On 26th September 2013, Google announced its largest upgrade to its search algorithm since 2001. Known as Google Hummingbird, this algorithm is said to officially mark the end of keyword stuffing and outdated SEO. Instead, it focuses on understanding the context around natural language searches.
Less than a month after its launch, a search for ‘Google Hummingbird’ brings up more than 16 million search results. This is clearly big news in the world of websites but what does it mean to yours?
Mobile devices are influencing the way we search
We are all increasingly accessing the web on mobile devices – in fact, mobile is predicted to outstrip desktop usage within the next two years. What Google Hummingbird recognises is that mobile users are on-the-go and tend to speak their search queries instead of typing them in. Something happens when we speak our search queries out loud. Instead of typing ‘Mexican restaurants Nottingham’, we might ask, “Where is a good Mexican restaurant near Sherwood?”
Context matters to Google Hummingbird
Google Hummingbird looks at the context of a query. It considers factors such as user intent, timeliness, search location cues, previous recent searches and what device the searcher is using, among others.
Using Google’s Knowledge Graph, Google Hummingbird strives to understand the meaning between and behind your words rather than the words alone. It then returns search results reflecting ‘a broad set of appropriate facts’.
Think about questions and answers
Put simply, Google Hummingbird arrives at its search results using a question and answer format. This is good news for companies that are focused on putting their customers (rightfully) centre stage. The better you know and understand your customers, the better able you are to write content that answers their questions.
Give your customers the information they need and Google will reward you for it with better rankings.
Now is a good time to think about your website’s content. What questions do your customers always ask you? Is there a topic that comes up on your Facebook page or on Twitter? What are you asked in sales meetings? What do new enquiries focus on?
Google Hummingbird asks us to focus on answering these questions, which our websites should be doing anyway.
You’re unlikely to see a nosedive in website traffic
You may not have even noticed that Google has updated its algorithm. Certainly, there doesn’t seem to have been an overnight drop in rankings for most businesses. In reality, the
changes you see to your website traffic are likely to be gradual and hopefully positive if you concentrate on providing in-depth and high quality content.
Google notes that the algorithm covers about 90% of search queries worldwide.
Where does Google Hummingbird leave keywords?
Having read a lot of articles about Google Hummingbird, I agree with the consensus that it’s still worth doing your keyword research. Although keywords have less impact on SEO than ever before, they do still signpost the content of your website to search engines, indicating whether your content is relevant to a search. They also give you a steer on the vocabulary your customers are using.
It’s a good idea to think about long-tail keywords. In other words, instead of single words or two-to-three-word phrases, think about the questions web users will be using.
The fact that a lot of keyword data recently disappeared from Google Analytics speaks volumes, although you can still currently find data about the keywords people are using to find you in your Google Webmaster tools (click on ‘Search traffic’ and then ‘Search queries’ to see search volumes and click through rates).
My advice would be to think about your customers first, the content they need and then what words they might use to ask questions about that content.
Google Authorship is great for optimisation
Google Hummingbird places greater emphasis on Google Authorship. Essentially, Google Authorship helps Google track your footprint as an authoritative voice in your field. It shows the search engine that you write relevant content, that you guest blog, that you engage with your customers on social media and that you comment on other people’s content. These are all fantastic reputation-building tools that impact positively on your SEO.
Content continues to reign supreme
For me, Google Hummingbird simply serves as an important reminder to be authentic, to write original content and to think about what my customers want to know. Whether traffic comes to your website via search engines, social media or referrals, the real value is in the content.
(Just remember to make the content as mobile friendly as possible to stay on the right side of Google Hummingbird!)
Have you noticed any changes to your rankings since Google Hummingbird? Do you think it will make a big difference? Do you have any Hummingbird-friendly hints and tips? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or over on my Facebook page.
If you’re stuck for time, inspiration or inclination when it comes to writing high quality content, give me a shout and I’ll be happy to help.