Google’s Hummingbird update explained – what should it mean for your SEO?

Last week Google announced its new Hummingbird algo update, putting lots of SEOs into doubts and concerns – what should this algo change mean to you and your website? To make sure you don’t get down into panic and plan your SEO strategy wisely, we’ve put up this short guide to explain what Hummingbird update is, how it affects your rankings and how to adapt your SEO strategy to benefit from the changes.

So, what do we know about Hummingbird?

Though announced on September 26 only, Hummingbird was in fact released a month before that and is said to affect 90% of search queries.

Unlike Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird is not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content), but a change in the way Google reacts to different types of queries, which lets the search engine now get the actual meaning behind a query, rather than the separate terms in it.

Besides, the algorithm is called to better deal with conversational queries, considering the growing number of mobile search users and voice searchers.

So Hummingbird is all about Google being able to catch users’ actual search intent and find the content that matches this intent the best.

But what does this mean for Internet marketers and SEO? Well, it means a few things become increasingly more important, and first of all – the content on your site. The name of the game is relevance and your content needs to be deep and rich, rather than just fluff stuffed with keywords.

Now to get a better idea of how to adapt your digital marketing strategy to that change, you need to understand which mechanisms Google probably uses to achieve the relevance goal and what each of them means for your site.

Keyword Strategy

The first challenge Google has to deal with today is the growing number of conversational phrases people use to search the Web. Quite likely (and that is especially true for mobile voice search users), these queries will be of a longer, question-like type – “how to…?”, “where is the nearest…?”, “where can I get…?”, etc.

Interpreting these longer phrases, Google can no longer rely on the keywords only and provide different results for each of them. But rather bring numerous conversational requests to a shorter “general term”, based on the type of searchers’ intent:

Informational
1. The user wanders “How old is Miley Cyrus?”, so…
2. The user wants general information about Miley Cyrus, so…
3. The users will find that info in Miley Cyrus biography

Try determining all conversational phrases people are likely to use when searching for your services, and classify them into informational, navigational and transactional.

Make sure your content covers each of the 3 types:

To cover informational queries, create educational, wikipedia-type content.
Navigational queries are your brand name, your product name, the name of your site, etc. What often helps you rank higher for your brand keywords are brand and website name mentions on thematically relevant resources.
For transactional queries, use appropriate keywords in your content, for example “hire Jason C. – a web designer from Sydney”
When possible, target conversational phrases just as they are. For all the rest of conversational terms, use their shorter equivalents.
Another step towards relevant search results is determining what a page is about using not only individual keywords, but their synonyms and co-occurring terms.

Practically this means that Google shows search results not only for the exact phrase the user typed in, but for other theme-related terms.

For a theme-relevant website, this results in extra exposure opportunities: it’s likely to get to Google’s top not only for your targeted keywords, but for lots of their synonyms.

On the contrary, the page cut for a separate keyword (without keeping in mind its co- occurring terms and synonyms) is likely to be replaced with a page form theme-relevant site.

What should you do? Expand your keyword research, focusing on synonyms and co-occurring terms to diversify your content:

To see which search terms Google considers synonymous, pay attention to related keywords, acronyms or spelling variants of your keywords highlighted in search results: