Over the years, Google has gotten us quite used to the constant algorithm updates, new sets of so-called SEO best practices that Matt Cutts gracefully shares every now and then, and many other types of fluctuations that basically make our sleep a bit more restless every night.
This September is no different. As here comes the Hummingbird.
Long story short, Hummingbird is said to be the most significant algorithm change since Google switched to Caffeine back in 2010. The actual changes are set to affect 90% of searches, which in plain English means that everyone’s site will be affected, pretty much.
Like with every update, some will fail, while others will flourish. So instead of complaining, let’s try to look at what can be done today to ensure not only the survival of our sites, but to actually make them grow.
What Hummingbird is about
Like usual with Google, we can never know for sure, but all available evidence indicates that Hummingbird is about making Google more in-tune with the increasingly more complex search queries that people use.
In fact, Google’s goal is to tweak their algorithms in a way that they actually “understand” the searcher’s intent for a particular query. Google wants to be able to answer questions that you’d ask your friend in real life, as opposed to building their engine around a keyword-centered structure.
For example, something you’d likely ask your friend might be: “What can you tell me about the best time to visit Italy?” A human would have no problem giving a sensible answer to this, but if we look at the query keyword-wise, it’s almost unanswerable…at least not until now.
Along with their newest update, Google wants to be able to achieve the following user interaction path:
- analyzing the query to understand the searcher’s intent, and
- giving them the best possible answer that doesn’t necessarily match the keywords, but matches the question the searcher is really asking.
As you’d imagine, this creates all new level of challenge for everyone who works on their site’s SEO and keyword marketing.
It’s worth noticing that this new project of Google’s is not only in the planning stage. Hummingbird is already here. Actually, it’s been here for a while.
Google admitted that they’ve started rolling out Hummingbird around a month ago. And this indeed seems to be the case as various individuals have been reporting big fluctuations in search engine rankings for the past month as well.
What this all means is that we need to act fast, and we need to make our efforts targeted at the specific things that are most likely to be on Google’s radar.
Since Google kind of drifts away from the concept of main keywords (the keywords that we singled out to define our content) and looks more on our content as a whole, we now have to change our optimization practices quite a bit.
Using side keywords or supporting keywords has been among SEO good practices for a while, but it’s more important now than ever. Basically, we should stop looking up to our main keywords as this crucial element for on-page optimization.
The main keywords should only indicate what a given piece of content “might” be about, but it’s our side keywords that will seal the deal. And side keywords mustn’t be an attempt to rephrase the main keywords. Instead, they should be built to emphasize our content’s story as a whole.
For example, if you want to rank for “online guitar lessons” then your side keywords aren’t things like “online guitar chords,” “online guitar tutor,” “learn guitar online.” That’s because these are not the phrases that a normal person would use when talking about “online guitar lessons.”
In a nutshell, be human. Try to come up with a list of key words that you’d use in an actual conversation with someone on the topic of your main keyword.
Note. What the above also means is that we should now analyze our most significant content pages and make sure that they’re not over-optimized for certain keywords.
Google is working hard on understanding searcher’s intent and delivering the best results they can match it with. And we’ve seen this for quite a while.
For example, a common trap when doing keyword research is to find a keyword that looks quite easy to tackle due to low competition, but failing to realize that it’s actually an e-commerce term, and that the only type of site that Google will allow on the first page is an online store.
With Hummingbird, it goes way beyond just e-commerce queries. Google wants to be able to do a similar thing for any other kind of search term.
What this means for us is some additional work during the content creation process. Going forward, it’s a good idea to indicate what our content is exactly and to whom we’re targeting it. That way, when Google visits our site, they have an easier time understanding what we have to say and how to match it with the searcher’s needs.
Luckily, there’s a mechanism that lets us do this easily. It’s called rich snippets.
Rich snippets are those additional pieces of data beneath some search engine listings that describe the content being linked to. For example, here’s a listing linking to Amazon for the search term “WordPress 3 complete”:
The highlighted line is an example of what a rich snippet is.
If your site runs on WordPress then you can enable rich snippets through a plugin like All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets.
It’s truly more than easy to use. For every post or page you publish, you get a set of predefined content types that you can use as a way of communicating with Google. Currently, the list includes:
- software applications,
Even though this surely doesn’t cover all possible types of content, it’s more than enough to get you started.
Time will tell how deep this Hummingbird update actually impacts our sites, but the knowledge we have today is quite convincing that the things mentioned above are what we should handle first. However, more breaking news are sure to come up in the coming weeks, so keep your finger on the pulse.
Finally, what’s the search engine condition of your site? Have you noticed any significant ranking fluctuations lately?
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