How Does Hummingbird Change The SEO Game?


SEO is not a game for most marketers and businesses – it is the key to financial success or survival. Google’s silent introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm didn’t make an immediately recognizable change because it was not a penalty-based update like Penguin and Panda. Instead or just wiping out spammy or low-quality results from the SERPs, it is to completely alter how Google and weighs in certain factors in ranking your webpage.

What Changed?

Google does not want to simply give back a list of results to their users any more, but its engineers totally rewrote the search algorithm to be able to give them answers to their questions. It also means the search engine has to be better in catching the user’s actual intent when using it because more and more users are searching from mobile or via voice search. This way they won’t have time to browse through SERPs – they need quick answers.

What does it mean to you as a site owner? Relevance is the key. Instead of focusing on keywords, you have to make sure your site contains really relevant and deep information. You’ll need better written and better structured content to achieve that instead of just fluffing it with keywords. This is nothing new: Google always wanted to give their users the most relevant answers. This time it is going for it in a whole new way as Hummingbird will likely affect about 90% of search queries.

Prepare for Conversational Queries

First of all, you need to understand how Google is dealing with conversational queries. Mobile and voice users are giving it more and more of this kind, so you’ll need to structure your content to be prepared for this.

There are three kinds of conversational queries that are easy to identify:

  1. Informational queries, e.g. “How old is the Queen of the UK?” For these you have to prepare educational, Wikipedia-like content about the products and services you have.
  2. Navigational queries are the ones when users are trying to look up a website, e.g. “What is the website of UPS?” or just “UPS website”. With these queries it can help if your brand, product and website names are mentioned in thematically relevant resources.
  3. Transactional queries, when the client is looking directly for a certain product or service, e.g. “Where is the nearest burger place?”. These require the use of appropriate and, in many cases, call to action keywords in your content, like “Get the best burgers in XY district!”.

It is generally a good idea to target conventional phrases as they are but you won’t be able to do this without making your content or website appearing unnatural. That’s why you’ll often have to go with their shorter versions or equivalents that still guide your users appropriately.

What is Your Site About?

Another important thing to know is how Google trying to identify what your webpage is about. The search engine is not relying only on individual keywords, but it is also judging by their synonyms and co-occuring terms. You can easily spot it when you are searching for something: Google will give you many results in the topic that don’t refer to your original search keywords. Instead it’s trying to look up relevant content so expanding your content to be more topic-rich based on other theme-related terms may be a great idea.

You also need to adjust your backlink anchor texts accordingly. Instead of focusing just a few keywords, you should make sure to optimize them to semantically relevant keywords, and not just the anchors themselves. You should also surround the links with thematically relevant keywords and their synonyms.

Using structured data markup tools also helps Google greatly to figure out what your website is about so go ahead with it as quickly as you can. This can also be beneficial to your click-through and conversion rates too as structured data markup makes it possible for Google to view rich snippets of your content that  not only provides more useful answers to customers but draw a lot more attention.

Make It Credible Too

Many SEOs and online marketers debate the future role of PageRank in the new system. There are over two hundred different ingredients that make up Hummingbird and help Google rank pages and PageRank is only one of these – but it doesn’t mean it’s not significant any more. The system just grew to be a lot more complex so PageRank alone may not be enough to make your content and referring content credible.

That’s why you need to use Google Authorship to make both your on-site and off-site content credible too. Google Authorship is not really difficult to manage, you just have to familiarize with it and use it consistently if you hadn’t done so.

There are also many smaller adjustments you can make, e.g. optimizing your site for mobile or getting a better web hosting for quicker load times that you may had already been aware of. But helping Google figuring out what your page is about and aiding it to provide better and credible answers to their users is the key to succeed in the world after Hummingbird.

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This is a guest post by freelance writer and occasional guest poster Jeremie Brenton who usually covers tech, business and online marketing.
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