Adjusting Your SEO Strategy For A Post-Hummingbird World

March 23, 2014 by

What Is Hummingbird?

While Google makes small tweaks to its algorithm up to 500 times per year, Hummingbird marks the first time in 15 years that Google has completely replaced the entire base of its search algorithm. While only 10 percent of searches were impacted by the Panda update, and 3 percent by Penguin, Hummingbird impacted 90 percent of searches. So why didn’t webmasters know about the Hummingbird update until a month after its launch? According to Matt Cutts, despite the large number of searches impacted, the impact to users is not yet as noticeable as previous updates.

Why Did Google's Search Algorithm Change?

Over the past few years, the web has become increasingly centered on mobile and conversational search. To better serve searchers, Google came up with Hummingbird to reflect this new behavior on the web. The two main goals of Hummingbird are speed and accuracy, hence the reason behind the algorithm’s name.

Google strives to provide prompt search results and also shows preference to sites that will deliver a similar experience. Therefore, Google has placed speed as a top priority in order to minimize the time to serve results and find new content. The speed aspect of the Hummingbird update will not have a direct impact on a site’s rankings, but it does reinforce Google’s continued focus on providing a faster user experience. As far as the accuracy aspect of Hummingbird, rather than only matching certain keywords to pages in its index, Google is now placing a stronger concentration on interpreting the intent behind a user query. This emphasis on intent behind a web page will likely mean a more diverse set of search results that rewards quality content on potentially less authoritative sites for queries that were previously dominated by large sites.

Post-Hummingbird SEO Strategies

With Hummingbird’s emphasis on speed and accuracy, the main focus for optimization efforts should be on efficiency – across the board. Does this mean you need to change all of your previous SEO strategies? No, but you do need to refine them.

Although Hummingbird is only the beginning of user-experience-focused algorithm improvements, Google’s understanding of the intent behind a query will only continue to grow. This places an increased importance on clearly showing how a page's content clearly answers the question asked by users' search queries. Keep in mind the idea of explaining a “concept,” rather than focusing solely on keywords. Creating content that provides value, such as providing a thorough overview of a topic, answering a question, providing tips or solving a problem, will have longevity. Further, concentrating on user needs helps to create evergreen content with ongoing relevancy that will, over time, gain authority.

With Hummingbird’s focus on improving long-tail queries and conversational search, keyword rankings shouldn’t be directly impacted for sites that produce high-quality unique content.  Beyond content, general on-site search engine optimization best practices still apply, but priorities must shift from targeting isolated keywords to targeting complete concepts, optimizing Title Tags, Heading Tags, URLs, Body Text and Images. For example, instead of The North Face – Fleece Outerwear Warmth Ratings, you might instead want to use How warm are Fleece Jackets from The North Face, and Comparing Fleece Jackets – The North Face. Focusing on concepts and intent will ensure Google recognizes what your web page has to offer.

Strategically, you should be thinking about how you will create content that fully addresses each phase of a consumer's buying process, by answering their questions and providing expert content they can't find anywhere else. Creating authority in a post-Hummingbird world is all about better addressing the context of user queries. Google searches for this context in the content of the current page, as well as the links to and from that page, so it's important to consider how your content will link together, and optimize those internally as well as externally. As an example, The North Face might create a content section that covers the Benefits of Performance Outerwear for Sports, linked from a section on Outdoor Sports, linking to a section comparing types of Performance Outerwear. In developing this content, it’s covered three stages of the buying process (Stimulus, Information Search and Consideration) while also creating contextual relevance for each individual section.

Related Class: How to Use Search to Maximize Your Content Marketing 

The Hummingbird update is tailored to an increasingly mobile audience of people on the go – those who conversationally search for something and expect prompt results. With nearly half of all searches originating from mobile devices, a well-optimized mobile site is essential. The best way to ensure a successful mobile experience is to use responsive design.

Rather than having separate desktop and mobile sites, responsive design allows the same content to simply be reformatted to fit the appropriate screen. Responsively designed websites serve the same HTML on the same URLs to 100 percent of users, but utilize device/screen size detection and flexible CSS to change how the page is rendered. Responsive design is perhaps the most future-proof mobile experience strategy, as it can accommodate a diverse set of devices and screen sizes now and in the future, while reducing reliance on redirects and consolidating resources that need to be downloaded by Google and end users. Responsive design enables a website to work as efficiently on mobile as it does on desktop, which is extremely important for gaining the most organic search traffic possible.

In terms of off-site optimization, links continue to be an important ranking factor, post-Hummingbird. The good news is that if you are creating authoritative, thorough content, links should be easier to gain, as other sites will be more likely to link your site as either a source or a useful reference. It's also important to consider how your social media presence is aiding you in building SEO authority. Use your social media channels to build credibility for your brand, and connect with influencers, who are likely to read and share your content. While it's always important to optimize your presence on Google+ and Facebook, you should also look for other niche social channels that reach your target audience. Although social media platform optimization cannot take the place of link building, Google does prefer authoritative brands and considers brand mentions in social media, especially on Google+, to be positive signals of this authority.

Efficiency is the main takeaway for post-Hummingbird strategies. A site that thoroughly covers relevant concepts and provides valuable content to searches will have a higher likelihood of appearing for search queries. In addition, full integration into the social media atmosphere will ensure customer engagement, further establishing brand authority. A site tailored to the customer will help Google understand the site’s intent and trustworthiness. Once Google finds your site relevant and important, you’ve struck SEO gold.

In association with leading research firms and industry associations, the Online Marketing Institute has developed in-depth, advanced SEO certification program, geared specifically toward marketing and Internet professionals who wish to expand their organic presence, quality scores, and relevant traffic. Enroll today!

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