Google’s Hummingbird update affects 90% of searches and it completely changes the way that Google understands a query. Although, Google made the official announcement for Hummingbird only in September, it has been working silently for the past few months and your current strategies are working well if your site has not been impacted. It’s important, however, for content creators to understand the impact that Hummingbird will have on all content marketing strategies.
How Hummingbird Works
Have you read sci-fi novels where your brain has only to think of something that you need and it materializes before you? That’s where Google wants to take the future of Search and their engineers are hard at work to make this current fiction into a future reality. Google Hummingbird, the Knowledge Graph, Entity Search, Google Now, the study of machine language and voice recognition are all steps into developing an artificial intelligence that understands and can even predict future queries.
Until recently, Google understood a query with the help of search terms or keywords that people were typing in. Now, Google is beginning to understand the context of the query, in preparation for its voice recognition and voice search which is how most future searches will be conducted. Voice search is gaining importance as more mobile users are searching for information directly from their mobiles. For ex. if I’m vacationing in Hawaii and I ask my cell phone, “Where is a good Thai restaurant?” Google will not only understand that I’m looking for Thai food but that I’m searching for this info. in Hawaii.
The Hummingbird algorithm is based on semantic search. Semantic search systems try to understand searcher intent and context and use many facts such as relevance, synonyms, knowledge matching and previous user behavior.
What Google’s Hummingbird Update Means for Your Content
#1. Focus Less on a Single Keyword
As content creators, we’ve been taught to repeat a single keyword so that search engines understand the focus of our content. Hummingbird is a shift away from this strategy as Hummingbird focuses less on a single keyword as it seeks to understand the overall meaning of the query.
- Write articles that focus on the overall meaning of your content and less on a specific keyword.
- Consider synonyms – the alternate words or phrases that describe what you do and that people might use, rather than focusing your content around an exact-match keyword. For example, if I were optimizing content for a hotel site, I would use synonyms such as lodging, motel, accommodation, tavern and inn.
- Use focus terms that are related to your subject. For example a page on cancer care will have related terms such as radiation, chemotherapy etc.
#2. Understand Long-tail Queries
According to Amit Singhal, Google’s head of Search, Hummingbird is better at answering more complex queries that people are asking. Although Hummingbird impacts all types of queries, it focuses on longer, complex questions. He added that although most people still search for shorter terms, the long tail comprises of 40% of traffic with another 20% being of never-heard-before queries.
Here are some ideas that you can implement to understand long-tail queries.
- Use the insights you receive from the Search box on your site to understand the long-tail queries users are typing in.
- Tools such as Google Suggest, related searches, Uber Suggest, Twitter Search and even social media Q & A sites such as Quora are great to tap into for long-tail questions.
- If you are using PPC campaigns, use your Search Query Report to dig in and find long-tail queries.
- Last but not the least, check out the competition. Type in the terms that you are interested in and see who shows up first in search results. You will be able to get an idea from their pages the kind of queries they are trying to optimize the page for.
#3. Understand and Focus on User Intent
Hummingbird encourages us to understand user intent right from the start of the buying process. Focus on what you know that your customer came to your site to research. Here are some ideas on identifying user intent.
- Use tools such as Qualaroo to understand user intent and preferences.
- Talk to your team’s customer service people to find out what customers and prospects most want or need from your product.
- Use Customer feedback forms, quick surveys and polls to identify customer needs.
- Talk to the actual sales people to find out what customers want from you.
Identify intent, needs and problems. Provide solutions and answers. Look at queries and what they really need. If my site sold painting supplies and I saw a lot of queries for latest trends in color, guess which topics I will be creating content around? Not only would I post on the latest color trends but I would also post related content such what color choices mean about you, what colors tend to do to your audience etc..
#4. Increase Your Authority
I attended SMX East, earlier this month. I heard about the importance of Google authorship and author rank. Semantic search systems try to understand the authority of the site or publisher of the content. They give a higher priority to publishers with higher author rankings. Although author rank is not yet incorporated into search engine rankings, many experts are predicting that it will soon be included. You will be ahead of the game if you build up your author rank, so that Google and other search engines recognize you as an authority in your field. Author rank is loosely determined by your engagement level on Google+, the number of +1’s you get, your number of circlers, comments per post and authority on non-Google networks.
There is a stronger integration of social media with search and the more shares, comments and interaction your content receives, the higher it ranks in search.
#5. Use Structured Data to Mark Up Your Content
All semantic search systems use structured data to rank content. The major search engines including Bing, Google and Yahoo! rely on this markup to improve the display of search results, making it easier for people to find the right web pages. Events, health, locations, products and pricing info and review sites will all benefit from structured markup. Visit schema.org to find out all the content types that will benefit from structured data.
What do you think of the Hummingbird update? Has it impacted your site? Do you have any other ideas to optimize your content for Hummingbird? Please share in the comments below. Thanks.