Hummingbird, Google’s new search algorithm that was launched August last year, is said to have impacted 90% of search results.
The majority of the affected results are for long-tail search queries, which is why many practitioners didn’t notice the changes when it was first launched (30 days before the update was publicly announced).
This particular algorithm aims to make search results faster and more precise.
SearchMetrics had the best explanation on how Hummingbird works from the recent study they did (covering areas such as contextual and conversational search, diversity of SERPs, as well as the knowledge graph):
“In short, Google is getting better at understanding the search intent of the user and producing matched search results – quickly and accurately.”
So how does this new search algorithm affect SEO as a practice?
The best practices in search optimization that we’ve known to work for the past few years are still its core foundation – such as optimizing for:
- Relevance (content)
- Authority (links, social, and mentions)
- Accessibility (technical SEO)
- Brand experience (UX, usage data, conversions)
Although, a lot of new approaches are also emerging (like focusing more on concepts rather than keywords, and optimizing for entity search), given that the way how Google works and also how searchers use it are continuously progressing.
Search results are apparently getting more brand biased as Google constantly integrates new filters along with the algorithmic features they’re coming up with. One reason why is that brands are easier to distinguish and most of them have intended their content for users (not search rankings).
But how about for the sites that have been negatively affected by Hummingbird?
So the focus of this post is more on the optimization methods that you can implement to bounce back (if you were hit) and also to be more visible on SERPs in this new era of SEO.
Depth and breadth of information available within the site
Information is the key to win in search – because it’s what people are searching for in the first place.
It’s not just about the uniqueness of the information you’re able to provide, but I believe it’s also about how useful and comprehensive the information your content is able to cover. And perhaps that is why Wikipedia and Quora are killing it on search results.
You don’t necessarily have to be like these 2 to win in search, but you always try to be the go-to-brand in your space when it comes to information.
Being able to provide all the necessary information about the topics/queries that your target audience will most likely search for (and fulfilling their needs, so that they wouldn’t bother searching for other resources) enhances user activity within the site and decreases the likelihood of having search visitors clicking back to the search results (pogo-sticking).
Having a widespread of informational content covering other topics that your visitors will also find useful can also help in making them stay longer on the site (by internally linking thematically relevant documents/pages).
Improve relevancy by using more related proper nouns/affinities
Search engines are getting smarter, especially with their ability to process natural language.
Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is one way to ensure that it’ll be easier for search engines to understand what your content is about. Though, LSI is more on using other related generic keywords within the content.
However, search engines also have the ability to connect and understand entities better, which also help them identify what’s relevant and not. So if you’re writing about cars, you might also want to start mentioning or linking out to other related brands/entities within your content (ex: Mazda, Toyota, etc…).
This approach pretty much applies in local search optimization as well – like for instance, mentioning popular places/landmarks near your establishment.
It also comes down to citing your own branded products and personas (brand ambassadors) more from your content.
Consolidate redundant pages containing or covering almost the same topic
Pages/posts that are just about the same topic and were just written differently could be hurting your site’s overall ranking ability (like having posts about “SEO 101” and “Basic SEO”, or “SEO tips” and “Search Engine Optimization tips”).
Find these pages and start merging them. Perhaps the best way to do it is by exporting your sitemap into an excel spreadsheet (and use Niels Bosma’s SEO Tools plugin for Excel to populate your list with the title tag used for each URL).
By consolidating these pages, you’ll be able to have more comprehensive resources that will also be able to target multiple long-tail search terms.
On AJ Kohn’s recent post about Knowledge Graph Optimization, he outlined almost everything that’s needed to be done to ramp up and prepare your SEO strategy for the future.
Some of the key areas of optimization that he highlighted are:
Using entities (nouns) in your writing.
Getting connected and linking out to other relevant websites.
Using Structured Data to increase entity detection.
Using the sameAs shcema.org property (to act as an entity canonical).
Claiming and optimizing your Google+ presence.
Getting exposure on Wikipedia.
Updating your Freebase entry and making it as complete as possible.
Getting unlinked brand mentions is as important as getting links to a website these days.
Brand mentions coming from other people through social networks, blogs/online publications, and online communities can help build your authority on the web (which is a signal that search engines are also using).
On getting more natural brand mentions:
- Start associating with larger online publications – be a regular contributor or columnist – to absorb readership and to get more brand impressions.
- Continuously publish useful content and promote them using linker outreach – to grow your own readership (because they’re the ones who’ll most probably mention you a lot).
- Build relationships with other content publishers in your industry.
It’s also important to build more exposure on the other terms that are related to your brand (branded products, authors, as well as the other people behind the brand).
For more extensive tips on online brand building, you can also check out this post on how to build brand signals.
Lastly, another great resource that you can read about dealing with Hummingbird is this one from Moz by Gianluca Fiorelli.
From this post, Gianluca also shared some really useful questions that you can ask yourself to validate if your site is Hummingbird-friendly:
When creating/optimizing a site, are you doing it with a clear audience in your mind?
When performing on-page optimization for your site, are you following at least these SEO best practices?
Using a clear and not overly complex information architecture;
Avoiding canonicalization issues;
Avoiding thin-content issues;
Creating a semantic content model;
Topically optimizing the content of the site on a page-by-page basis, using natural and semantically rich language and with a landing page-centric strategy in mind;
Creating useful content using several formats, that you yourself would like to share with your friends and link to;
Implementing Schema.org, Open Graph and semantic mark-ups.
Are your link-building objectives:
Better brand visibility?
Gaining referral traffic?
Enhancing the sense of thought leadership of your brand?
Topically related sites and/or topically related sections of a more generalist site (i.e.: News site)?
As an SEO, is social media offering these advantages?
Wider brand visibility;
Increased mentions/links in the form of derivatives, co-occurrences, and co-citation in others’ web sites;
Organic traffic and brand ambassadors’ growth.