By Paul Hill published October 9, 2013

Keep Your Website Content Ranking After Google Hummingbird: 8 Tips

google hummingbird“How about a clip of you twerking, boss? There was an avalanche of “likes” when the office did the Harlem Shake, though not as many as when we did Gangnam Style. But if you twerk it, it’s bound to go viral.”

Take a pop culture trend. Take it out of context. Film it. Share it. Sit back and wait for the social “likes.”

Some call it trendjacking. Others say that it’s just hopping on the proverbial bandwagon. Sometimes it works, but more often that not, it’s just lame.

It’s certainly not a content strategy. Nor is it likely to help your search rankings in the era of a Googlebot that is interested in user intent.

To mark its 15th anniversary at the end of September, Google announced that it had revamped its search algorithm. The new algorithm, called Hummingbird, has been created with mobile and voice search in mind, and nine out of 10 searches will be affected.

For website content, the difference between what people are looking for and why they are looking for it is the heart of the Hummingbird issue.

Why do customers visit your website? Most likely it’s because they have a problem they are trying to solve — there’s a purpose driving their needs, and they are looking to your website content to address that purpose.

Since the late 1990s, search engines have delivered ranked results by matching keywords typed in a search bar to the keywords on a web page. It’s simple from a user’s perspective, yet devilishly clever in the mathematics and engineering that lie beneath the surface.

But words can have different meanings.

In May 2012, Google’s Senior Vice President of engineering, Amit Singhal, used the example of a search for “Taj Mahal” to illustrate this, asking, “Was the search about the monument in India, the musician, or a local curry house? What was the intent behind the search?

At that point, Google had already started to map alternative meanings by charting what other searches typically followed an initial query.

The result of Google’s efforts to clarify the context of queries and content is Hummingbird’s semantic search capabilities. It is a search engine that attempts to understand how people are using language, the various possible meanings of words or phrases, and the different context in which those words are used.

Behind the engine is Google’s “knowledge graph:” its database of possible connections between “entities” — the associated facts, figures, people, objects, and things.

It will take a while for Hummingbird’s full potential to be revealed, partly due to the continuing evolution of the ways people search. “Where do I…?” “What do I…?” “How do I…?” “What’s the difference between…?” These kinds of search queries will be nectar to the Hummingbird in the future.

Evolution from Google Panda to Hummingbird

Looking back over the last two years, you’ll see that Google has been on a consistent path. The Panda algorithm update penalized “thin” content; website content stuffed with keywords but providing little else of value to the user.

Last week, Google revealed that it would no longer provide webmasters with data about which keywords are driving traffic from search results to their websites – the move to 100 percent (Not Provided). Its message has been clear: Success in search is more than a matter of keywords. Indeed, this summer, Google was explicit in its advice to webmasters about how to rank well in search results:

In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.

The key to ranking success is engaging website content.

The essential ingredient that Hummingbird adds is relevance. If the Googlebot is now trying to understand search intent and the meaning and context of words, relevance is the all-important criterion.

Hummingbird and website content strategy

So back to twerking. Good content can surprise and delight, even shock. But how will Hummingbird understand the relevance of that kind of content, and help your audience associate it with what your business does? A viral twerking clip might generate brand awareness. It might even prompt referral traffic or social shares. But the more important question is, if that content is on your website, will it influence Google rankings in the future?

To make sure your website content is armed to capture the Hummingbird in flight, consider these recommendations:

  1. Understand customer needs: Go to the top of your sales funnel and think about why customers want or need your product or service in the first place. If you don’t already know, you could consider using tools like Qualaroo to find the answer. For example, if you are selling personal loans, what does your website content have to say about managing household finances? Selling holiday vacation packages? What does your content say about travelling to a destination, local customs and languages spoken there, and the must-see places, eateries, galleries, or beaches?
  2. Leverage analytics tools: Do you have an on-site search tool in place to measure the effectiveness of your content? If so, take a look at the data to reveal what people are searching for when they’ve reached your site but can’t immediately find. This will provide nuggets of insight into user intent and needs that you can use to optimize your website content.
  3. Think beyond on-site blogs: Good content can take any form, whether it’s a short video clip, a graphic, an eBook, or a white paper. It doesn’t just have to be the written word. The form should fit the content you have, and the purpose behind it.
  4. Think about language: Hummingbird is geared, in part, to mobile and voice search. So be clear in the words you use and how you structure sentences. Consider synonyms — the alternative words or phrases that describe what you do and that people might use, rather than focusing your content around an exact-match keyword.
  5. Embed social media capabilities in your content: Make it easy for people to share your content and advocate for your expertise on the issues they are concerned with.
  6. Define your brand, its voice, and its values: One of the tenets of marketing is that you need to start by having a clearly defined brand. Don’t leave customers guessing who you are and what you do.
  7. Don’t be dull: Informative content does not have to be dry.
  8. Consider your sales goals: The best content marketing doesn’t just make noise that gets in the way of a sale; it complements your sales efforts. To do that, your website content has to be relevant to the products or services it supports. This isn’t just what your customers want. It’s what the Hummingbird wants, too.

For more tips on optimizing your website content for search, read CMI’s eGuide on Measuring Content Marketing Success.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Paul Hill

Paul Hill is Content Director at the award-winning SEO, content marketing, and social media agency, Further. You can follow him on Twitter @paulhill_biz.

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