In this post I'm going to explain what Hummingbird is, how it works, and what you can do to help your site and content perform well in this completely new overhauled search engine brought to you by the 400lb. gorilla.
When Google first announced Hummingbird, their first new search algorithm since Caffeine in 2009, it came as a shock to most of the marketing world. Despite that, Google dropped another bomb, announcing that the algorithm had actually been rolled out a month earlier, on August 30. Despite the shock, and the near panic that ensued, Hummingbird is quite similar to Caffeine, with a few minor changes designed to provide better quality real time results. Many of the search elements are the same, but the algorithm puts more focus on quality and helpful results, and offers more information previously only available via Google's Knowledge Graph. For businesses, that means quality is rewarded with better SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages), and as a result, more traffic.
What is Hummingbird?
Google's Hummingbird algorithm is a search algorithm that relies on nearly 200 individual signals to rank pages in SERPS. Its focus is conversational search, which answers, converses with, and anticipates questions asked by users. Because Hummingbird's focus is on semantic 'conversational' phrases, it shifts the focus of keyword results towards slightly better quality results. Finally, it is also significantly more difficult to influence than Caffeine, making it easier for quality businesses to rank, and harder for spam and black hat websites to rank.
Keywords & Search Terms
One of the most important changes that Google brought to search with Hummingbird is the shift in keyword importance. Where exact keywords and single important words were mainly used to rank websites and articles before, Google now uses semantic phrases, questions, and phrases of speech. Essentially, long tail keywords are now a good deal more important than they used to be.
Panda: "Coffee Shop Baton Rouge"
Hummingbird: "Where can I find good coffee in Baton Rouge?"
The result is a search system that features results based on questions, rather than keywords. You can also note from the screenshot that Google includes hyper localized results in the form of maps showing Google Plus Local Pages results, and also shows the business reviews in search, a markup that most definitely increases click-throughs for quality businesses.
Because Google uses actual keywords, synonyms, and search phrases, it is important to integrate all of these into a keyword strategy. Google's Keyword Planner is an excellent resource for looking up and finding keyword recommendations based on single keywords.
The following points are a basic keyword checklist for Hummingbird.
· Research Synonyms and Use Them
· Use Long Tail Keywords and Semantic Phrases
· Aim For Low Density
· Quality First
While it is possible to utilize dozens of different synonyms and phrases, they should always remain semantic and should not affect the quality of the page in any way. One of the easiest ways to utilize search phrases is to integrate them into the page as headers or quotes, as though spoken or asked by the reader.
SEO has always been about content, but while content was 'King' in Caffeine, it is more like one of the leading members of a ruling body of parliament in Hummingbird. Content is still incredibly important, but quality and helpful information is now more important than length or a number of keywords. The most important goal is to make the content readable and informative for humans rather than search engines.
Markups & Authorship
Markups are an incredibly important but often overlooked part of SEO. Anyone who wants to rank well in Hummingbird should pay attention to their markups, indexing, attributes, and other search engine entities. The idea of markups is to make it as easy as possible for Google to search and index. Obviously, the more easily Google indexes content, the better it comes up in search.
Site Maps - Site Maps help Google to find and index individual pages. These are relatively easy to set up because there are multiple apps and websites dedicated to creating them.
MicroData - Pages can use specific Meta markups to tell search engines exactly what attributes their content is about. The process involves extra tags to help Google see what the page is about by including microdata markups like itemscope, itemprop, etc. Schema.org is one of the best free resources for finding individual markups based on the type and location of content. Some available markups include events, music information, and movie information.
Authorship - Authorship is a markup that literally adds the author’s Google page to search results. It is valuable to businesses because it increases the perceived impact of the writer. Showing the authors name, face, and Google + follows in search improves the credibility and click-through rate of the author.
While Google did drop the number of 'authorship' results appearing in search as of the start of January 2014, it is still an excellent addition to any blog or content that would normally have an author. Check Google's guide to adding Authorship here.
Reputation & Social
Social signals are another huge difference between Hummingbird and Caffeine. Some reports even suggest that positive shares and links from Facebook and Google Plus could affect SERPS as much as three times more than Page Rank (PR). While only Google knows the exact rate, it is still important to establish a positive online reputation via social sites like Google +, Facebook, and Twitter. Instagram, Tumblr, and other networks are also good for social reputation, but have less impact than the three main networks.
Links have long been a factor in increasing PageRank, but one of Google's recent updates to Hummingbird actually makes it more difficult to do so. Most links from guest blogs are no longer applicable towards the Page Rank of a website, which promotes higher quality backlinks and articles on blogs. However, backlinks from guest blogs are still useful for gaining traffic and creating natural links. Consider the following rules when posting guest blogs for SEO:
· Use Authorship
· Focus on Relevant Blogs with Higher Traffic
· Use Meaningful Anchor Text In the Body of the Blog
Google loves quality results so make sure your website is as fast as possible. While you don't want to sacrifice features for speed, it is always better to have a faster website. However, a number of sites that are quite slow actually do rank, so this won't affect your search results at first, only the amount of time that each person spends on the page.
Google Hummingbird is all about mobile search, so if your website isn't responsive, then it has to be mobile optimized. Make sure that the site comes up quickly and looks good on tablets and phones, because experts suggest that at least 40% of search is coming from mobile devices.
Google's Hummingbird algorithm focuses on quality content. As a result, anyone who is producing content with humans in mind shouldn't have anything to worry about.
· Uses Dialogue Based Natural Search Phrases
· Keywords & Their Synonyms Are Important
· Natural Links from Meaningful Anchor Text
· Use Meta Data, markups, And Rel- Markups to Make Search Easier
· Establish Social Authority through Sites & Authorship
· Create Content for Humans
Essentially, Google's Hummingbird is more beneficial than harmful to businesses, mainly because it focuses on quality, brings up localized results, and uses social signals to reward businesses for popularity with customers.