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Google Hawk

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Has It Affected Your Local Search Position?

When you search for something on Google it uses a program called an algorithm. This gives each page it finds a score that is determined by how relevant the page is to the search term someone has used. It then displays the pages in order of the best scores.

However the algorithm is not perfect and Google are making changes to the program all the time. It's been estimated that Google makes between 500 and 600 changes to its search algorithm every year.

The vast majority of these are minor changes, but occasionally there is a major update that can significantly affect where your website appears in the search results.

Google rarely announces or admits these updates have occurred, so usually they can only be spotted by analysing how the rankings of websites change over time.

Local Search Before The Update

Google filters out websites from the local results if they are similar to other sites that are ranking already. The idea is to stop one business appearing in the search results several times, making room for other businesses to appear in the search listings. This gives the searcher more options, something Google has aimed to do from day one.

The filter still needed some work, so in September 2016 Google released an update called Possum. As well as filtering out entries with the same website or telephone number it is believed the Possum update was also designed to filter out businesses with the same location. After the update similar businesses located near each other were still being filtered out.

This meant if you were located near another business in your industry, for example in the same building or even on the same street, you could get filtered out of the local search results. This could affect all types of business, for example restaurants, pubs and hotels, particularly those clustered around a tourist destination.

Obviously this would be a problem if you owned a business that was being filtered out, but it also reduced the value of the results to people searching for businesses. The filter meant local results pages showed fewer businesses, giving searchers fewer options to choose from, and the businesses that did appear would be located further apart because of the way the filter worked. This left the searcher with results that were based farther away from their location, again not the best service Google could be providing.

The Hawk Update Swoops In

In August of this year this location filter appeared to change. In many locations similar businesses on the same street began reappearing in the search results.

This change has been attributed to an update which Google observers have called 'Hawk' (some say because it swooped in and surprised everyone, some say it's because hawks eat possums).

The Hawk update appears to have reduced the area covered by the filter. Now similar businesses that are further than 50 feet apart are appearing in the same local search results. This means you are more likely to get relevant results from Google searches in your local area.

This was an improvement but it still isn't perfect. It doesn't help businesses that are in the same industry and share the same building. For example medical practicioners like a doctor, a dentist and an osteopath may work from the same medical centre and be filtered out for some search terms where you would expect all three to appear in the results. Similarly a divorce lawyer, a commercial lawyer and a conveyancer may share the same premises, but only one might appear for some search terms.

Are You Affected?

To see if you're affected you'll need to run some search result tests.

Before running any tests you'll need to bear in mind that the Google search algorithm is so sophisticated these days that it can offer search resuts personalised to each user. The results you see often depend on your location, your search history and a number of other factors. This means if you check whether your business is appearing in local search Google will probably display it as a result because you've spent so much time on your business's website before.

The solution is to take yourself out of the equation by going incognito. Activate private mode on your browser before searching for your business in Google. This will remove any personalisation and you will see the results the general public see when searching.

How To Rank Now The Hawk Has Landed

The Hawk update was a very specific change to the filter that Google uses. This means that many things that helped your ranking before will still be helpful. If you are located near a business similar to yours and want to be the one that beats the Hawk filter here are some important things to check you have in place:

Google My Business

  • Make sure the details in your listing are up-to-date, accurate and are the same as listings you have on other sites. Any variation in address, phone number or email details can affect your ranking.
  • Gather reviews for your Google My Business listing and for other platforms usually used by your business type e.g. Yell.

On Page SEO

  • Make sure your pages have search engine friendly titles, good meta descriptions, and appropriate tags.
  • Try to include geo-specific keywords in your content. This does not mean you should place a list of local towns on your pages for no reason other than trying to manipulate Google.
  • If you provide services locally you can create geo-targeted landing pages. These should include keywords specific to the area, for example names of neighbourhoods, addresses, and names of local sites perhaps when giving directions or mentioning the areas you cover. Be careful not to create content that is identical to that which you have on other pages of your website or Google will penalise you for having duplicate content.
  • Regularly update your site with new, relevant content. This could mean keeping a news page up to date or having a blog and ensuring you post regularly.

What's Next?

Clearly the location filter for local search is not as good as it could be, and since it effects the quality of results for the searcher we can expect Google to address this issue again.

Are you wondering which animal eats hawks?

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