Google made some waves recently by announcing a change to the way the world’s most popular search engine functions. In the biggest shake-up the company has seen since 2001, Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm, which affects over 90% of all searches. Hummingbird was put in place weeks before the announcement, so many companies have already seen its effects. Read on to find out how Hummingbird might affect you, and what you can do to stay on top.

What is Hummingbird?

In the past, Google searches focused on keywords, finding sites that offered many instances of specific words in a search query. For example, if you did a search for “Chinese Restaurants in Chicago,” the old search algorithm would search for sites that included the words Chinese, restaurants, and Chicago. Those that had a high combination of those keywords would get prioritized. Hummingbird’s focus is on content and context, so somebody doing the same search will now be directed specifically to sites that present menus, reviews, or relevant blogs on Chinese restaurants in Chicago rather than sites that just mention the keywords repeatedly.

Conversational Search

One of the biggest changes that Hummingbird makes is that it focuses on conversational searches. Part of this involves the algorithm being able to provide synonyms for specific words. For example, in the above restaurants example, websites that used synonyms for restaurants used to be hampered under the old system – defining your business as a pub, bistro, or something similar could hurt your keyword value. The conversational search defines what a restaurant is and will include pubs, bistros, cafés, and other establishments that match the parameters provided by the algorithm. That means that website design can now become more of a focus than keyword placement.

Why the Change?

Why is Hummingbird necessary? The answer to that question is that search engine queries have changed in the 12 years since Google last made this kind of major algorithm shift. In the early 2000s, people used specific targeted keywords in their queries, largely because other computer programs at the time used search functions that relied on a handful of specific keywords separated by a Boolean operator such as “and,” “or,” and “not.” But nowadays people are more likely to enter longer search queries into Google, such as detailed questions and song lyrics. To meet the needs of this kind of query, Google has shifted its page ranking system to one that values context more than keywords.

Impact on SEO

Hummingbird doesn’t eliminate SEO as a necessity when it comes to marketing, but it does decrease its importance. In the past, SEO was the primary way for websites to increase their number of page hits. Now that Google no longer has as big a focus on keywords, that importance is declining in favor of good content. You should still choose keywords carefully and use them on occasion throughout your website, as the use of keywords helps you to define your brand and give it a place even in the conversational searches used by Hummingbird. However, keyword frequency isn’t as much of an issue – Hummingbird isn’t going to give priority to a site that has the keyword listed 10 times instead of just five.

Content Becomes King

The biggest thing that Hummingbird drives home is that providing good content on your website is now definitely the best way to market your brand. Because Hummingbird has a focus on context rather than keywords, that means you need to make sure to provide strong content support for whatever services you provide. This can include blogs and tutorials, but it also allows you to branch out into non-text delivery methods such as video and infographics. It also means that you need to proofread all content carefully, since Hummingbird does pay attention to spelling and grammar when prioritizing search results. The clearer your content is, the more traffic you will see.

Examples of Content Marketing

As the Internet has developed, web searches have grown beyond just an examination of text. Hummingbird also affects image, video, and news searches performed on Google, and you can take advantage of the synergy between different media. If you have the ability to develop infographics, this is a good way to combine text and image to attract additional search hits. Video marketing can also be a major boost to your popularity on Google, especially if you place your videos on YouTube while also embedding them into your site. You don’t have to abandon text, either. A good blog or set of tutorials is a great way of convincing Hummingbird that your website offers content which is both strong and relevant.

Using Social Media to Boost Content

One of the important new additions to Google searches that you should take note of is the Google hashtag search. While this is not strictly related to Hummingbird, many users are now searching for hashtags relating to specific topics that can augment their searches. You should consider using an appropriate hashtag whenever you have a post on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook that pertains to your business. Note that website tools such as WordPress and Blogger have widgets that allow you to display your social media stream in a side frame on your main site. This is part of your website, so Hummingbird can detect these as useful content if you make sure to provide content via social media.

How to Combat a Drop in Traffic

If you’ve experienced a drop in website traffic over the past month, it might be a result of the changes in Hummingbird. Some of the ways you can boost your rankings include taking advantage of the Google Authorship program, which links your content with your Google profile, reworking old content on your website that you might be able to improve from a quality perspective, and rewording links. Try to avoid links that ask questions, such as, “Where can I find a Chinese Restaurant in Chicago?” and replace them with authoritative links, such as “Chinese Restaurants in Chicago.” This change establishes you as an expert rather than an inquirer, and that will increase your perceived quality with Google.

Whether you like the change or not, Google Hummingbird is here to stay. While Google has stated that traffic impact is negligible for the new algorithm, it does indicate a difference in the way searches are carried out. That in turn leads to a difference in the way you should present your site. Make sure to focus on strong content, authorship, and authority. Finally, don’t be afraid to integrate your social media networks into your website as much as possible.

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