Hummingbird is coming for your website – is your content semantically sweet enough?
Google celebrated its 15th birthday last week by giving us all the gift of a new algorithm. No, I don’t refer to an update to Penguin or Panda which strikes fear into the hearts and minds of website managers everywhere. Google may be a sadistic bastard but even they wouldn’t hammer your site’s rank on its birthday. Instead they introduced the sweetly named Hummingbird which actually fluttered its way into our lives unnoticed over a month before it was officially announced. So does that mean Hummingbird isn’t that impactful? Not at all. It may be the biggest algorithm release since Google was a toddler.
Below I address the importance of Hummingbird, what to expect with its arrival, and advice on how to prepare your website marketing strategy.
What You Need to Know about the Google Hummingbird Algorithm
1. Semantic Search Trumps Exact Match Keywords
Google has made recent strides to reward websites by matching the semantics and intention of queries with the overall content found on web pages. Hummingbird takes this to a whole other level. There is a big difference between websites that have the right words in the right place and those that actually provide content to meet the intent of searchers. Websites vying to rank for exact match keywords by focusing solely on Title Tags and explicit keyword insertion as opposed to delivering rich and engaging content should not see Page One results in the future. Hummingbird in theory will improve search rank for a website that answers questions, addresses various longtail keywords, and provides comprehensive information about the topic users were searching for.
2. Mobile Domination is at the Door
It’s no coincidence that the algorithm was named after a quick little bird. Mobility is everything to today’s online consumer and the search experience is being optimized to adapt to this behavior. The semantic play of Hummingbird allows users to become more casual and conversational in their queries, which is reflected in Google’s push towards Voice Search (in competition with Apple’s Siri) and Google Glasses. Even in the most basic sense the more that people perform search from their smartphones the less time they have to think about the way they type in their query. They need to be able to communicate with Google Search while walking down the street or to request directions while using a hands-free set in their car. Hummingbird seeks to understand you better while on the move. Webmasters need to ensure their content delivery is semantic friendly but also mobile optimized to accommodate this mobile momentum.
3. Longtail Keywords Increase in Importance
Returning once again to semantics (the obvious theme of Hummingbird) it is important to drive home the point that this algorithm will better understand longer and more elaborate queries. What is “casual” for us in language is complex for Google to understand. This is good news for small to medium businesses hoping to compete for search engine results page (SERP) rank. Big budgeted webmasters continue to buy up the top spots (be it AdWords or expensive SEO campaigns) for general keywords (e.g. “Hawaii real estate”) but according to Hummingbird they will no longer grab those longtail keywords (e.g. “one bedroom condos near Waikiki beach”) by default too. You may have been discouraged from optimizing for longtail keywords in the past, but it should now be a part of your keyword strategy.
4. Emphasizes Answers ON Search Engine Results Pages
Another element of Hummingbird is that it complements Google’s desire to provide answers directly on the SERP, not just results. “Answers” refers to delivering information to the user on the Google search page after the query is entered as opposed to just providing a list of optimized websites that may or may not have the answer. For example, of you search “NBA Schedule” you will now get the literal NBA schedule for up and coming games (exactly what you were looking for) before you are subjected to a list of websites that optimized for that keyword phrase. If you search “Laguna Beach” Google now provides front facing answers that include the Wikipedia write-up in addition to visual cues (images and video) towards points of interest in Laguna Beach as well as reference to the once popular MTV show. Google is providing its best guess answer to what you were looking for. All of these answers stand out in contrast to the websites listed on the SERP. The more well rounded your content (static content complemented by images, video, blogs, and news releases) the more likely you will be sourced as an answer and not a result.
5. Google Plus Will Be a Driving Force
Google Plus seeks to improve and personalize the user search experience. This is in line with the goals of Hummingbird. Building your Google Plus presence allows Google the information it needs to better understand your day to day activity and will skew search results (when signed-in) based upon your past activity (searches, sites visited, etc…). Business connected to customers on Google Plus will create these connections by updating their G+ Pages with enriching content, building their Circles, joining Communities, and interacting with as many people as possible. By doing so, they increase the likelihood that the Hummingbird algorithm will consider them when delivering search engine answers and results.
While I tend to give Google a hard time (I’m sure they care deeply about my opinion) over the dramatic moves they’ve made over the summer of 2013 I can honestly say that Hummingbird takes flight in the right direction. Aside from seeking to put some additional ad revenue in their pockets (we have to remind ourselves that they are a business) the results also ultimately seek to provide users with the best possible and most engaging answers to their queries. If website managers feed Hummingbird the nectar that it craves (oh so sweet content!) then they will be rewarded with improved results in search.