Business Owners: How Google Hummingbird Impacts You & What Should You Do

Thanks go out to +Rick Eliason from our Reload Digital office in the UK for providing us with this great post. If you found this post helpful, please feel free to show the love with a share on your preferred social network. Thanks!
Around a month ago (Sept 2013), Google quietly released an update to the way it considers search queries and returns results. I know what you are thinking – doesn’t this happen all the time? Well yes it does, but this one is a biggie and although information is only just starting to surface we can safely say there will be drastic implications to your online business.

General Queries

Google has been working tirelessly over the past few years to not only ‘read’ the web but understand it and how it all connects together. It can now better judge the intention of a query and the implicit information behind a generic search term so when you search for [restaurants in brisbane] it returns results that can differ based on the time of day, your current location, your friends’ recommended restaurants, restaurants you’ve searched for before and a heap of other signals to find what Google thinks would be ideal restaurant choices.

While the perfect set of results is still a long way off, Google is constantly accumulating data on everything and refining its algorithm and this Hummingbird update is a big step forward. Wait, there’s more.

Using the same implicit information, Google can judge whether an individual searching for [botox] is after a list of local clinics, celebrity mishap stories or information on the injectable itself. By eliminating these redundant results, the searcher gets a more relevant set of results. This means that while there is less competition in the results fighting for page 1 visibility, the remaining sites will need to be super-relevant to these new query types – basically, continuing to optimise for generic keywords over more relevant long-tail keywords is a recipe for disaster.

Watch this video for more information on implicit queries.

Action: Revisit your keyword list and eliminate general keywords/terms in favour of relevant long-tail keywords. Adapt future content accordingly.

Hidden Keyword Data

As you are probably aware, Google has been hiding more and more keyword-level data in Analytics. Officially this is a privacy concern but the smart money is on the fact that the typed keyword is no longer the only thing that Google takes into consideration when ranking your site. As explained above, Google is increasingly using implicit information in addition to the actual keyword – the problem is that this implicit information cannot be reported on and therefore it is misleading for you, the business owner to count on keyword data alone. In time, this keyword level data that you (and we, the agency) use to track SEO success will be completely removed.

In terms of reporting, SEO success will be less quantifiable – where before ranking increases could be cross-referenced with increases in traffic for that particular keyword, this will be impossible moving forward. In fact it will be no longer possible to differentiate branded and non-branded organic traffic so success (or failure) can only be judged on increases/decreases of organic traffic as a whole figure.

Action: Save all of your historic keyword data to date so you have a record of keyword performance in the past. If you have internal search functionality, ensure you are tracking this in analytics. Monitor changes in traffic to individual pages optimised for certain keyword sets.

On-page Content

Content should be created to solve a need, not just to game the search engines. Now more than ever it is important to focus on hyper-relevant and useful content that applies to not only your business but also the kinds of queries you expect your audience to use to find sites like yours. For instance, if your site sells luxury skincare products, relevant content would be information about particular ingredients contained within the products not a list of influential beauty bloggers on Twitter with reference to lots of generic keywords. While the latter could be good social media fodder, it doesn’t ultimately help your customers and certainly won’t include sweet long-tail keywords your audience is searching for.

Action: Research what people are searching for in relation to your new, improved keyword set and create a content schedule based around those queries. Ensure key SEO elements reflect the new keywords also.

Reminder of the Importance of Mobile

Hummingbird second improvement revolves around a better understanding of ‘conversational search’ (i.e. spoken/voice activated queries into applicable smart phones). This landmark adaption to mobile-based search behaviour serves as a stark reminder of the increasing usage of the internet on mobile phones. It is understood that your site could be ranked lower if it doesn’t render well on a mobile device. If you are yet to invest in a responsive site or mobile counterpart this is a wake-up call.

Action: Consider your audience demographic and current mobile visitor numbers to see if it is worth upgrading to a mobile-friendly website.

The important thing to remember is that if you or your agency has been practicing white-hat SEO with an end-user focus you have very little to worry about. As with all updates, it is designed to hold back websites artificially optimised for irrelevant search queries and ultimately delivery more qualitative traffic to your site. If you have any questions or worries about your campaign, please talk to us.