Did Hummingbird Just Kill Your Local SEO?

Hummingbird, Makes Me Feel Fine

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? Swelling Histogram

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:

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.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Hummingbird | Local Search Column | Top News


About The Author: is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too.

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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Google keeps modifying the potential results sets based on your previous queries. The only way to stop that is to clear your browser history (cache and cookies) to force it to start over fresh. This is extremely annoying as they gradually eliminate useful Websites from the discovery process throughout the day.

    Local search is affected about as much as general Web search. Hummingbird is about as bad a search engine as one could imagine.

  • maria

    Does anyone know if webmaster tools will start to reflect these changes? Or is it going to be just as outdated as the old google search?

  • http://www.andykuiper.com/ Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst

    Thanks Andrew :-) it’s tough keeping up with all the changes lately – I appreciate you helping out :-)

  • Andrew Shotland

    De nada Andy. As with most algo updates – the only big change is to the headline on the linkbait ;)

  • Marcus

    The only thing Hummingbird seems to have done so far for Local is introduced some truly terrible search results and some even worse knowledgegraph boxes for spammy listings.

    A couple of other posts well worth reading:



    Notably, as with Andrew’s post, these both have barnstorming headlines! :)

  • http://jzane.com/ jzane

    “The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.” — Wikipedia

    Bonus points for calling yourself out on it. :o)

  • Andrew Shotland


  • David Eddy

    Haha – that headline definitely drew me in :-P

    I’m not sure whether Hummingbird will prove overly significant for SMBs targeting local markets… purely due to the fact that in most local markets, long tail keywords have relatively low search volumes individually. I live in a town of ~500,000 people here in Australia, and I see all kinds of search queries coming through on my client’s PPC entry logs – However, I’m not sure if any offer a significant opportunity for extra traffic and customers. For example, the search query “Who is the best Plumber in Newcastle NSW?” would be lucky to be searched for a couple of times a year. So it’s hard to know whether it would be worth updating content etc to try and target these type of long tail keywords. Hmmm.

  • Larry Kim

    its pretty hard to determine the impact of hummingbird without the organic search query data. timing seems a bit suspect.

  • Andrew Shotland

    That tin-foil hat looks great on your Larry :)

  • Charlie Gray

    Great post Andrew. I especially like the examples you provided for service location content. Any tips on discovery tools for trending topics/questions to guide content strategy?

  • Rachel Kruse

    I just want to say Hummingbird = think like customer !!

  • http://www.coingenesis.com/ ankit mishra

    Thanks : Andrew for Such a nice example and Comparison, we need to think from Start…many people says” SEO is Dead” but your this post can express if we think wisely, seo is still live..

  • Modesto Siotos

    “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”

    I strongly disagree with the above statement as a strategy because in a way you encourage people to make sure long tail keywords appear on certain pages, which is the way we’ve been doing SEO during the last 10 years.

    However, this is one of the things Google has addressed with Hummingbird, which makes Google able to find the best results not based on keywords but user intent. In other words, the best result for a given query may not necessarily be the lengthier and more “optimised” one but the one that is more likely to answer query based on several signals and not just the exact keywords. Such signals include location, link graph, social graph, citations, user engagement etc.

    Where before Google would return pages matching closely the keywords in the typed query, Google is now serving pages that come from sites with strong trust signals.

  • UK Finance Hound

    We operate on the south coast of England. With no big towns near us. Maybe we should move 50 miles to the centre of London. One thought though! In the UK many online ecommerce stores operate from the channel Islands due to lower taxes on products they sell. Will local search be detrimental to them?

  • Jack

    Hey Andrew..I am really frustrated with the Humminbird .I lost ranking for


    I hope local SEO is dead

  • Guest
  • Jack
  • Guest

    please read my blog which i shared earlier in this post. It will help you.

  • Rahul Trivedi

    I sent you an email. Please check it.Send me backlink data so i can analyze it and can give you some quick suggestion.

  • Search South

    Firstly, great choice of title!

    I think that the mention of using FAQ content is good. Interestingly, as you point out, that’s really been a timeless SEO method, but it’s one that a lot of smaller businesses (in particular) seem to overlook.

    I also like the idea of reaching out to customers and suppliers offline, which is often that bit easier to do, if they are truly local. That can have added benefits, beyond link building.

  • Kretek

    Not seeing penalties other than having your site fall off for around half your keywords, but that’s been going on for 3 months. Maybe you got penalized for a few keywords.

    I do see some issues with copy. Grammatical errors and improper capitalizations. I’m not seeing you gaming that many keywords. That products page needs some work with the copy. Looks like a text cloud massacre.

    I see you lost “in home trainer” as a keyword. I’m confused as to why your closest national competitor is still in the SERPs considering they are doing some of the gamiest, nastiest stuff I’ve seen. Guess Google hasn’t swung the hammer yet.

  • http://boomient.com/ Jim Magary

    Hummingbird is a good development in SEO…. it allows people to act more human, and it moves Search a little further away from keyword-matching and more into contextual and environmental (as in where you are and what you’re doing) relevance. It also increases the Long Tail even more, offering even more opportunity to SEOs and clients willing to do the work.

  • http://freshwatercreative.ca/web/seo Calgary SEO

    Interesting idea about the knowledge graph working it’s way into local search queries via conversational search. I think that is something definitely worth investing some resources into but I really think that social signals and reviews will dictate what really ranks locally. Anyways I enjoyed the read, gave me a new angle to think about!


  • Andrew Shotland

    I think we’re saying the same thing Modesto. The best result is the one more likely to answer the query. If you are writing an FAQ, hopefully you are providing a decent answer to the Q.

  • Sergiu Draganus

    Hi Andrew, thanks for the article. Hummingbird update shall do what you have described above, but for now, it seems that the rankings are the same regardless the user location ( IP address ), or at least for the sentence in your example:

    Here is a google search heatmap report generated on the sentence you have mentioned on US top 10 locations, using local IP addresses:


    Google still has a long way to understand the real meaning of most of the longtail keywords. The semantic search is not so easy at it seems, even for google :)

  • http://www.justoutsourcing.com/ Nicole Miller

    Nice. One thing I have to admit… all the hoops that Google makes us jump through seems to be working. My searches have never been more relevant, and I’ve been online for over 18 years!

  • Crna Suma

    “Let’s cut to the chase, no” – I disagree. It was Peregrine Falcon, not hummingbird!

    I saw couple of strong local sites which went down for page or two with no obvious reasons and I got the job now to fix them. If you are writing this kind of texts, please give us some proper schemes.

  • Brian Cox

    How did the page on your site for Houston fair? I see you created one for Dallas, so I assume well… ?

  • Andrew Shotland

    The Houston page has done quite well. The Dallas page is not as well-trafficked. Guessing Dallas is more competitive. Just updated the title tag so let’s see how that does.

  • http://dailyblogcast.net/ Bryan Knowlton


    This is Bryan Knowlton over at the Daily Blogcast for Internet Marketing.

    I just wanted to let you know we discussed your blog post on our show and would love if you could help get the word out to your readers!


    We found the article to be well written and decided to feature it in this episode. If you woud like to provide any additional comments, you can do that directly at the bottom of the page listed above.

    Since this is a Daily Podcast, we will definitely be visiting your blog from time to time to find more great articles to discuss. If you would like to leave us a comment, question or a voicemail, you can do that on the right side of the page at http://dailyblogcast.net

    Again, thank you for the blog post! Without it we might have not had much to talk about! :)

    You can subscribe (or let your readers they can) at http://dailyblogcast.net/itunes

    Thanks again!

    Bryan & Mark
    http://dailyblogcast.net – Because reading is hard…

  • http://www.rankgiant.com/ RANKGIANT local seo

    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.


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