Everything You Wanted to Know About Google Hummingbird But Were Afraid to Ask

Google-HummingbirdBased on a few emails I’ve had this week and some comments left on Sarah’s last Fast Five in Search post, it’s apparent that some of you are still confused about Google Hummingbird and what it means for your site’s performance in Google.

I’ve gathered together some of the key points and added some of my own insights below to try and shed some light on the issue.

Google Hummingbird: A Summary

  • Hummingbird is an entirely new search algorithm, representing the most major change to the Google search engine since 2001.
  • Google has been using Hummingbird since late August, but only announced it in late September.
  • The new algorithm helps Google sort through “conversational search” faster and better understand the context of the conversation. Conversational search has natural language processing and semantic search built into it. For example you can now *speak your search* on Chrome and it will repeat it back to you before displaying contextual search results related to your query. You can then extend your search “conversation” by asking further questions in a way you can’t do with regular search, e.g. using shortcuts that reference your previous query. Often, information cards will be shown alongside search results.
  • Hummingbird focuses better on the meaning behind the words based on the context of the search query and the searcher. In particular, Google said that 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. Hummingbird is designed to apply the meaning technology to billions of pages from across the web, in addition to Knowledge Graph facts which should provide better, richer results.
  • Hummingbird now allows Google to be better at relationally linking search queries and Web documents which means that its Knowledge Graph has been considerably enriched.
  • Hummingbird focuses on user intent versus individual search terms.
  • Google will likely use Hummingbird to better process social signals and this could turn out to be a major SEO ranking factor in the near future.

Key Examples of Hummingbird at Work

  • A search for “acid reflux prescription” used to list a lot of drugs, which might not be necessarily be the best way to treat the disease. With Hummingbird, Google says results have information about treatment in general, including whether you even need drugs, such as a “treatment for acid reflux” article posted by the Mayo Clinic.
  • Another example: Today I searched for “What can I take to help me sleep?” on Google.com. I noticed that nearly half of the top 10 results were Q & A or *How To* style articles. I also noticed that suggested medicines treatments featured more prominently than they used to (see screen shot below):

hummingbird-search-screenshot2
Google Hummingbird: Key Takeaways

  • SEO is now less about keyword data and more about customer engagement.
  • As a result of Hummingbird, SEO strategy has become more about creating quality, engaging, shareable, linkable content within a logical context (i.e. using semantic markup and natural language). The aim is to become an information hub and trusted source. This can be achieved by answering searcher questions and creating content that emulates those information cards that Google supplies in response to conversational search.
  • Hummingbird and the increase of *Not Provided* (hidden keyword) data means you now have to measure the success of your web site via the entry pages and the number of pages receiving organic referrals i.e. It is now critically important that your website answers questions for end users. Content that answers specific questions will be critical for Hummingbird success. Websites can’t grow their entrance pages without introducing new content regularly.
  • It’s now less about the keyword and more about the intention behind it. Not having keywords provided in analytics makes it harder to discover customer intent, but we can get clues about that by monitoring visitor pathways on our sites and actively engaging with customers on social media and other channels.
  • Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different that SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Guidance remains the same, it says: have original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and better ways.
  • If you haven’t lost traffic in the past two months, you probably came through Hummingbird unscathed as it went live about 2 months ago.
  • There’s been no major outcry among webmasters that they’ve lost rankings. This seems to support Google saying this is very much a query-by-query effect, one that may improve particular searches — particularly complex ones — rather than something that can cause major traffic shifts.

BUT:

David Amerland, search engine expert and author of *Google Semantic Search* says Google’s move toward semantic search will benefit SEO practices:

“Google has increased its ability to deal with complex search queries which means that it also has got better at indexing entities in Web documents. From a strategy point of view this opens the horizon for companies and webmasters considerably. From a practical perspective, the need to identify the USP of each business and become authoritative within it is now a key criteria for continued SEO success. The comparison element that has been integrated suggests that semantic mark-up may begin to confer an advantage now when it comes to helping index information in products and services.”

He emphasizes the importance of content not being left in isolation, but instead shared across social networks via identified influencers:

“This is not something that can or will happen at the drop of a hat,” said Amerland, “It requires time and commitment to building a relationship with influencers and sharing with them content that is of real value to their network.” Quick SEO, according to Amerland, “Is now firmly in the past.”

Google Hummingbird: Changes You Should Make Immediately as a Result

So exciting improvements for searchers, but where does that leave you? Here are some recommended changes you can and should be making to your web sites as a result of Hummingbird:

1) Add Question Answer Pattern Content (e.g. like you find on a Q & A page or a Facebook comment thread )

2) Set up a Google+ page for your business if you haven’t already done so.

3) Implement Google Authorship on your site/blog and link it to your Google+ page.

4) Use Schema Mark Up for any rich technical data on your site, such as product specifications, dosage instructions and garment sizing.

5) Ramp up your social marketing activity to take advantage of Google’s new conversational search skills and make sure you cross-promote your social channels with your main web site content.

6) Implement Mobile SEO Tactics (e.g. increase load speed, reduce file sizes, increase mobile content)

7) Increase the Domain Authority of Your Site  (via more incoming links)

8) Add new content to your site REGULARLY. The addition of new content is now absolutely vital to online marketing efforts in a post-Hummingbird environment. If you can’t add fresh data to your web site on a regular basis, get ready to wave to your competitors as they go sailing past you towards the top of the SERPs.

Speed is of the essence. This information is only just filtering out into the SEO world. The sooner you can respond with Hummingbird-friendly content, the more traffic you’ll get before your competitors will even know what’s hit them.

Questions? Comments? Please add to this thread.

Key Sources for This Post:

http://searchengineland.com/google-hummingbird-172816

http://searchengineland.com/hummingbird-has-the-industry-flapping-its-wings-in-excitement-reactions-from-seo-experts-on-googles-new-algorithm-173030

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2298881/What-Not-Provided-Google-Hummingbird-Mean-for-Small-Business-SEO

http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/10/18/googles-hummingbird-update-5-changes-need-implement/

http://searchengineland.com/what-everybody-missed-about-hummingbird1-176031

 

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Google Targets Article Marketing, Guest Blogging & Press Releases in Link Scheme Definition Update

article-marketing-newIf you don’t pay regular attention to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, you might have overlooked it, but last month, Google made a significant change to their definition of link schemes.

The revised link scheme wording now cites the following as violating Google’s guidelines:

  •     Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
  •     Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.
  •     Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.

Google also removed these examples from the link scheme guidelines:

  •     Linking to web spammers or unrelated sites with the intent to manipulate PageRank.
  •     Links that are inserted into articles with little coherence.

The changes are important in SEO circles, because article marketing, guest blog posts, advertorials and press release syndication are often key components of holistic SEO campaigns. Note in particular that “links with optimized anchor text” are mentioned specifically for the first time. Until fairly recently, the use of anchor text was considered a standard component of effective article writing and any on-page optimization.

With these changes, article syndication and press release optimization – unless implemented extremely carefully – may end up having a negative SEO impact on the very web sites they were intended to help.

In the wake of the changes, we took our Search Engine College Article Marketing course offline temporarily to check lesson content against the new guidelines and re-write any sections that may have been ambiguous.

If your SEO strategy uses any of these initiatives, I suggest taking a very close look at the revised Google Webmaster Guidelines and ensuring your implementation adheres to the revised policy.

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Google Authorship: SEO Secret Sauce or Boring Ketchup?

What authorship looks like for this blog

Authorship in action

My geek friend Chris recently wrote a post about Google Authorship that suggested that the use of Google Authorship tags (e.g. rel=author) gave inconsistent results in the SERPs and was possibly not the SEO secret sauce that it’s all cracked up to be.

This surprised me, because I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for Authorship, including claims that use of the rel=author tag can speed up the indexing and rankings of a brand new site.

In his experiments, Chris tried searching for a specific phrase using google.com and google.co.nz from an NZ IP and then both from a US IP. He was scanning the SERPs for instances of his own blog post containing the phrase, specifically noting when his rel=author tag would kick in to show his Google Profile next to his post. All searches produced different results, with his authorship profile pic only showing up sporadically, even when his blog post appeared in the top 3 results. This was in contrast to blog posts on his employer’s site, where Authorship hasn’t been implemented, rel=author tags are not used, but posts almost always show up in the SERPs featuring author profile pics.

Chris found that subtle changes to his search query (even the addition of a STOP word like *on*) had a profound impact on whether Authorship would kick in. Clearly, semantic indexing is at play when it comes to whether rel=author has an influence on SERPs. Which means that specific keyword order and word-stemming considerations should be high on the priority list for any on-page SEO undertaken.

In my experience, it seems that the authorship tag is given more prominence in some data centers than others and almost always when searching google.com. My guess is slightly different versions of the algo have rolled out on each data center, some with the *new* (July) Panda and some with the old. Authorship relevance has been tweaked in this last update, I’m sure of it, but I haven’t seen this acknowledged anywhere.

Of course, author trust / author rank is also at play – where the profile of a particular author is given more relevancy weight than others due to how prolific and widely syndicated they are. Posts from authors with more trust rank built up are pushed higher up the SERPs and are more likely to have their profile pics featured.

So have you noticed a change in SERPS relating to use of the rel=author tag since the latest Panda update? Have you observed more or less authorship profiles showing up in generic SERPs on Google.com than before Panda? Please let us know in the comments.

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Q and A: Are WYSIWYG design tools bad for SEO?

QuestionDear Kalena,

As I have no seo background and nowhere else to turn for professional advice, I decided to submit a matter that is troubling me, as you not only have a staff of SEOs but you have the first professional SEO site I have found that invites questions from the general public.

This is my issue: I am wondering if using a modern WYSIWYG website application would be better than trying to hand-code a 20-30 page website?

I ask since there seems to be a consensus that such programs hinder SEO efforts. The reasons cited is that programs like XsitePro 2.5 use tables. Yet, Google says there is no real difference between tables and CSS regarding SEO.

Others claim that apps like WYSIWYG Web Builder 8 are bad for SEO due to their use of span tags. Finally, both the above-cited apps do allow access to the source code for changes and adding scripts, as well as to meta title and keyword tags, etc.

As I have witnessed multiple instances of websites created by such programs occupying spots #1-#5 on Page 1 of Google, would it not be better to use these design tools and devote the time to “more important” SEO matters such as content, keywords, and other on-off site practices?

Any/all information you can provide would be greatly appreciated as it would put this issue to rest for me.

Sincerely,
Guy

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Hi Guy

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using WYSIWYG software or a Content Management System (CMS) to design your web site. Some web design tools are better than others in terms of SEO friendliness and you should do your own research on this before deciding. But most web sites these days are created using some type of software or application, rather than built by hand.

In fact, the free blogging platform WordPress is one of the most popular CMS’s used to build web sites these days – we use it almost exclusively for our own sites and those of our clients. From my observations, Google seems to prefer indexing web sites built using WordPress. Developers working on the WordPress themes have taken great care to make sure the code validates, is as concise as possible and uses logical CSS. WordPress also has the benefit of SEO-related plug-ins, which short cuts the job of hand-optimizing a web site.

So you’re absolutely right – don’t be afraid to use auto-design tools and WYSIWYG software to create your site. Then you can devote more time to the most important features of SEO: content, keywords and link building.

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Introduction to SEO: Workshops in Auckland, Wellington

google-keyMost of you know that I’ve been running training workshops in conjunction with the Institute of IT Professionals (IITP) here in New Zealand now for over 12 months and really enjoy it.

The next round of workshops coming up are on the subject of: Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation.

These full-day workshops will show you step-by-step how to optimise your or your clients’ web sites to get noticed by Google and other engines. It will be a fun day, with some group activities, games and (if time permits), live analysis of the web sites of willing attendees.

Whether you’re an IT manager, marketer, coder, website coordinator or business owner, getting well placed for your key terms on search engines is hugely valuable and important.

At the end of the course attendees will be able to:

  •     Understand how Google and other search engines rank pages.
  •     Understand what makes a web page search engine compatible.
  •     Understand what type of content search engines love.
  •     Research and select appropriate keywords to target.
  •     Successfully integrate search keywords within web site copy.
  •     Create effective and optimised web pages.
  •     Learn why social media can improve their search rankings.
  •     Monitor their search positions and report meaningful data to stake holders.

Below are the details and booking links for Auckland and Wellington events, so please share with anyone you know who might benefit from attending:

Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation – Auckland
Date: 28 August 2013
Time: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Venue: University of Otago House

Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation – Wellington
Date: 30 August 2013
Time: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Venue: Terrace Conference Centre

Thanks for your support!

 

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