Photo courtesy of Edmund Garman on Flickr

By Rob Swystun

Fans of SEO and terrible puns will know that the internet has been all aflutter about Google’s release of Hummingbird a couple of months ago. [Pause for groans to die down.]

I’d go over the main points about what Hummingbird has done for Google searches, but you’ve already read at least a dozen blog posts about it so I’ll skip that.

What I won’t skip, though, is what you can do to take advantage of how Hummingbird seems to be affecting Google rankings, at least according to one SEO expert’s tentative findings.

Long time local search engine marketer David Mihm did a simple analysis of how Hummingbird is affecting local search results and his results are quite interesting. They’re also quite long, so I’ll skip to the important parts.

Don’t ignore directories

Based on his simple analysis, it’s a good idea for companies to put some effort into large, national directory pages like Yelp, TripAdvisor or FindLaw.  Mihm found that search results within search results seem to be making a comeback, as Google is now returning specific metro-level pages from national directories for generic keywords, particularly if they include geo-modifiers like city names. Even regional-vertical directory listings seem to be doing well now in post-Hummingbird Google.

Another factor helping national and regional directories compete in local results where they couldn’t before is additional spots appearing to have opened up above the fold, with authorship-enabled small business sites typically shown below rather than above or inside the results pack.

This is the reverse of what Google was trying to do with its previous updates, purging these type of directory pages from its results. So, Google has either had a change of heart or this Hummingbird is flying in directions that Google hadn’t anticipated.

However, even without a directory listing, a simple website with no incoming links of note can rank on the first page of results by including a city and state in its homepage Title Tag. As Mihm says, with a little effort, like maybe a link to a contact page that references the city and industry your company is in, small business sites might be able to displace those national directories in positions 1-2-3.

Be the barnacle

According to Mihm, about 3/4 of searches he conducted as part of his simple Hummingbird experiment returned no Barnacle results, meaning no Facebook or Yelp results for small businesses.

Why wouldn’t you want your business stuck on these whales of the internet? If you do get a barnacle result for your business with Yelp, and you happen to have a good ranking on that site, not only will you be piggybacking (barnacling?) on the strength of the Yelp domain, your star ranking will show up in Google results.

Mihm observes that together with Google’s new weighting towards directories in organic results and the unblending of packs, savvy businesses can earn three first-page positions for the same keyword: one pack listing, one web listing, and one barnacle listing (maybe even more than one barnacle listing).

Other advice for sites to take advantage of the new Hummingbird listings is pretty standard stuff. Include a decent store locator (even for national brands) and … altogether now … have great content. Websites that are thin on content are losing out on ranking position against directories whose content isn’t exactly thick. And, as Phil Frost points out, it’s best to have good content on a single web page rather than having meh content spread over several web pages hoping to cash in on synonymous words.

Don’t forget the tools Google gives you to identify where you are, like Google Places, Google+ Local and Google Map Results.

While Hummingbird hasn’t revolutionized Google to the point where you’ll have to go back to square one of your SEO marketing plan, it’s still tweaked it enough to go back to about square three and have another look at it.

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About Rob Swystun

A former journalist, Rob has been writing professionally since 2006 and now focuses on copy writing, website content, articles, blogging, ghost writing, editing, proofreading and public relations. Currently an Athabasca University student studying for a BA in Communications, Rob holds a Journalism Diploma from Langara College in Vancouver.

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