Since Google Hummingbird was announced on September 27, I can’t even count all the comments and blog posts about how “SEO is dead”. That statement cannot be further from the truth. If your strategy for SEO is to cut corners, manipulate ranking factors and to take automated shortcuts, then yes – SEO is dead for you. And really, it has been for a while.
I think that these recent changes are incredibly positive and I believe that SEO is more alive than ever. And now I’m going to convince you of why.
First, let me explain what Google Hummingbird is. As you may or may not know, Google likes to give cute animal names to all of their major algorithm updates. Last year, we saw Panda and Penguin shake things up in a big way. Last month, they gave us Hummingbird – which turned out to be even more of a significant update than the 2 prior. I would even go as far to say that this ins’t really an “algorithm update”, but more an entire platform change. This is the first time in 12 years that the algorithm has been so dramatically rewritten.
Interesting fact: Google doesn’t just choose animals at random. They chose Hummingbird to describe the new update because they are “precise and fast”.
For years, website owners and SEO companies have focused their entire efforts around keywords. You would do some keyword research and then make sure your keywords were in your title tags, text, description, etc. But as technology updates and the way we communicate socially evolves, so does the way that we search for information. People are no longer searching the web in keywords; they’ve transition to search the web in communication queries.
Because of the way that we talk on Twitter or ask Siri to look something up, we are shifting away from searching “dog food” to “Find the best dog food suppliers near me.” Hummingbird is nothing more than a shift in search indexing to accommodate for the shift in search.
Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
For example: “What is the closest pizza place in Indianapolis?”
Traditional keyword searches would return results from pages matching “pizza” and “Indianapolis.” Whereas Hummingbird focuses on the entire sentence and attempts to fully understand the meaning behind all the words instead of just keywords. Hummingbird would pinpoint your actual location in order to map out the closest pizza in your area or realize that by “place” you actually want a physical location that sells pizza or that pizza is a popular food choice in many restaurants throughout Indianapolis. Knowing these things will make searching more personable and human-like and will provide results matching the meaning, rather than just specific keywords.
Note: I believe as of today, this feature has only been rolled out on Google Chrome and is still in Beta, meaning it may not work for everyone and is still working out the bugs.
The Five Major Updates Stemming from Hummingbird
1. ‘(Not Provided)’
For those that utilize Google Analytics to monitor website traffic, you already know that keyword data, the data that you’ve relied so heavily on, is no longer available. On September 23, Google decided to make all searches “secure” – you know, for privacy reasons. You can still get this data when you are paying on AdWords, so many question the privacy reason. Really it’s just to shift your mind away from relying on the traditional method of keyword stuffing.
2. Conversational Search
This is the coolest feature of Hummingbird. You can now do a back-and-forth conversation with Google. For example, you can search “Show me pictures of Lucas Oil Stadium” and Google will accommodate. Next, search “What teams play here?”
No need to start a new search – Google will actually remember your previous search and base those results on the conversation you’ve started. Some website owners will argue that this is killing SEO. Why? Because Google is serving the answers to both of those questions right on their results page. They are showing the physical pictures and showing the actual teams, right under the search bar. So, this is taking clicks away from sites that we’d normally have to visit to get our answers.
But I cannot stress this enough – SEO is dead for your average SEO guy who has learned a few shortcuts in the past to manipulate short-term rankings. But where do you think Google gets this data that they serve on their search page? They scrape websites – the websites of the industry leaders related to that search – and displayed the scraped content. This will still lead to visits for websites that have done a long-term quality SEO campaign.
3. Google Plus and Author Rank
Neither Google Plus nor Google Authorship are new. But what’s new is the increasingly important social signals, specifically from Facebook and Google Plus. Overall, social signals (how engaging your content is across social media) are playing a larger role in determining your credibility as a website author. If you and I both had competing websites, assuming all other factors are the same, and I was getting a lot more likes and shares on my social content, then Google is going to find that I am sharing more relevant information and will rank my site higher than yours.
If you are a website owner and are not using Google Plus and/or have not linked Google Authorship with your blog, then your rankings won’t be around for much longer.
4. Goodbye Page Rank
Since forever, Google has assigned page rank to every page on the web. The higher the page rank, the higher you rank. The higher the page rank, the better quality of back link. Everything was keywords and page rank. Well, as we say goodbye to keyword data, say goodbye to page rank. This is still somewhat speculation, but Google has not updated their pagerank since February of this year (and it’s something they usually update every 3 months).
Matt Cutts, the big wig SEO compliance guy over at Google has also confirmed there will not be another page rank update this year. So they are either skipping 3 updates, or more probable going to ax this measurement all together, which makes sense as they move to more real-world methods of measuring websites.
5. Going Mobile
As I’m sure you know, smartphone/tablet usage is on its way to surpass traditional desktop/laptop usage. And since Google is all about providing an amazing experience for the end-user, be prepared to lose ranking (or struggle to ever gain ranking) if you don’t have a website that is optimized for both desktop and mobile visitors.
This can be done in 1 of 2 ways. You can build a website that is responsive. Basically that means that you have 1 website, but the layout of that website changes based on the device it’s being viewed on. It will display wide and with columns, as you designed it, on desktop. But will also auto-detect when a visitor is coming from a handheld device and restructure the layout to be viewed more easily on mobile without the user having to zoom in and out in an attempt to try to find what they are looking for.
The other option is to create a separate mobile website on a subdomain like this: http://m.mysite.com/ While the first option is preferred by Google, either will work.
But one thing is for sure, you must make sure that your website is optimized for all browsers and all devices. This part of the algorithm is supposed to hit hard around Thanksgiving, as bits and pieces of the update are still being rolled out.
What effect does this have on me and my business?
That’s all you really care about, right? So here it is. This means that you have to do what I’ve been preaching for years. Stop taking shortcuts, stop hiring the neighborhood computer guy who says he knows SEO, and build a real SEO framework right now that will last you for the life of your business and survive all of these cute animal algorithm updates.
I’ve never been affected by an algorithm update in a negative way. Not once. Neither have my clients. Yet, millions of website owners were crying after Panda. Even JC Penny got knocked down and lost millions of dollars and were forced to shut down stores and lay people off.
All Google wants to see is that you are worried about building a web experience that is designed NOT for SEO, but for user-experience. They want to see that your website is easy to navigate, filled with a bunch of well-written content so users can find answers to all of their questions, they want to see you linking out to other authority sites in your niche, and they want to see a site that is both desktop and mobile friendly.
They do not want to see you swapping links, buying links, spamming other blogs, stuffing keywords into your site and writing content specifically to impress the search engines.
Guidance for organic SEO remains the same: have original, high-quality content (and lots of it, often). Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.
Contact Me for a free SEO analysis on your website, or to talk about how I can get your site to the top of the search results.