Hummingbird, Local Knowledge Graph & Shitty Search Results

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 9.59.58 AMThe big news earlier in the week was Google’s announcement of the Hummingbird search algo upgrade. InformationWeek noted that “the Hummingbird update expands Google’s use of its Knowledge Graph”.  Local search results were some of the first entities moved to the Knowledge graph and displayed as knowledge graph results. For me there are thus two questions.

Does Hummingbird affect local search results?

Are there any indications of a decline in local search results quality?

The answer, at least as far as I can tell, to both questions seems to be yes.

According to Danny Sullivan, Google started using this new algo “about a month ago”. Moz pegged the rollout at around August 20-22. For the most part this change went unoticed in both local and universal search results. But there was one big change in local that Linda Buquet has covered quite extensively that she first wrote about on August 24th. The timing and results, I think, are not coincidental.

Linda titled this one exactly right: Attack of the Bad Google Local One-Boxes!

What is the attack of the Local One-Boxes? A number of broad head searches like “Buffalo NY Diamonds” or “Denver SEO”  are returning (usually) a single branded, spammy local result. Google seems to have dug into the wayback machine to have pulled out these totally inappropriate results. (Note: as Linda said below it may be necessary to set your location to the same as the geo phrase to see these. That isn’t always the case but it increases the likelihood of surfacing them).

Essentially it appears that Google has once again conflated these head terms with what they suppose to be a branded search and have surfaced spammy pinned local results that we thought had long ago been buried. Hummingbird has worked surprisingly well as demonstrated by the lack of complaints. It is interesting that a problem thought solved long ago would trip it up.

For example if you search on the phrase “Buffalo NY Diamonds” it surfaces a second listing for a local jeweler at the same address that was created long ago for the purpose of keyword spamming ”marketing” in local. The problem of Google showing a single branded results was first spotted years ago. It subsequently lead to a spate of one box spam and then, for the most part, squelched by Google. For whatever reason, these spammy local knowledge graph entities seem to have made a come back.

The timing and nature of the results makes me believe that we are seeing “the Hummingbird effect”.

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When was the last time that you saw a local result for a spammy local SEO listings? The answer: December, 2009. They seem to have returned.

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Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Hummingbird, Local Knowledge Graph & Shitty Search Results by

46 thoughts on “Hummingbird, Local Knowledge Graph & Shitty Search Results”

  1. Thanks for reporting Mike. As you know I’ve been working on this one-box problem and have reported numerous times to Google. But it didn’t occur to me it could be related to Hummingbird, since the one-box prob started way before we knew about Hummingbird.

    Wanted to point out to folks that usually to see these, you need to change search location to the city the result is in. (So you see the result as all the locals do.) ;-(

    The really bad part is this new algo change causes PURE SPAM fake business listings to get a one-box (like what shows for a branded search) just because they have a fake keyword stuffed business name (City KW), which in itself is a Google violation. Many are violating numerous other Google guidelines.

    Many I’ve reported even are totally bogus with non-working phone #s and dead websites. One I called went to a young girl’s cell phone and her mother answered.

    So in addition to giving spam listings a one-box AND blocking out all the other honest businesses that were in the 7 back – these bogus listings with dead phones and websites are creating a bad user experience.

    Consumers call the “only Dentist in town” only to get a disconnected # or a little girl’s cell phone. How relevant is that?

    FYI if anyone is battling this in their market and their client is locked out of the pack, in post #51 at the link Mike shared above, I offer some things you can try to get the problem resolved.

    But additionally, Google is reading that thread at my forum and seems to be manually correcting/deleting the spammy ones, so you can also report it there.

    Additionally you can add to the thread I started at Webmaster Central trying to bring this to the attention of John Mu and Matt Cutts.
    https://productforums.google.com/d/msg/webmasters/NMh_bk5MXX0/t-TxGKalWDQJ

    Thanks again Mike for bringing this ugly problem to light at your blog.

  2. The reason that so many of these bad one boxes go nowhere is that these listings are old and musty. Created long ago and previously not showing in the index, this update seems to have surfaced them.

    Whether it is because Google is using an old index or there is some strong preference for brand I am not sure but it is a quality issue with Hummingbird thats for sure.

  3. Funny, I tweeted about one of these results I was seeing for “Seattle dentist” last weekend. Matt McGee and others were unable to see them, but it was definitely there for me (despite doing the search in Portland, I’m sure my Google account has enough search history in Seattle to trigger Seattle-local results).

    Clearly not a one-off, and part of a larger screw-up on Google’s part. I’m sure we’ll see the dial algorithmically turned down, rather than manually, in the next couple weeks.

  4. I’m sure we’ll see the dial algorithmically turned down, rather than manually, in the next couple weeks.

    You would think so and I would hope so but it appears that to date, Google has been handling these as one offs and doing “hand jobs” on them.

    Obviously Hummingbird was a big change and because most searchers don’t interact with knowledge graph that much, this error didn’t get widely noticed outside of the hard core local folks. But Google has known about the problem for over a month and has yet to fix the underlying issue.

    It is fascinating though that some of the data points that are showing on these searches are so archaic. One just has to wonder which rock Google had been hiding them under and why they showed up now.

  5. Yes David, often for these you need to change location to that city. Unfortunately that will show you the one-box result just as the local searchers are seeing it.

    old… musty… rock… hiding… totally agree Mike. These listings are bad and many appear to be old spam listings that the spammers gave up on so they are no longer even valid. Disconnected numbers and expired domains. That’s how old and musty some of these ‘shitty’ listings are. (So glad you just came right out Mike and called it as you see it!) ;-)

    Here’s one of the originals I reported that’s still live if anyone wants to see a great example:

    Google search: “Plumbers San Diego” and you’ll see this listing got a ONE-BOX and knocked every legit plumber out of the 7 pack.

    Fake name, geo stuffed categories (which is appears someone fixed), address visible (another violation), city repeated 3 times in description.

    Phone is disconnected. In Map Maker record goes to a painting company?

    Why does this listing deserve a one-box and how is it the most relevant Plumber listing in San Diego, if you can’t even call them?

    (Set location to San Diego to see it. IF you can’t see it, see screen shot in the 1st post at my forum that Mike linked to above.)

  6. @Linda
    RE calling a spade a spade.

    I figure if Hummingbird is so fast and precise then it shouldn’t take a month to work out a way to not have these sorts of results. It’s like deja vue all over again.

  7. Great post and thank you Linda for pointing this post out over on your Attack of the one box thread! Because Hummingbird was announced so much later than when we noticed the issues I would have never connected the dots. I can only HOPE Google will climb off of their high horse and dial down the issue because while they wait I am watching hard working business owners lose business every day. Perhaps it shows us how important Local is to businesses but great businesses are loosing a lot of clients.

  8. Thanks Marie, I could not agree more!

    I don’t have a personal or vested interest in this issue, just have been fighting for what’s right and trying to help the industry in general.

    But I can tell you with certainty, if I still worked with clients and had one that was being negatively affected by this, I already would taken this to the reporter I know at the NY Times. That’s what it took to nip the problem in the bud back when Google was making it too easy for listings to be maliciously marked permanently closed – had to get media attention on it. I introduced Mike to the reporter and we both contributed to the Times story. Shortly thereafter improvements began to be made.

    I keep hoping this issue is going to get resolved and since Google reads Mike’s blog too, hopefully this will help get the right eyes on the situation.

    FYI for anyone that has not read my long post – the problem is 2 fold…

    1) Organic algo for brands – dial cranked too high! The algo that tries to give brands a one-box is wound too tight and is giving any old EMD or fake keyword stuffed name on a Google Local listing a one-box.

    2) Local Spam Algo dialed down too far – I just told Google this week the spammy listings with keyword & geo stuffed titles is getting out of control. (Even aside from this one-box issue.)

    Spammers are taking over and many listings should not even be allowed to go live or should be suspended.

    Instead they are rewarded with #1 rankings, or worse yet a one-box.

    3) There WERE 2 issues, Mike just raised a 3rd. Many of these listings are crusty and old and not even valid. It’s like she dug under a rock to find the worst possible listings, then gave them a one-box and crowned them the only and best business in town.

  9. Bravo, Mike: Excellent analysis. Excellent reference to old problems.

    There have been other periods and incidents when too many oneboxes were surfacing for basic searches that combine city name with service/product. Google has mostly managed to quash them.

    One would think with 10′s of millions of aggregate city name/service type searches Google would fully understand that is primarily a mechanism that searchers use to find things. Its the web version of looking up for a particular service in the old print yp. Bing and Yahoo get them also.

    Google has periodically confused this phenomena and flashed the oneboxes to the chagrin of other operators and it could well be to the dismay of customers.

    Potentially very poor search results. Extraordinarily poor.

    Meanwhile of different such abuses reported in Linda’s blog post they have left this one up:

    Could it be b/c this old url now redirects to potential ad income for google??? ;)

  10. @dave
    Certainly google has an interest in increasing revenues but not by producing crappy, non functional results like these.

    Would love to hear the inside scoop but it looks like somewhat restored the wrong backup. 8/12/13 hmmm maybe they restored 13/12/8.

  11. I’d like to believe that as do you Mike but I’ve seen results with dropped domains with adwords sites sit in pacs. I’ve noted them and sent it to google. No change.

    Maybe they can tolerate crappy results that SEO’s might complain about as long as they get their adwords income.

    We don’t know what goes on inside google. The “plumber in baltimore” search phrase is certainly one that shouldn’t be there. It was reported in Linda’s thread. Its still up.

    Anyways great analysis picking up on the old sites that have resurfaced.

    I don’t understand why the G Maps index doesn’t cleanse and get rid of sites that represent dead and gone businesses. Down the line its simply asking for trouble.

    For instance I reported a closed business. The phone number doesn’t work the website is no longer up, there is a review there that says that a person was glad he drove to check out the business and the building was razed. And the street view shows the building was razed. The site is now an empty lot

    But the business is still in google’s index. Go figure. Oh btw: the url is a parked domain with ads.

  12. We have been seeing a TON of these spammy local one boxes. Not only do we see them in organic SERPs, but in maps SERPs as well. At first I had thought it was just confusion of the head term + local for a specific brand, and hadn’t connected the dots to the Hummingbird roll-out in August. Thanks Mike and Linda.

  13. Interesting info Mike, I think that if the one box / knowledge graph spot is filled with a spam listing it will simply increase the velocity of spam reports generated and thus get the listing removed.

  14. Well I have been getting very strange search results with Google lately, even when I try to be very specific I almost always get some garbage unrelated site.

  15. We have noticed similar changes throughout a number of categories. This is a wide-scale issue and I have been informing clients that this “is as Google does”. They make a huge change, it messes everything up, they then spend several months blaming everyone else for the issues, until finally they start implementing slow and hap-hazard changes. Give it 6-9 months (sorry don’t kill the messenger) and you will see things improve.

    But in all of this please remember to not disparage the mighty and powerful Google or else ye’ shall be referred to the NSA for further monitoring of your rabble-rousing ways.

  16. Mike, does this appear to you to be happening mostly in major cities like Denver, Buffalo, San Diego, etc? I can see the ones that have been cited in cities like these, but none in the small city near me, with my location set to there. Just curious. And agree, this is a completely lame user experience.

  17. Hi Miriam, if I can chime in since Mike is away… he may have a different answer.

    But I don’t think it’s city size dependent at all. It’s simply whether or not someone in a city has an EMD business name or created a spammy City + KW fake name on G+ Local or not. Businesses tend to be more aggressive and spammy trying to rank in bigger cities. Plus businesses in big hard to rank in cities tend to hire SEOs more often, so I think that’s why we’ve seen more consultants noticing and reporting for bigger cities.

    But these one-boxes are all over. For example one reported at my forum was “Sevierville Dentist” in Sevierville TN. That was one that was totally bogus. Called and it was a little girl’s cell phone and fake location out in the country. (That one has since been fixed, since Google is reading that forum threads and getting rid of one-off problem listings that are reported.)

    So you are just lucky and there must not be a listing in your market triggering this new super sophisticated algo for whatever KW you are searching for. ;-P But my guess is if you keep searching for different KWs you may eventually find one in your smaller market even.

  18. Hi Linda:)
    Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question. Your explanation makes good sense to me! I’ll have to keep looking for these.

  19. Some of these results still remain. Google may be working on an algo solution now rather than taking them down one by one.

  20. I had a client today call me when he noticed his impressions went from 6000 in 7 days to 23…..I figured this was my normal Monday CSR call from hell however there was a game a foot….I did a generic search result for his major keyword… garage door repair dallas tx……and here is what I found http://screencast.com/t/51Oniad7zh a deliciously spammy domain name that has no website attached to it…..I applaud whoever purchased this domain as they thought the exact domain garagedoorindallas dot come… would be a great for his clients branding.

    Google needs to act on this fast as this is embarrassing for everyone involved…

    If they don’t I might be tempted to open a call center and sell “SEO SERVICES” with “KEY WORD SPECIFIC DOMAINS”

  21. We see the same phenomenon up here Mike, and sometimes the results are striking – completely incorrect businesses listed in one box for unrelated queries. Hope this is sorted out soon!

  22. Posted this 4 days ago but forgot to mention over here…

    Someone is finally writing about this issue on the organic big brand side of the house. Not as blatant as the problem stands out in local – but still glad to see it get more coverage in bigger general Internet marketing channels.

    Sometimes Google’s Knowledge Graph Highlights Brands For Generic Queries | WebProNews

    Ha! When going to grab this link again, I see you commented there Mike.

  23. Mike:

    I took your advice from post #23 and reported a bad result in a pac. This one was a long term parked domain sitting in a pac with no content but adsense. I reported the result. Google has removed the parked domain though the smb stays in the pac.

  24. I have seen a drop in Google Places listings starting on exactly September 23rd 2013 and then dropping. Has anyone else noticed a similar pattern? Factual had a lot of outdated business listings that I’ve corrected but they still haven’t recovered. I thought that it might be bad data screwing up their NAP. Except for one of my clients was not incorrect in Factual.

  25. Mike, It looks like you were right. They fixed the Denver SEO result and replaced it with a 3 pack of local results removing the old “Denver SEO” result all together. I was wondering what was causing this so I’m glad you called it out.

  26. I’m still seeing “plumbers Phoenix” and many of the variations (plumbers in phoenix, etc) give one-box results. Apart from the implication from a local SEO standpoint, does Google really think consumers will benefit from this nonsense? The one local listing doesn’t even have a website and the g+ page has 4 reviews … all 5 star of course! https://plus.google.com/114549839832169554769/about?gl=us&hl=en

  27. I am just going to see what’s going to happen with my site after hummingbird update. What I really like, is the whole search query to match rather than few words matching and bringing the results based on them.

  28. The Hummingbird update has been a big yawn fest for me. My traffic is up. I don’t find the new SERP layouts particularly attractive or useful.

    Google could lose to Yelp for local search market if they keep going this way. Maybe I don’t know the over-arching strategy, but it doesn’t seem like this is much of an improvement.

  29. Hey Mike

    We are seeing some fairly awful Google one boxes over in the UK as well. In many cases the actual listing is again named as a keyword ‘seo consultant birmingham’ or some such.

    No reviews, not claimed, not updated, no description – a generally shi**y one box result that should not even feature for a listing that does not even seem to tie to an active business.

    For all the to do about Hummingbird the actual results for longer and more conversational type queries seem to be worsened in my experience. In an article over on Search Engine Land Danny Sullivan used ‘What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home’ as an example yet the results for that are awful here.

    If I try to tweak that and even use my location to give a bigger hint then again What’s the closest place to buy an iPhone 5s in birmingham’ then again the results are just full of junk listings on gumtree.

    Hummingbird may be humming but it is certainly not singing a song I want to hear!

    Marcus

  30. @Ed
    We’ve noticed the same drop in impressions on Google Places around September 23/24. But I can’t seem to find many people that are reporting this drop.
    We noticed it across all of our clients’ listings, as well as a few listings that we have access to, but have not been optimizing.

    I’d be curious to know anyone else’s thoughts on this sudden drop, or if anyone else has experienced this drop as well?

  31. Hey Brittany

    I have seen some chatter regarding a loss of traffic / impressions and seemingly many terms that previously showed local results are no longer doing so. Therefore, some clients that were getting most of their visibility of the back of certain keywords are seeing a drop.

    Hope that helps!
    Marcus

  32. The thing with with the hummingbird is it’s bringing up “the best” results for the local area. What they didn’t realize is that a lot of old spammy sites were built for certain local areas and not much else. After their subsequent updates buried these spam results, hummingbird is resurrecting them because there just isn’t enough other local data out there at the moment. As seen by some searches having only 1 local result box.

    They can either edit hummingbird to account for these spammy sites or wait until there’s more sites that can push the spam away.

  33. @Owen
    I don’t think that your analysis is quite complete. As soon as you report one of these spammy one boxes and they get taken down, the 7 packs generally return. What that implies to me is that Hummingbird is relying too heavily on exact match branding to surface results.

  34. @Mike Blumenthal

    You might have gotten me there, since I’ve never actually reported a spammy site. I usually just check the more spammy type local seo areas to check and see what they’re doing.

    But the fact that reporting them and getting them taken down and the seven pack returning shows that hummingbird is still a little fresh and needs some more time.

    We all know the exact match domains have always been favored by google since it would seem google love brands but while panda and penguin started punishing these sites hummingbird again seems like it’s not properly integrated with them…. maybe?

    I think giving it a few more updates and google should have it more or less sorted out.

  35. @Owen
    I do know that Google is working on the issue and that they will square it away sooner or later.

    In the case of local Google and Humming Bird love exact match business names.

  36. @Mike Blumenthal

    Yes your right about the google and EMD, the thing is previously they were able to seriously penalize these EMD sites. Hummingbird is bringing them back from the dead. If we continue to report these sites Google might see a pattern and is able to build into its future updates how to bury these types of sites again.

    As for when they’ll get to that? Only Google knows. If I remember the last update they said they will be going after hacked sites so maybe we’ll just have to manually report these sites until mid to late 2014.

  37. It appears the one listing problem has arrived in the UK. If you search “driving lessons Brighton” you no longer get a 7 pack, just one listing. That listing shows an address, something that I thought was a service area business infringement, any thoughts Mike?

  38. @Stephen
    I have no idea what the laws are in the UK. and I am not qualified to speak on “service area business infringement” nor do I have any idea what it is.

    In looking at the “driving lessons Brighton” I see multiple businesses attempting to convince Google that they are each called “Driving Lessons Brighton”…. Google in their infinite wisdom anointed one as the real one and shows it with this bad hummingbird search result.

    Minimally Google should show the pack results instead. Maximally, businesses in the area should report the erroneous names if that is what they are.

  39. Yep, seems like they are back in the UK. Oddly, one search term we monitor in Birmingham UK is ‘SEO Consultant’ and that had a bad one box result before which had disappeared. Now, it has another bad one box result but the actual website for the business is a completely blank page:

    www (dot) seoconsultant-uk (dot) com
    plus (dot) google (dot) com/103534162117689969785/about?hl=en

    So a completely blank website but maybe it is saved by the dazzling use of prose on the Google Plus listing description:

    “SEO Consultant, Get an SEO Consultant from the UK in the UK instead of getting some random Search Engine Optimisation company with no knowledge of the UK market. Choose SEO Consultant UK.”

    I take it back, that’s clearly a quality act. They are in fact so good that the entirely blank homepage on the site is a marketing enigma carefully crafted to drive further interest in this SEO Consultant from the UK in the UK.

    So, bleeding edge local SEO tips? Mention your service type in the name of your listing and then three times in the description + serve up a blank homepage. Remember you heard it first here folks!

    This would be depressing if it were not so funny (or possibly vice versa). Someone should create a website to archive all of these for posterity. :)

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