The end of September saw yet another Google algorithm update – the Hummingbird.
At the heart of this little bird is the difference between what people are looking for and why they are looking for it.
Search engines have always delivered ranked results by matching the keywords typed in the search box to the keywords on a web page.
The problem with that is that words can have different meanings, as illustrated by Google’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Amit Singhal when talking about the Taj Mahal: “Was the search about the monument in India, the musician, or a local curry house? What was the intent behind the search?”
Hummingbird’s semantic search capabilities are an attempt to clarify the context of queries. In other words, it tries to understand how we use language and how the meaning of words varies depending on context.
Hummingbird and search marketing
With all the Penguins, Pandas and Hummingbirds in the world, it’s hardly surprising that the face of search marketing is constantly changing.
In fact it was only recently that Google announced it would no longer be providing webmasters with data about which keywords were driving traffic from search results to their websites.
Google’s explicit message being that webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share. In other words, engaging website content.
Hummingbird and website content
It’s important you understand how to make sure your website copywriting and content align with Hummingbird’s aim.
What does your customer need?
It’s important to think about why customers want or need your product or service. For example, if you have a travel site, do you offer information about travelling to the destination, what there is to see, local customs, restaurants, galleries or where the best beaches are?
Look at your analytics to discover what people are searching for when they’ve reached your site, but can’t find immediately. This will help you understand what they are looking for and optimise your website content accordingly.
Blogs aren’t the be all and end all
Think about varying your content. Great information doesn’t only come in the form of a blog post; it could also be video, graphics, an eBook, report or white paper.
Just make sure its form and function match.
Don’t just go for an exact keyword match when describing what you do/offer. Use synonyms too, which will provide alternative phrases that people may use when searching for what you offer.
Make sure the language you use isn’t dry and dull. Show your personality through your writing so it informs and inspires.
Make sure all your content is easy to share.
Above all, make sure the content on your website complements your sales strategy by being relevant to your products and services.
A well written website should already have all those features, but it’s worth checking yours out to see if it can be improved in any way.
It may, at times, seem as though Google is playing God with your business, but all these changes are there to make the search experience more rewarding and relevant. Provided you abide by Google’s rules and aren’t tempted to take any short cuts, you should be able to weather these changes with minimum fuss.
Google has a tendency to play God – or at least that what some online marketers believe.
A quick tweak of their algorithms can make your traffic plummet over night, but it’s not always down to the big bad search engines.
Panda and Penguin caused pandemonium for many website owners. Forums were filled with rants about how these updates were killing their businesses because their traffic vanished.
But was it really down to these little fellas?
Granted, a lot of websites took a hit when the updates happened, but not all the traffic dips can be attributed to these algorithmic changes.
Understanding if you’ve been hit by Penguin and Panda
No one wants to see his or her traffic reduce or vanish.
When this apparent dip coincides with a Google update it seems logical to point the finger in their direction. But they may not be the cause.
If you notice a dip in traffic the first place you should look is your analytics. Take a look at your traffic sources. If they have dipped across the board (i.e. Google, Yahoo and Bing), the chances are it has nothing to do with Google.
So what’s causing it?
It’s more likely to be your search engine optimisation strategy.
Sitting back isn’t an option
When you started out, you probably had a rigorous SEO strategy in place. But, as time moved on and you got busy, the strategy probably took a bit of a slide.
But you were still getting traffic and business, so all was good.
The problem with sitting back and resting on your laurels is that, every day, a new kid will appear on the block. This fresh website will be working hard on its SEO and so will stand a good chance of ranking higher that you.
As soon as your traffic starts to dip, it’s a warning sign that you need to up your game.
But relying 100% on the search engines for your traffic is a disaster waiting to happen. Which is why it’s essential to diversify your traffic.
How to diversify your traffic
If you put all your eggs into your SEO basket, things will go wrong at some point.
That’s why it’s important to spread your traffic by using:
Pay Per Click
All of these will help you drive traffic to your website without relying on the likes of Google, Yahoo or Bing.
If you want a successful online marketing strategy, make sure you diversify.
In the aftermath of Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm ‘tweaks’, the fact that we all get search results that relate to our location (yup, you’re no longer seeing country-wide results*) and the prospect of even more changes on the way, is there a future for search engine optimisation?
Let’s face it, small businesses with a national (and international) reach relied heavily on their SEO to get great rankings in the search results. Now, they have no way of knowing who will see their listing because everyone sees different things.
OK, for local search this isn’t too much of an issue, but how are SEO companies dealing with the fact that they can no longer state, with any certainty, where their clients’ websites are ranking?
The changing face of SEO
Once upon a time, SEO could be divided into 2 categories:
Internal SEO – relating to your website’s structure
External SEO – articles, content, blogs, press releases, links etc.
Of course, the reason for Google’s changes comes down to that small minority who couldn’t be bothered to do things properly and had to find short cuts to make money.
These ‘black hat’ SEOers spoilt the party for all the other legitimate businesses who worked hard to get their rankings playing by the rules.
Now many face an uncertain future, or are being forced to rethink their whole marketing strategy because they can no longer reach out to the wider market place.
Search goes social
The focus behind all these changes is for our search results to become more social and therefore (apparently) more relevant.
The relevancy of your website is now to be dictated by the number of followers, comments, views and shares your content gets.
The problem I can see with this, is that it won’t be long before the cowboys work out a way of faking that too.
Where does that leave us?
For most of the big brands out there these algorithmic changes have little or no effect. But for the smaller businesses they can have a devastating impact.
Google claims that if you have followed their SEO rules your website won’t be affected, but thousands and thousands of sites have seen their rankings plummet because of them.
Online marketing is a fast changing environment. Keeping up with these new techniques is proving to be a major headache for many small businesses out there. They don’t have the budgets needed to get an expert on board to help them and so are left floundering in the wake of the might Google’s whims.
Over to you
Are you an SEO company? How are these changes affecting you and your clients?
Are you a small business struggling to keep pace with it all?
Leave a comment below because, whatever your story, we want to hear from you.
*If you want to return to national results, simply go to your Google home page, click ‘settings’ (bottom right), click ‘Search Settings’, click ‘Location’ and then enter UK in the ‘Where are you?’ box.
Have you noticed a recent change to your search results?
OK, daft question considering the onslaught of small birds and animals that have been trundling through Google’s algorithms lately – namely Panda and Penguin.
But joking aside, you may have spotted that your search results are focused on your local area rather than nationally.
If you’re looking for a local company then this has to be a good thing, but if you want to widen your choice of potential service providers because their location isn’t an issue (especially for larger companies looking for quality and value over proximity) it does narrow your options somewhat.
Widening the net
To make sure you’re getting the best choice of service provider possible all you have to do is amend your search location.
Simply go to the Google home page, click ‘settings’ (at the bottom of the screen), go to ‘location’ and enter UK (or whichever country or region you want). Now your search results will return a far more comprehensive list of possibilities.
Businesses and rankings
These changes are really annoying when you’re an online business, especially when you’ve always played by Google’s rules.
All those hours you have spent link building and generating great content can go down the tubes in a flash with changes like these.
For many businesses online, a national presence is need, so with a change to local search results as opposed to countrywide ones can have a real impact on your bottom line.
What can be done about?
Not a lot really other than creating location-specific landing pages. But you can and should be hitting the social world hard. Being active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ will help your visibility and get your name out into the wider world.
The face of search is changing and becoming far more social than ever before.
So our advice is, if you want to continue to be seen in the search results, generate great content and be socially active.
Sally Ormond is MD and copywriter at Briar Copywriting Ltd. A keen cyclist, she took on and tamed the Welsh Dragon Ride.