Monday, March 10, 2014

Are You Feeding the Hummingbird?

Leverage the search giant’s new “semantic search” algorithm for better SEO

There’s a new bird in town, and it’s bringing new meaning to Mighty Mouse. No really. Some estimates say it affects 90% of worldwide Google searches. Touted as a small but powerful change, Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm actually interprets the underlying meaning of our searches, rather than focusing only on the keywords.

So in other words, this is a search engine that will understand the intention behind a search phrase, not just the most important words in it. It will take the entire string of words typed into Google and surmise the actual context of the question.

What’s different about this “semantic” (meaning-oriented) approach?

Previously Google chased keywords, without paying that much attention to the other words in a search phrase, so if it saw “red rover” in the phrase “how do I play red rover,” it might hone in on “rover” and thus spit out “Land Rover”.

Keywords still need to be used in a website—in fact they’re essential—but what’s just as important is to build content that answers customers questions about the topics of those keywords, and will thus match more perfectly the intent behind user searches. So, as an example, in the phrase “find polish to clean my silver necklace,” the previous search algorithm might provide you with links to where you can buy a silver necklace or a showcase of different styles of silver necklaces. Hummingbird, in contrast, understands that “clean” is the true focus of the search and returns results targeted with polishing and cleaning silver necklaces.

Yesterday’s Google Search vs. Today’s Hummingbird Results

It all boils down to customer search intent and thinking like your audience in their intent to search.

Beyond what keywords will they put in to search, try to imagine how customers will structure their search question (including how they might speak the question into voice search apps). We need to better understand customer needs and motivations, then build copy that provides answers and solutions.

Google Hummingbird semantic search is an algorithm that will provide results not necessarily based on which webpage has the largest number of relevant keywords, but on the web site with the best answers. Like the audience doing the search, Hummingbird wants to find the best web answer to the question. 

Where previously the highest rankings might focus on website longevity, prestige or content wording, now the best ranked web sites are those that answer questions like we might in conversation with a friend. And that’s the key: conversational, friendly, easily digestible bytes of content. None of the dry, stiff, overly technical, jargon-heavy, corporate-speak sites that have often dominated the digital world. 

On the surface, it might sound easy, but as you delve down, creating relevant content becomes more than just a buzzword. User friendly content is a challenge and exercise in getting inside the customer’s head, not only talking their talk, but creating a conversation as if they could pick up in the middle and naturally continue talking with you. Talk to them like a friend, and draw them into the conversation. Engage. Entertain. Inform. Those are the breadcrumbs Hummingbird follows.

Hummingbird Dos & Don’ts

  • Don’t panic – there is likely no need to throw out your existing content; rather, cleverly and judiciously enhance, add depth and adjust approach 
  • Do consider beefing up your content where appropriate with information-rich, easily digestible tidbits like FAQs and how-tos 
  • Don’t stop best practices like legitimate back links, original and engaging content and carefully placed keywords 
  • Do create content that most closely and specifically responds to the type of information your audience seeks 
  • Do join the conversation – and make sure your site’s content speaks your audience’s language 

Want to learn more about how to comply with Google Hummingbird requirements to take your site to new heights? Contact Cheryl Neumann, [email protected] or call her at 309.346.2512.