Google Hummingbird Flies Into the World of Self Storage

There has been ample press coverage of the latest Google algorithm update know as Hummingbird. Matt Cutts, the Google Fellow in charge of anti-spam fighting and the spokesperson for Google updates spoke about Hummingbird at a recent Pubcon session. Pubcon is one of the oldest and best established conferences for internet and social marketers. Naturally this audience was on pins and needles when Matt Cutts simply stated that Hummingbird was not that big a deal. He suggested that all this change was intended to do was to eliminate unnecessary words from long search queries or from spoken search queries.  An example he gave was someone search for “ever loving Texas”. The Hummingbird change was intended to be able to pick up that “ever-loving” had nothing to do with the search and therefore serve no results having to do with this phrase.

 

In my limited and unscientific research, I have noticed far greater changes than this in my most recent forays into self storage related Google searches. Google made several updates to the search algorithms in July and August that were reported to be refinements of the Panda and Penguin projects , before Hummingbird was launched in September.

The July and August updates removed multiple results from one website for a single search. Prior to the July-August updates a search for self storage in Los Angeles might have brought up two or three results for Public Storage or for Extra Space Storage, both of which have a large presence in the market.  Around early August, these multiple results disappeared. After the Hummingbird update, these multiple results re-appeared.

The July-August updates also seemed to target exact match domain names. By the beginning of August, websites such as findstoragefast, selfstoragelosangeles and storage.com disappeared from the first several pages of Google results, where they had been sitting comfortably for some time. Instead major brands like Public Storage and Extra Space Storage and a major online marketplace for storage units called SpareFoot.com were given the most prominent rankings with local brands following close behind.  After the Hummingbird updates, the Big Brands maintained their status, while the exact match domains returned. Surprisingly, directories such as the internet yellow pages, articles about storage and local listing sites bounced up to prominence.  The local brands and the local brick and mortar locations seemed to vanish.

These seemed like curious turns of events, as if  the Hummingbird update upset the premises of the Penguin and Panda protocols. I suggested these scenarios to Matt Cutts on Twitter during the conference and asked him to elaborate. I have not as of yet seen a response.

These issues are important to self storage operators, as most are small companies with limited staff and limited marketing budgets. Frequent updates in Google’s search secret sauce can mean a lot of money. If a smaller local brand was relying on business from people who searched for “self storage in Los Angeles” who were able to find a local company’s website easily before this September, these companies may be seeing a 10 to 20 % decrease in new business inquiries.

The other challenge is that Google and other search engines never really disclose what a search update does or doesn’t do. Marketers and business owners are left guessing what to do to attain good rankings.  Naturally Google representatives say, “Just run a great business and the rest will take care of itself”. That is easy to say, but it is far more complicated than that in reality. For instance, should I put a link in this blog to the self storage company I work for, StorageMart? Will that be seen as a natural link or an advertorial? I am not pitching storage services in this piece, but I do not know how the Google algorithm will classify this post.  If this is an advertorial, then that link would be classified as paid advertising and could perhaps hurt our website’s overall algorithm score. If this blog is not an advertorial, then perhaps a follow link would seem natural since I am writing about StorageMart in this paragraph. If I do put a link to StorageMart in this post, should it be a follow-link or a no-follow link?

To some people this post is interesting and valuable content because it deals with some very important issues in regards to how Google classifies and ranks websites. Others might think this is just an excuse for me to mention StorageMart in the same piece as Public Storage and Extra Space Storage in the hope that the Google Knowledge graph will correlate these brands.

So you see the quandary that marketers and small business owners could find themselves in.  In the end there is nothing to do but to try and seek clarification from Google, or at least to seek clearer signals or clearer inferences.  No one wants to do what Google considers to be the wrong thing. We all want Google to look at our projects favorably and to show our sites to appropriate searchers. Perhaps Matt Cutts might see this post and decide to help us better understand the wild swings in results we saw in the self storage business between the July and August updates and the post Hummingbird landscape.

Tron Jordheim (5 Posts)

Tron Jordheim started his first business in the sixth grade. He is a serial entrepreneur, author, public speaker and the VP of Marketing at StorageMart.


2 Comments

  • Hey Tron. This is a great little post. I saw it on Facebook, and didn’t know exactly what I was about to read. But, I’m glad I did.

    It seems like Google has done a ton to give bigger brands prominence, and I’m guessing they will continue to do that. I think the new question needs to be less about “how do I get more links” or “which links can I follow or not follow,” and more “how do I build something that looks like a big brand?” We’ve been doing our darndest to do just that with Alarm Grid. It’s not perfect, but I think we’re doing a pretty darn good job at it. Small town shops need to start thinking about this as well if they want to show up in more than just local search or PPC (though those are pretty good ways to show up).

    It’s not to say that small companies should lose that small town appeal, but they should do what they can to provide the incredible value-add that brands do. Whether it’s by adding FAQs to their site, being extremely active on Twitter and Facebook, or being creative about advertising locally, while the landscape of search may be changing, this really isn’t any different than it’s always been. Small companies, particularly those serving local markets who have a quantifiable inventory or capacity like storage does, need to be incredibly creative in order to stand out. And whether that means putting great ad copy together and running a ppc campaign or putting a wig on and being crazy old uncle sam on local ads, Google’s organic rankings are just a part of the entire puzzle.

    • Thanks for the note Joshua. We just have to keep on getting the word out about our businesses.

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