If you are keen on following local search results, you may have noticed some significant changes in recent weeks. According to search engine specialists, Google launched a new algorithm update that specifically affected local search results. This new update is said to have only had an impact on the local organic search results. The non-local organic search results remain intact after the Hawk update.

“The Hawk Algorithm update”

This Google Hawk update has changed how local filters operate. Why the name ‘Hawk’? It’s because Hawks supposedly eat Possums. Possum was the name of the previous filter update rolled out by Google last year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google did not confirm this algorithm update. The search engine always claims to roll out updates every other day so they claim that these observations in local search results are nothing new. Therefore, the changes that are stipulated to have occurred pertaining to local search results are usually not acknowledged or announced by Google. It’s just something that webmasters and search engine specialists tend to keep tabs about.

Let’s begin by explaining how filters in local search results work. Google bots are designed to narrow down listings from local results to those listings that already have a high ranking. How it works is that the search engine will pick the most relevant listings from a group and then filter the rest. This is exactly what search engine bots do to handle duplicate content. The search engine filters out pages from the local results that are similar to other pages on the web and pick the most relevant and unique ones to give them top rankings.

Changes in how local search filters work:

Google has used the filtering system for many years. The purpose of the filters is to ensure a single company or brand doesn’t monopolize search results simply because they have multiple listings that are ranking well. Last year sometime in September, Google is said to have had another update dubbed the Possum algorithm update which had a somewhat similar impact on how filters worked. During this update, the search engine bots would filter listings that were physically located near each other. Therefore, your website would simply miss out on top search rankings if you have multiple competitors near you with more relevant and high-performing listings.

As a business, this meant that if your competitor is in the same building as you, or perhaps down the street, it gets twice as hard to compete for the same target audience online. Your website is simply filtered out of local search results if another business is physically located near you. Additionally, this created an even more troubling issue where your competitors could bump your listing.

This change to the search filter that affected local search results clearly did not serve its purpose effectively. Therefore, Google resulted to making another change in August this year which is what we refer to as the Hawk update. The filter is now stricter and is no longer filtering out as many businesses that are near each other as it was last year.

Practical Examples of Changes after the Hawk Update

If you were tracking your business last year and paying attention to local organic search results, you may have noticed some significant changes after the Hawk update was rolled out. The picture below was taken before and after the Hawk update:

Google Hawk Algorithm Update

The two columns show the local organic search results for the term “orthodontist wheaton il”. The column on the left is the result obtained after the Possum algorithm update. In this case, the Weber Orthodontics dental office was filtered out mainly because there was another dental practice just 325 feet from their physical address – Wheaton Orthodontic Center. According to the photograph, Wheaton Orthodontic center also has higher organic rankings and is more relevant to that keyword which is possibly why it appeared in the before photo and Weber Orthodontics was eliminated.

The after photo on the right column shows the local search results for the same term after the Hawk update. As you can see, Weber Orthodontic now appears together with Wheaton Orthodontic Center even though both are located in the same street.

The example below shows 4 hotels in Killen Texas.

Google Map Results

After performing a search, only two of the hotels appeared. However, after the August 22 update, all the four hotels now appear.

Google Maps Listing Results

Was your website affected?

The Hawk update did not have an impact on every website’s local search results. The only major difference is that it made it more possible for businesses within the same physical location to appear on the same SERP for local searches. However, the filter was not removed completely. There are still listings that are within the same street or building and filtered out for similar searches.

The example below shows that the filtering out is still working for some businesses. For the search term “personal injury attorney Palmdale” some attorney listings appear but the ones that share the same virtual office address are removed from the result.

Possum Filter August 2017

In the image above, the listings in red do not appear on the local organic search result because they share the same virtual address with the listing in green on the left.

What’s special about the Hawk Update?

One of the most amazing things about this particular update is that there really is no negative outcome after it was rolled out. If anything, businesses that shared the same street or building with their competitors can now take advantage of the opportunity and continue bidding for similar search terms because they have higher chances of ranking high. A business’s local listing will not be filtered out simply because it appears near a competitor’s that has more relevant and high-ranking pages.

This update was after Google realized that their proximity filter after the Possum update last year, was too broad and filtered out multiple local listings from search. Take note that only local search results were affected. Create a local SEO campaign that will take advantage of this particular update and ensure your listings continue to rank high for relevant search terms.

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