Just last week Google announced the new Hummingbird algorithm update. What does this algorithm change mean to your website? We've put together this short guide to explain what the Hummingbird update is all about, how it will affect your rankings and how to change your ranking strategies to actually benefit from the changes.
So, what do we know about Hummingbird?
Although it was only just announced on September 26, Hummingbird was in fact released a month before that and has affected 90% of search queries.
Unlike the Penguin and Panda updates, Hummingbird is actually not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content), it is a change in the way Google reacts to different types of search queries, which now lets the search engine get the actual meaning behind a search query, rather than each separate term in your search!
Besides all this, the algorithm update is designed to better deal with conversational queries, considering the growing number of mobile search users and voice searchers.
Hummingbird is all about Google being able to catch users' actual search intent and find the content that matches this intent the best.
But what does this mean for Internet marketers?
It means a few things become increasingly more important, and first of all - the content on your site. The name of the game is relevance and your content needs to be deep and rich, rather than just fluff stuffed with keywords.
Now to get a better idea of how to adapt your digital marketing strategy to that change, you need to understand which mechanisms Google probably uses to achieve the relevance goal and what each of them means for your site.
1. Adapt your keyword strategy for conversational queries
The first challenge Google has to deal with today is the growing number of conversational phrases people use to search the Web. Quite likely (and that is especially true for mobile voice search users), these queries will be of a longer, question-like type - "how to...?", "where is the nearest...?", "where can I get...?", etc.
Interpreting these longer phrases, Google can no longer rely on the keywords only and provide different results for each of them. But rather than bringing numerous conversational requests to a shorter "general term", based on the type of searchers' intent, try determining all conversational phrases people are likely to use when searching for your services, and classify them into informational, navigational and transactional.
Make sure your content covers each of the 3 types:
- To cover informational queries, create educational, Wikipedia-type content.
- Navigational queries are your brand name, your product name, the name of your site, etc. What often helps you rank higher for your brand keywords are brand and website name mentions on thematically relevant resources.
- For transactional queries, use appropriate keywords in your content, for example “hire Jason C. – a web designer from Sydney”
In addition, wherever possible, target conversational phrases just as they are. For all the rest of conversational terms, use their shorter equivalents.
2. Leverage synonyms and co-occurring terms
Another step towards relevant search results is determining what a page is about using not only individual keywords, but their synonyms and co-occurring terms.
Practically this means that Google shows search results not only for the exact phrase the user typed in, but also for other theme-related terms.
For a theme-relevant website, this results in extra exposure opportunities: it's likely to get to Google's top not only for your targeted keywords, but for lots of their synonyms.
On the contrary, the page cut for a separate keyword (without keeping in mind its co-occurring terms and synonyms) is likely to be replaced with a page form theme-relevant site.
What should you do? Expand your keyword research, focusing on synonyms and co-occurring terms to diversify your content.
3. Strive for co-citation
Another way for Google to identify what your website or your business deals with is co-citation.
In a simple language, this mechanism means that each time your brand (or a link to your site) is mentioned alongside with your competitors or similar web resources, this serves as a hint to Google that your firm and those other companies are related.
And if the competitors are already authoritative in your business niche, your site for Google now seems a weighty niche representative.
By way of example, if your website (1) is mentioned on websites A, B and C together with your competitors (2, 3 and 4), for Google the 4 websites become associated (see the scheme).
Identify your top competitors (the leading niche representatives trusted by Google) and make sure your brand is mentioned alongside them:
- Perform a Google search for "Top 10 [the generic term for your biz]…", "Best [the generic term for your product] of 2013", etc. If your business isn't there, reach out to the publisher and ask them to put you on the list.
- Search for other competing brands ranking high for your keywords, to find more citation opportunities.
- Reverse-engineer competitors' backlink profiles to see which niche resources they have links from.
4. Re-consider your anchor texts
Even though using "commercial" anchor texts in links is one of the biggest no-no's these days, Google still relies on backlink anchor texts to better understand the theme of a site.
The perfect proof for that is the famous example of Adobe.com that (still!) ranks for "click here" solely due to the anchor texts in its links:
- Do an inventory of your site's internal links and see if you can better optimise the anchor texts for semantically relevant keywords.
- Check your site's external links' anchors to make sure they are relevant enough or revise your anchor text strategy.
- Don't forget to not only use keywords in the anchor texts themselves, but also surround the links with keywords and their synonyms.
5. Pay more attention to Universal Search listings
One more thing to pay your attention to in the age of smarter Google is Universal search.
It is quite likely that the new, relevancy-focused algorithm will make Google show more Universal search results to your target users.
Say, Google sees your intent – learning the best way to work out your chest. Quite obviously, the most informative result for you is a training video:
This means that now, even more than before, Universal Search gives you the opportunity to:
- Outrank competitors when cracking the “organic” top 10 seems improbable
- Drive more traffic to your site by using additional traffic channels
What should you do?
- See what types of search results appear on Google for your main keywords
- Consider the possibility of getting a Google+ Local listing
- Optimise your images for Google Images
- Make videos and optimise them for YouTube
6. Utilize structured data markup
To collect more info about your website, its theme and content, Google is likely to pay even more attention to the so-called structured data. That is a perfect way to get extra exposure in Google's Knowledge graph, add more info to rich snippets, feature your articles authorship, get into the search results carousel and so on.
- Make sure you use maximum number of structured data properties, which lets Google know more about your site (use Google+ for Google authorship, get listed in Freebase to increase your chances of hopping on the Knowledge Graph, etc.)
- To help Google make better sense of your site, whenever possible, try implementing schema on your site (use Schema.org markup for Videos, use Structured Data Markup Helper to let Google know more about movies, events, etc. on your site).
- Use Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure Google interprets structured data correctly on your webpages.
Use this tool to help you get Structured Data Markup working on your site: https://www.google.com/webmasters/markup-helper/
7. Google AdWords Campaigns
We have also noticed, although denied by Google, that our clients with active Google AdWords accounts are less affected then those who have no AdWords running. We suggest that a certain portion of your marketing budget is spent in Google AdWords for the sake of your traffic generation. At Sites By Design we offer this service if you need a Guru to keep your campaign going as a whole.