Raise your hand if you wish Google would stop making secret updates already! Just when you think you’ve mastered local search, Google launches a change that turns everything on its head. This time, it’s the Hawk update.
This latest update has serious, wide-reaching consequences for small, local businesses like yours. It’s crucial you understand the impact this update could have on your business. That way you can take steps to protect yourself. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.
First, a Quick Summary of Google’s Hawk Update
At the end of August 2017, local SEO expert Joy Hawkins detected a change in Google’s local search filter. She noticed that Google’s search results had stopped showing certain businesses that used to rank locally. As it turns out, Google was bumping select businesses if they shared a similar category and street address with another business that had a higher ranking.
To be fair, Hawkins notes that this is an improvement on the update immediately preceding it. The previous update (known as “Possum”) applied to any businesses that were even *near* each other. So, if two plumbers were located on the same block, one of them would be filtered out of the results. Thankfully, the Hawk update seems to have rectified that.
Now, the local search algorithm narrows its focus on businesses that share the same street address and category. The intention, Hawkins explains, is “to help ensure that multiple listings for the same company don’t monopolize the search results.” However, it’s having a massively negative effect on many legitimate businesses.
How the Hawk Update Affects You
You might think, “Well, good. That means fewer spammers and impostors.” To an extent, you’d be right. However, lots of local businesses share commercial building space. Moreover, many local service providers (like plumbers, handymen, appliance repairmen, etc.) operate out of their homes and use P.O. boxes and UPS stores for their listings to avoid advertising their home addresses. They’re perfectly legitimate businesses, but their listings are now vulnerable.
In fact, we are seeing Google auto-suspend numerous clients with virtual mailboxes (especially UPS Stores) as soon as we try to verify their listings. This tells us Google is maintaining a database of virtual addresses so it can prevent businesses from using them. Ever since the Hawk update rolled out (and even a little earlier), we haven’t been able to use a UPS Store address for a new client without the listing getting suspended.
If that all sounds too technical, let’s boil it down. Here’s what you need to know: Google’s new update poses a major threat to any business that uses a virtual mailbox. If you use a UPS Store or a similar type of virtual address, Google could bump you from local search results while a competitor remains. According to Hawkins, when there’s more than one business at the same location, “Google picks the most relevant listing of the bunch and filters the rest. It’s very similar to what they do organically with duplicate content.”
But how does Google pick “the most relevant listing”? That, in keeping with Google’s m.o., is a mystery. However, based on past and current trends, we can assume Google makes this distinction the same way it assigns ranking: by looking at a business’s website content, customer reviews, backlinks, and other supporting data.
In short, you may be affected by this latest update if you:
- Rent space in a commercial building that also houses similar businesses
- Use a mailbox at a nearby UPS store to avoid listing your private residence
- Do either of these two things and don’t have an established web presence yet
Needless to say, this applies to a lot of businesses. So, this begs the question: How can you prevent damage to your listing?
How to Protect Your Local Business Listing
There are no guarantees when it comes to Google. However, you can minimize the likelihood of Google filtering you out by making some changes. For example:
- Just use your home address. This is the best option because, ultimately, this is what Google wants. It wants every business using a physical street address. All signs point to Google only becoming more aggressive with virtual addresses in the future. Biting the bullet and switching to your home address will cause less trouble in the long run.
- If you really don’t want to use your home address, choose another virtual mailbox that’s not a UPS Store. (We can help you choose one.)
- Start building your web presence and get more reviews on your listing. Lead Google to view your business as the “most relevant.” This way, it will be less likely to bump you from the search results.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick or easy solution here because every case is so different. Your chances of being filtered out of local search results go up or down depending on your location, industry, and competitors. In other words, the solution can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.
For this reason, our specialists are available to help any business owner who is concerned about the Hawk update. We’ll check out your web presence, analyze your case, and provide you with a sound strategy to minimize damage. Please don’t hesitate to call or email us for help.