Google’s infamous algorithm updates typically send the average digital marketer and business owner (who knows just enough to be dangerous) into a tailspin of fear and night sweats. One of the biggest blows to the search engine world was dealt when Google’s update, named Panda, launched in early 2011. The Panda update added a new layer to how the “algorithm” absorbed website data and spit out search results to users.
Panda has evolved over the past few years, but it basically boils down to this: The update was made to rank sites based off of human standards. Most people were buzzing about Panda’s hit to content quality across websites. The Hummingbird update, unsurprisingly, continues to march towards creating a search experience based off of how real humans use Google.
Finding Relevancy and User Intent
Google’s Hummingbird update follows a pattern of updates made over the years (well before Pandas and Penguins) which focus on user intent versus strict word and key phrase matching. Additionally, it addresses how our search queries have evolved into more conversational searches over the years. You can thank the rise of mobile (and voice) search to making our searches more long-tail in nature. That said, there is still A LOT that we don’t know or clearly understand about the Hummingbird update other than the fact that it was huge (affects 90% of search queries.)
There are a few things you should be paying close attention to (from a search engine marketing perspective).
- Using variations in your keyword targeting, and being aware of context
- Creating high quality, relevant content with landing pages and blogs
Repeat After Me: Context Is King
When dealing with search engine optimization (SEO), it’s never wise to put all of your eggs in one basket. Since content is a heavy factor in how search engines digest and reveal results to searches (Read: An Illustrated Guide to Google’s Algorithm), it would make sense that you would never want to lean heavy on one set of keyword targets for a single page or blog post too. This doesn’t mean that pages on your site shouldn’t target certain searches. For example; If I’m trying to target “Digital Marketing in Atlanta“, then that’s fine. There’s no problem with targeting that key phrase. A few years ago, that would mean that in order to optimize for that term, I would need to plaster it all over my homepage. In reality, the method of using a set of keywords over and over again is flawed.
What this really boils down to is that you should (and shouldn’t be afraid to) use synonyms in your content. Rather than forcing “digital marketing” in my content, it would be advantageous of me to write naturally and use synonyms (such as online marketing or search optimization) without worrying about my keyword count. The key to approaching content is to having a goal in mind. Why am I writing this blog post or page? What do I want people to gain from it? How am I providing edification to my (potential) client? What is the user intent? Are there terms similar to Keyword “A” that users might find relevant?
The question of, “what are they searching for”, should already be answered by now because you should have a purpose and a reason when creating content. You should be addressing questions, concerns, or searches that you know people want to learn more about. Keyword phrases and synonyms to your ideal keywords will flow naturally in your content. I don’t believe that optimization techniques, such as editing content to include more keywords and keyword synonyms, is bad at all. The editing process can help improve the user experience by including words that might catch the user’s attention so that they know they have found something relevant. This is nothing new though. Original and relevant content producers have nothing to fear from the Hummingbird update. It could quite possibly be their best friend.
At the end of the day, the content marketer should focus on creating relevant content that matters to the user. The focused practice of pushing a single keyword or phrase in your content is long gone. Include synonyms in your content. Write pages and posts that matter. Context is king.
Hitting Your Long-Tail Goals
Marketers have been harping about the importance of long-tail searches for years now. Again, this is nothing new. I started my career working for a company based off of this idea. The long-tail search has become more important as our searches have become more specific, and our language in search has evolved as well. Conversational searches are on the rise as mobile search has increased. Consider how you search these days, or even how you use voice search on your mobile phone. You are specific and intentional. The affect on long-tail searches comes naturally to the Hummingbird update since it is focused on user intent. Write your content for human consumption.
Speaking of keywords and long-tail searches, you might also want to recall how Google is removing our reliance on keyword data. In October of 2011, Google announced that it would begin to limit keyword search referral data in analytics. Almost exactly two years later, Google has tightened the belt on keyword data even more. “Not Provided” data in some of my reports is as high as 80% now. As our keyword data continues to dwindle, it’s obvious that we’ve been leaning on optimizing for keywords for far too long. It seems as if Google is pushing us to create content optimized for topics versus keywords.
Here are a few things you should focus on in your online marketing strategy:
- Write relevant, topical content for landing pages and blog posts (have a purpose).
- Be aware of keywords that you want to optimize for, but use synonyms and keep it natural.
- Avoid creating pages or posts with low word counts (previously addressed by Panda/Penguin). Most SEO’s suggest 250 words or more.
- Write blog posts to be social, to provide value to your (potential) customers, and for brand awareness.
- Continue building a strong, natural, internal linking strategy to topical content.
We (people) continue to shape the way that Google adjusts their algorithm. The majority of their updates are most likely responses as to how we evolved in how we search. Keep this in mind: Empathy will become a much more valuable and necessary characteristic among successful internet marketers over the next few years. The ability to understand people has been at the heart of advertising and traditional marketing for hundreds of years, and it’s finally making its way to search engine marketing. The Hummingbird update should be a great move forward for the internet marketing community.