on the meaning behind the words,” you’ll see that sooner or later, Google is going to start to put the fact that you have mold spots on your ceiling together with the idea that you might want to remove those spots and that’s where local businesses that target these queries can gain an unfair advantage over the eHows and DIY.coms of the world.
Invest In Content That Provides Unique Information (Pro Tip: Use Data)
The problem with the FAQ strategy mentioned above is that any mold-removal company can throw up an FAQ that targets a bunch of juicy queries. So you’ve got to go the extra mile and start putting up content that both answers questions and is not easily duplicated by that low-brow SEO your competition is using.
Even when you think you have nothing to say, you can still use your proprietary business data to come up with interesting stuff. For example, if you are targeting people in the market for body sculpting, how about looking at all of the data you have on your patients and doing a post like How Long Does Vaser Lipo Last?
Invest In “Fresh” Content For Your Target Service Locations
Like everything else in local, this is easy to say and hard to do. But I have seen no better tactic for improving local rankings (particularly for service areas where a business has no physical locations) than regularly updating a site with content relevant to those service areas. And there are plenty of ways to skin this cat. You could:
- Make a cool local UGC map like this Chicago Bike Accident Map.
- Add customer reviews and and tweet-like staff activity updates to relevant location pages.
- Simply just allow user comments on your pages, like this shameless experiment.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Andrew, that’s a lot of text to wade through just to learn that I have to create better content.” Truth be told, Hummingbird hasn’t changed Local SEO much (yet), except perhaps by accident. You still need to fix your citations, get links, get reviews, build “unstructured” citations and make your site accessible. Hummingbird just gives us content-crazy SEOs yet another excuse to push businesses to invest in making their sites better. And if that’s not good enough insider info for you, and you’re desperate for some cutting edge Google Local SERP news, I recommend you peruse Nyagoslav Zhekov’s post on how Google may have just decoupled local and “pure” organic results and, in the process, shifted Local SEO’s emphasis back to citation building. Sometimes, Local SEO truly is for the birds.