Google’s Hummingbird Effect on Business Website SEO
Google’s major algorithm change
The last major algorithm update Google had was web indexing system called Caffeine . This fundamentally changed how Google crawls and indexes the web, making it faster and able to update in almost real time. Much has been written about the recently announced Google algorithm update called Hummingbird. This update was announced during Google’s 15 Birthday celebrations by Amit Singhal.
Does Hummingbird affect your website SEO?
The quick answer to this is NO. The Google SEO guidelines are unchanged from before. You are expected to follow the same guidelines as earlier. But there are some areas you need to look into if you haven’t already. There will be some side effects which we will come to that in a while.
This major update, though announced recently was rolled out in August 2013. If you website was unaffected, you have nothing to worry about. Even if it was, Hummingbird itself may not be the cause. Panda updates are no longer announced but updated with the main algorithm, manual penalties are independent of the algorithm itself.
This update changes how Google interpretates a user’s search query. Before Hummingbird, Google used to consider the keywords a user typed in and use them to find a match. This earlier approach was highly keyword centric.
Now Google tries to understand the concept behind the query based on their Knowledge Graph which has over 500 million concepts. The main driver for this change are the much more complex queries coming from the rapidly growing use of Smartphones and Voice Search. In voice search, people ask questions like in a normal conversation. Understanding what they want is more complex. This is significantly different from typing keywords into a search box.
Earlier Google would search for words like ‘when‘, ‘Abraham‘, ‘Lincoln‘ and ‘birthday‘ and pull out pages containing these words. It would then rank them. It could not understand that this query needs a date as its answer.
Now it does and shows this as an answer directly above the first search result. It also shows the results from its knowledge graph on the right hand side.
What do you need to know and do?
Google is moving to being the Search source and Answer destination for certain queries. Earlier it was just a source for finding and then sending visitors to other websites.
So, it will move into certain information centric long tail queries by providing direct answers rather than sending visitors to a particular site. If you are a generic information site or have a section dedicated for this this can affect your traffic.
Check for any traffic losses from Google
While your main keyword terms (usually 4 or less words in length) will be unaffected cross checking your traffic changes by page will be a good way to start.
Search terms which are like questions or statements, basically some long tail searches (usually having 5 or more words) will be affected. If for some highly information centric pages Google traffic is down, this indicates you have to check content on those pages.
Also, see if Google is inserting their answers directly for the user for long tail search queries related to those pages using a variety of long tail keywords. In this case, the visitor is satisfied with the answer and is not interested in visiting other websites. This in turn means less visits to your page for these search terms.
An example is live sports scores. Google shows these directly in their search results. So, websites showing live sports scores get visited less often than earlier when Google did not show this.
Diversify your Online Marketing
For these pages, focus on increasing traffic through other online channels. These include
Improve your content – For pages that lost traffic try and add more insights and depth to your content to recapture additional long tail search traffic.
Use Rich Snippets – Rich snippets are used in your page code to help Search Engines know details of your Address, Event, Organization, Product or Service. Without these Search Engines have to guess details for each of the above. Google uses this information to add you to their Knowledge Graph which is the key element of the new update.
Google+ Authorship – You can link your blog or article or any content you create with your Google+ profile to claim Authorship. This helps Google connect you with your content.
Paid Search Advertising (PPC) – Test with both Adwords and Adcenter if you are not doing so already. This will bring in traffic and also give you keywords data.
Social Media Marketing – Get more active on atleast one of the major Social Media Channels like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin.
Social sharing – If you have lots of photos, images, videos then Pinterest, Stumbleupon, Flickr, Youtube, etc. are now more important than ever.
Document sharing – If you have lots of PDFs, whitepapers, case studies, etc. Slideshare, Scribd, etc. are good channels to use for distribution.
Press Releases – If you have something newsworthy e.g. 10th anniversary, big project completion, partnership, landmark achievement, awards, etc. Then Press Releases are a perfect vehicle for promotion.
Enhance existing content – Differentiate and provide more unique insights than the Google results based on the Knowledge Graph.
Other Search Engines – Note that Bing and Yahoo will still provide this data to you for visits from their search results. So, looking at these search engines is also important.
Most Importantly ensure you are Smartphone Ready
Keep a close eye on how your website is doing on Mobile. Smartphone voice search was a significant influencer for this update. The Google page dedicated for this update shows smartphones only. If your website is not ready for Smartphones now, it just got a lot more urgent.
Get Closer to the Knowledge Graph
Consider Google+ Authorship – Establishing your Authorship for your content and engaging more on Google+ will grow in importance.
Consider Rich Snippets – Ensure you are fully using Google supported Schema.org markup which helps get important elements on your website get added to Google’s Knowledge Graph.
As time goes, we will see and learn more about this new, exciting and challenging update from Google.