There was rarely a more fitting name for a Google algorithm update. Hawk literally swooped in and took everyone’s local SEO by surprise.
According to Search Engine Land, the update happened on Aug. 22. It is geared toward local searches, so it doesn’t have any impact on websites that do not try to reach local audiences. However, it may hint to changes that will affect every business and that are bound to happen in the near future.
So, what’s Hawk really about?
In a nutshell, Hawk is designed to help Google filter local organic results. Before this update, businesses in the same industry and close to each other geographically would end up filtered out as Google sometimes considered them duplicates. For instance, touristic areas that are filled with restaurants, pubs and hotels were the most affected by this.
How can something like this happen?
Well, as the saying goes, it was a road paved with good intentions. Google added this filter to ensure that one business wouldn’t end up dominating its niche just by adding multiple listings and kicking out its competitors.
In theory, it sounds perfect.
In practice, though, what happened was that similar businesses ended up kicking each other off the results page without even intending to.
To counter this, Google introduced Hawk, the update that essentially narrows down the size of an area that the filter applies to. This way, businesses can no longer use the same address several times just to get ahead in listings.
However, there are still a lot of businesses that actually have the same address as their competitors – a shopping mall, for instance, or attorneys sharing the same office building.
While some businesses may struggle due to this update, the majority of them will benefit from it, mainly because they won’t have to worry about their neighboring competitors stealing their thunder.
As always, this is another update from which the end users benefit the most. Getting relevant results in your area just got easier.
What can you do about it?
First off, don’t panic. I’ve said it before: it’s normal for your search rankings to drop every once in a while, especially when an algorithm update is introduced.
Next up, find out if you were really affected about this update and work to remedy it.
1. Go incognito
The search results Google offers are personalized for every user. They depend on your location, history, interests and many other factors. If you want to see how you really rank, search for your usual keywords in incognito/private mode.
Otherwise, you may get a ‘false positive.’ In other words, Google will show your business as listed because it knows you’ve searched for it before and you’re “fond of it,” but it won’t be shown to other users.
2. Make sure your listing is up-to-date
You’d be surprised at how many people go for complicated fixes and forget about the basics. Before anything else, make sure that all the information in your listing (Google My Business) is up-to-date. Phone number, e-mail address, street address and ZIP code – all of these have to be perfectly accurate.
This is one area where typos matter immensely. Whatever small error you see in your listing, make solving it your priority.
3. Get more reviews
Offering your customers an incentive to review your business is a great way to get your listing to the top of results. It can be as simple as a discount or a free muffin.
However, make sure you are not too pushy and you are not encouraging fake reviews. Just ask for people’s honest opinion. If you push too hard, you will get reviews, but not the kind you want.
4. Upgrade your content game
There is no better way to boost your rankings than to constantly add fresh, relevant content. Local-oriented landing pages are a good start, but I always recommend my clients invest in regular blogging; local tagging and keywords included, of course.
For one of our clients, my team of SEO copywriters and I managed to help them rank for 50-plus local keywords in less than six months. We setup a content plan, did extensive keyword and competition research and the results have been better than expected.
Granted, it was a rather narrow niche. But we are still seeing amazing growth from our efforts and expect to have them rank for more than 150 keywords within a year.
Whenever a new Google update appears, the industry’s first reaction is to panic. And that’s perfectly understandable. In some cases, it means that all your hard work has just been wiped clean and you have to start from scratch.
Still, my favorite antidote is this: write and optimize for humans, not search engines and you won’t have to worry. Of course, algorithms may surprise us. But if there has been one constant in all the recent updates it’s been the fact that Google tries to “humanize” its bots. It tries to make them thinks and “act” as humans would in an effort to make the experience more enjoyable and efficient for end users.
So, the next time you plan to write a piece of content or upgrade your website, worry about Google last. First, ask yourself: “What would my readers be interested in learning about from my blog?” and “How would they like my website to look and feel?” After you have clear answers to these questions, you can start your keyword research and get technical with SEO for your website.