Considering the recent Hummingbird update was touted as a major upgrade to Google’s ranking algorithm, its arrival was something of a non-event. Launched without fanfare last August (though not announced for a few months), it produced intrigue rather than outrage in the SEO world.
However mild its impact, though, beneath the surface, Hummingbird portends some major changes with important implications for the way we carry out SEO.
Satisfying Searcher Intent
All change is disruptive in some way, but the promise of Hummingbird is very positive. Overall, it involves a welcome shift towards to focusing on searcher intent rather on keywords. By improving ‘semantic search’, which is based, on meaning rather than keyword matching, it allows the return of results that are likely to be far more relevant that those based simply on individual words or phrases.
It’s interesting to note that after Hummingbird, it’s become easier for Google to gauge the commercial intent of a query. This offers great potential to optimise web pages to properly deal with visitors looking to buy.
Chasing the Long Tail
Consider this; long tailed queries make up between 20-50% of Google searches with around 20% of them being unique queries never seen before. This begs the question, how do you optimise your site for such queries?
The simple answer is that it’s impossible using traditional optimisation based on keywords. The only solution is through themeing your sites to convey concepts. As Hummingbird is working to determine user intent, the importance of actual keywords – the old ‘exact match’ types that have powered SEO for years, becomes less and less.
In other words, SEOs should start thinking about optimising pages for topics or concepts rather than keywords. It’s true that keywords and phrases are the keys to understanding search intent but a more holistic approach is needed.
There’s no need for any sudden, jarring changes. Keyword optimisation will continue to be important for a long time to come. But instead of focusing just on words, you need to work on the themes of pages when doing SEO. Another move will be towards incorporating as many long tail phrases as possible to capture a wide range of specific queries.
In other words, the new SEO will start with understanding just what the user wants. It requires a shift in mindset for SEO practitioners who are used to the old ways. Instead of puzzling over how to rank for a query, the new mode of thought should be how to best provide solutions to the users’ problems. In that regard, SEO is evolving into a subset of marketing.
Ultimately it should lead to the development of websites that focus on giving the searcher just what he’s looking for, and that can only be good. It is, after all, what Google’s been striving for all along.