On the eve of its 15th birthday, Google made a subtle announcement about the “Hummingbird” update to its algorithm, which went live roughly a month ago. Hummingbird is the biggest update that Google has made to search for some years, and will change the way that we interact with the search giant for years to come.
According to Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of search, this update affects over 90 per cent of all searches and is focused on evolving results to better match the intent of someone’s search. In essence, Hummingbird gives Google a much better underlying infrastructure for providing the best answer to what you want, instead of just matching results to the words that you used to search.
What is Hummingbird and why does it matter?
For quite some time, Google has been getting better and better at providing great answers to simple questions, such as providing a basic calculator’s functionality or responding to a search for “kgs to lbs” by providing a conversion tool. With Hummingbird, Google will be able to provide more answers instead of just a page of results.
Some other interesting aspects of Hummingbird are a heavy emphasis on utilising synonyms to provide better results, a focus on handling conversational search better and a new ability to search by hashtags. This better aligns Google with the way that search behaviour has changed over the years, with the modern web’s dependence on hashtags across most of the popular social sites.
Three simple ways to align your digital strategy with Google Hummingbird
1. Get semantic: Google was utilising the information contained within the HTML of your website to show things like your business’ street address, review scores and Google+ authorship within search listings. Hummingbird is the update that will expand this further, giving you the opportunity to add the relevant information to improve your search. Product, Place (for locations), Review, Person, Event and CreativeWork Microdata are great places to start. The Schema.org website can help get your team started.
2. Be strategic with hashtags: Have you ever tried to track something on Twitter, but realised that there are competing hashtags, leading to fracturing information? Don’t be that marketer! Do research and ensure that the tags that you are using are the most popular hashtags for the subject you are posting about. Don’t be afraid to start your own hashtag, as long as you plan to build engagement around it.
3. Your content should be the answer: Think of all of the questions that someone could ask about one of your products. Now search for each of these questions and see how your rankings stack up. If you are not happy with your rankings for these questions, it’s time to make sure that your content is the best source of information for all of these questions. Be the authority on your products and then become the content authority on your vertical.
SEO strategies that will become less important
1. Focusing on the lesser trafficked keyword: In the past, if “shoes” had 300,000 monthly searches and “footwear” had 50,000, a savvy search marketer would choose to optimise for “footwear” as they would have a better chance at ranking on the first page of the search. With Hummingbird, these two words will begin to be treated as one in the same, widening the pool of competitors.
2. Targeting phrases that have easy answers: Once upon a time, a guy could make a bit of money from having a well optimised standard to metric calculating website—until Google offered the same thing within search results, cutting that guy's traffic off. If you depend on traffic from anything that can be easily answered by a machine (they are great at math!), then it’s time to revisit your content strategy.
Check your web analytics tool and look at what percentage of your overall traffic comes from Google. Then realizer how crucial this traffic is to your bottom line. With any major Google update, the brands that constantly adapt their digital strategy to align with where Google is heading will always outperform those who choose to stick with what worked in the past. Take control of your digital strategy and build for success in the post-Hummingbird world.
Josh Bledsoe is SEO director for iProspect.