How Does Google’s Hummingbird Update Impact Your SEO Efforts?
Marinn: Hi everyone! This is Marinn Hersh, Sales Manager here at NetElixir. Thanks so much for joining us today for our webinar. We’re going to be discussing how Google’s hummingbird update impacts your SEO efforts. This is part of the NetElixir University Guest Expert Series.
I’ll just give you a quick background about NetElixir. We are a global search marketing agency headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. We specialize in applying mathematical models to drive exceptional search marketing results for our clients like Ulla Poken, Lenovo, K-Swiss and Oneida.
So a quick background about NetElixir University. We were launched in 2012 with a vision of “democratizing the digital marketing industry through exceptional knowledge and expertise sharing”. Through monthly webinars and quarterly seminars, we hope to provide the tools & knowledge to help people become better search marketers. We invite you to join out LinkedIn group, NetElixir University.
Our guest speaker today is going to be Steven Pope. A quick background about Steven, he is the eCommerce Marketing Manager at Ulla Popken, a leading women’s plus size clothing retailer. He has 5+ years of experience in every aspect of digital marketing strategy and execution and he specializes in SEO. He has an MBA from Western Governor’s University and a BS in Communication from Weber State University.
I’m going to introduce Steven now. Thank you so much, Steven, for joining us!
Steven: Hello! Hey Marinn! Hi everybody. Thanks for having me on today. Before we begin, I just want to let everybody know what a pleasure it is to work with NetElixir. I use NetElixir for my paid search campaigns and have been quite impressed with their agility at making changes and quite frankly, I love their big vision of the future. So if you’re looking for somebody to manage your paid search campaigns on AdWords or Bing, definitely check these guys out.
They asked me to tell a little bit about my personal SEO experience. I’ve used all the leading enterprise SEO tools including Conductor Search Light at my present and previous company. I’ve done complex, end-to-end SEO implementations for multiple firms. And just a little bit of SEO trivia…a higher education company I worked for, StraighterLine, wanted to rank for algebra terms. So, I paid a professor to create 100 math videos all titled around how people search for algebra, and got one landing page to rank for all 20 keywords.
So Hummingbird. This is a little tidbit pulled right out of Wikipedia. It says the smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5-cm Bee Hummingbird. They hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings 12-80 times per second. That’ll set the stage up for today as we talk about Hummingbird as a Google update.
Here’s a little bit of overview. In our presentation I’m going to spend about 15 minutes talking about how Google’s changing, what are the techniques and everything that’s going on and then we’ll end up with some questions. I want to make sure I save some time so if you guys have some questions, feel free to mull them over as we talk about it.
Google is Changing
So Google’s changing right now and it’s basically getting more on brand from its original search framework from a decade ago or so. Really the thing that Google has been pushing is to get back to the basic level that content is king and so you’ll want to build up your content libraries to address that. It’s all about relevancy and user experience so forget those keyword stuffing practices and consider making relevant information available to your users. They’re having a lot of updates right now.
In fact, hummingbird is just the latest of many updates they’ve made live this year. And then finally, SEO impacts including the algorithm changes that have decreased the value of link building made content and having a content library the real focal point to SEO strategy.
Results “not provided”
So we’ll first talk about the announced September changes. So on the left you can see here there’s the “not provided” keyword data. You’ll notice that if you logged into your analytics account for your company that number is going to show 100% not provided. And a little bit about that impact. So basically this change was announced on September 23rd and they announced that all the kw (keyword) traction would soon become 100% not provided inside of Google analytics.
Google Announces the Hummingbird Update
Just 4 days later on Google’s 15th birthday, Google announced a search algorithm update known as hummingbird so that’s on the right there. So the impact on the keyword side is this: reporting becomes more difficult, companies relying solely on Google analytics are hurt the most and everyone can still see the global traffic that’s getting produced on any particular kw so you’ll know there’s a thousand searches a month on any particular kw it just doesn’t show on Google analytics where your own traffic is coming from by keyword.
Does Google Analytics show how much organic traffic is coming from a particular Keyword?
For instance, “plus size clothing” is a keyword that we chase. We may get some traffic from it. We just don’t know how much for that particular keyword, it’s just all going to group together. You may or may not know how much organic traffic you’re getting on a day to day basis. You will be able to tell from a global basis that you’re getting X amount of searches but you won’t be able to tell where they’re coming from by keyword.
Focus on ranking pages for Keywords
So my recommendation, focus more on the page rankings for particular keywords. It’ll just be harder for you to determine your success on SEO efforts in terms of traffic by keyword. But you’ll still have that number you just can’t prove it’s coming in from one particular keyword versus another.
Hummingbird is supposed to return better search results. Google revealed that this update is supposed to make search more about the customer experience with precise and fast results.
Google Hummingbird Questions
One of the questions as I built this presentation kind of formulated from some people I was talking to. I’d probably have to explain “what’s a search algorithm?”
What is a Search Algorithm?
Well when hummingbird was put in, they changed the search algorithm. That’s a technical term for what you can think of as a recipe that Google uses to sort through billions of web page content and other information it has in order to return what it believes are the best answers.
It’s all about relevancy and speed.
So why is it called Hummingbird?
Well Google told us the name comes from being precise and fast. So I highlighted here in the middle yellow section. The question here is why is the update called hummingbird? You’ll see that Google returned 3.5 million results in less than .4 seconds.
So Google is increasingly making content available very rapidly and in the case example here you can see the Forbes article on top.
What are some hummingbird myths?
Search is dead. That’s not true because we’re still here. There are still people getting paid to do search. Quite frankly hummingbird just changes how we look at it. It’s just a different framework and Google is quite frankly a moving target. It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with them. They’ll announce their changes and they won’t tell anyone and then search marketers are scratching their heads about how they saw a big jump and spike in data and now I can’t figure out why and then a month later they say “oh by the way we actually released hummingbird” and that’s pretty standard practice.
So over the coming years expect that to pretty much remain the same, however, search is definitely not dead. We’ll talk a lot about how content is becoming the focus though.
Is Hummingbird Just another update like Panda and Penguin?
Hummingbird is just another panda and penguin update. That’s another myth. Mainly because panda and penguin have very specific things they implemented. We’ll talk about it on the next slide. But hummingbird is a completely different ballgame. Finally, hummingbirds hitch rides on the back of geese as they migrate south. That’s just a little bit of my attempt at humor here. Of course that’s also a myth.
Previous Google updates: penguin, panda. Penguin de-ranks spam sites. Google has a thing for animal names. While these are past updates, Google does continue to go updates as part of their past penguin and panda patches. What I mean by that is, even in May, they’re still releasing updates and patches for some of these and in fact, in this last month they’ve released panda update 3.3. they continue to release updates on these.
I’m not going to dive into terribly too much detail about penguin and panda but in short, Penguin de-ranks spam sites and Panda de-ranks low quality sites. So if you want to learn about these particular updates, I’d recommend Googling them.
Hummingbird though is a much bigger game changer.
It’s like this car that we have in front of us here. It’s as if you took the engine out of the car and completely replaced it. And maybe you could look at Penguin and Panda as kind of just changing the headlights or tires, but you’re still doing the same type of thing. So Hummingbird is a much bigger game changer. It’s completely new engine, new algorithm, so that’s why there’s such a huge impact and why you need to pay close attention to it.
Hummingbird Humanizes Search
One of the most interesting things I like to say is that Hummingbird humanizes search. It takes relevant content based on user intent and previously, a search query weighed in all words equally. Hummingbird is smarter. It figures out what a user’s true intent is. So if you’re searching on a particular subject, it’s going to take those words and figure out what in particular about how you’re wording that is what you’re truly trying to find. So if you were to ask Google a question, and it can be any question you could think of. Whether you’re searching about your own company about fruit, about a product, it doesn’t really matter.
If you’re phrasing that question and you say “what is _____”, Google previously weighed all of those words equally so when you’re trying as a search marketer to optimize on that particular content, you have to put that exact verbatim phrase in. “What is x?” as your URL. “What is X ?” as the keyword that’s repeated 3-5 times within the article. That’s simply no longer the case because now they’re figuring out what your true content intent is.
So instead of having to focus on the “what is” portion, you literally have to focus on the “X” portion. X being the subject or the product or whatever you’re talking about.
What is Conversational Search?
Conversational search is another key aspect to this. Search in 2012 might have been “plus size clothing” as the key phrase. Search 2014: “Siri, where can I buy plus size clothing?”
So you pull out your mobile phone and type in a question. Well, those colloquial questions are going to differ very differently and it’s conversational. So those verbatim phrases are going to change quite a bit of things.
And I’ll talk a little more about that later.
What SEO Techniques did Hummingbird Change?
Keyword stuffing, though, is definitely going to become a thing of the past. Imagine if every post was keyword stuffed. And what do I mean by keyword stuffing? I mean taking an exact phrase and repeating it like 10-15-20 times just on one page of content. That’s keyword stuffing in a nutshell.
They’re trying to get away from that. Now it’s all about natural content. It’s less about keywords and more about content. So instead of asking what keywords will users be searching for, we need to ask, what kind of information are we looking for?
How do we optimize after Hummingbird?
We’ve come up with 3 quick ways to optimize your site today post Hummingbird. First, decrease your website page load time down to below 2 seconds. I’ve used Edgecast, that’s a way to cache your images and other information on your site. It’s a paid service used to cache your site and I’ve had a lot of success with it. It went from 5 seconds down to 1 second. You may or may not be in a company position where you can hire a vendor to pay for that. if you have an internal IT resource, the challenge then to reduce this: start with whatever you think is necessary to figure that portion out because as hummingbird has been very clear, it’s all about speed.
Site Speed Matters for Mobile Devices
Think about it literally. Take out your phone, open up Google, type in a search and click on a website. If it takes 10 seconds for you to load that site, are you going to stay or what are you going to do? You’re going to abandon before you even load the page, right? So if your webpage loads in 5 seconds on your desktop, double that, that’s probably what it averages on mobile. So that’s why it’s super important. Get your website page load speed down to 2 seconds so that as mobile, which is an inevitable force for search in the future, is going to increasingly become inevitable as more people adopt the way that they use the mobile phone for search and you’re going to want to make sure that your site it up to speed.
How do I find out what the speed of my site is?
Now, if you’re wondering, I don’t know what the speed of my site is. You can test your speed for free on sites like Pingdom.com and that’ll give you a pretty good rough idea of where you’re at. So the key things to tell your internal IT resource it to first challenge them to reduce the speed.
How can I reduce site speed?
Start with photos. 23-35% of your load time is probably based on photos. So if your homepage has 100 photos on it, it’ll probably slow it down.
Then, look at tags and pixels, those are what you use to track digitally, what’s going on with your site. For instance, if you have Google analytics, there’s a pixel on your site that tracks what users are doing on your site to Google analytics and displays that information for you.
Increase Content Strategy
You can create a content strategy increasing and starting blog production. I want to qualify that by saying quality over quantity and you want to post at least 1 to 3 times a week minimum. Google has an algorithm for search that always changes. They never tell anybody exactly what in it, but there are about 200 different known factors that impact it.
Fresh Content Matters
One of those 200 is frequency of content, so you want to make sure you have fresh content on your site at all times, but also just having quality content to begin with means more people are going to engage with it, share it on social media, and be able to share those links. And that of course is something that Google uses as 1 of those 200 things that they use to measure your success and then each post I recommend to focus on keywords somewhat at least in the interim, probably the next 1-2 years. Focus on 1-2 keywords, repeated 2-3 times in the article. In the future, that may become less relevant, but in the meantime, we still want to adhere to some of those past guidelines because they’re still relevant today, even though they’re moving away from it.
Optimize for Conversational Search
Finally, begin to optimize on “conversational search”. Content strategies can segment on mobile search queries. So if you take out your phone and have a conversation with Siri, I strongly predict that conversational search is going to segment the mobile data quite a bit.
So that brings us to the ultimate question, “got content?” I’m of course playing off here of the Got Milk? Scene and there’s Wolverine in front of you with a milk mustache if you will. If your executive team is coming up to you and asking you this question, “Why haven’t we gained any search rankings?” And you don’t have a content strategy in place, simply put, don’t expect any results.
Optimize for Questions your potential customer will ask
We’re in an information age, customers are more informed than ever and you have to build content on multiple fronts. Why should customers buy from you? What are the features of your product or service? What do you think about the competition? What it going on in the industry? What did your company do this week?
These are just a handful of examples of hundreds of things you could write about and as long as you know what the keywords are to write about, you just need to experiment and see what happens.
And don’t forget to build a subscription model in there. Send the content out to your email database. This is basic lead nurturing 101. Build a website that talks to your customer, has a conversation with them, and then instead of asking “what keywords will users be searching for?” ask “what kind of information are users looking for?” and build content based on that.
SEO is still Evolving
NetElixir asked me to give my personal take so this is the kind of stuff you wouldn’t necessarily hear in an article perhaps. I think SEO is in its infancy. You have companies that are building in the start-up mode right now such as Conductor, who’ve only been around for a couple of years, and there’s major investments being made into the industry and technology such as that. We’re on the very thin surface of what’s really to come.
I think that keywords are going to become hyper-segmented due to mobile in the next 3 or so years and it’s probably going to accelerate exponentially year over year. I say that because in colloquial speaking, we all talk differently. We all talk to Siri differently. And when you pull your mobile phone out, and you’re looking for something in particular, someone in California is going to say it very differently than someone in New York, or north versus south, or big city versus small city. Everybody talks differently. I personally believe it’s going to make a very hyper-segmented keyword structure.
Finally, I think the adoption of search is going to continue, but more so on the front that users are going to be searching for the same types of things but will do it differently. They’re going to talk about it differently, so mobile is going to be the major impact of that.
I think SEO, culturally speaking, is one of the hardest marketing initiatives to get organizations to adopt. It requires months, years of buy-in and re-buy-in requiring conversations across multiple departments. I’ve seen that in several organizations already. You may be the biggest SEO expert in the world, but if you don’t have buy-in from the creative department to write content around that, you’re going to be struggling. Maybe the PR department writes press releases but won’t talk to you about some SEO strategies behind it. Maybe merchandising doesn’t buy in because they have all sorts of products that aren’t coming to you on perhaps how to name them because that’s how people are searching for them. There’s all sorts of dynamics you have struggles with so one thing I emphasize is to make sure that you have buy-in. You build buy-in by involving (your marketing team)them and informing them. Telling them why it’s so important, explain the marketing value to it.
Finally, my last personal take is that larger businesses will increasingly dominate search. That’s because they’ve adopted it and now they’re not only adopting it with lots of resources, they’re putting a lot of people into it. They’ve got entire divisions based on this. For small companies, it becomes increasingly difficult to compete with that.