Google’s Hummingbird Update. It’s Just Good BusinessMonday October 21st, 2013
Those of you who keep tabs on SEO happenings are probably sick of hearing about Hummingbird and Google’s recent changes to data and reporting. “Why would they do this to us?! How will the SEO industry ever recover?” These are my thoughts on SEO’s newest doomsday.
Why would they do this to us?
The two changes that dominate most of the Internet’s chatter are Google’s obfuscation of search data and the Hummingbird search algorithm’s focus on the “Knowledge Graph,” instead of specific keywords.
Most interesting is the extra privacy added to user search data in the aftermath of recent concerns about security surrounding the big data and technology companies. Google is clearly trying to show that they have an interest in keeping our data secure, but they’ve been working on hiding search data since long before Edward Snowden. So, why? For the same reason they’ve been making changes to their search algorithm and processes for years. The search engine serves one of their primary revenue streams, AdWords search marketing. It is imperative that we keep using it, so that they can keep selling ads to search marketers.
To keep us using it, they simply need to provide the best, most useful search results possible, which means fending off the meddlesome SEO industry trying to hijack those results. What better way to slow us down, than to take away one of our most useful tools? It certainly made sense to expedite this process, though, with all the privacy concerns flying around. Makes them look like Internet heroes instead of a business trying to secure their revenue stream.
At the same time that they removed keywords, they also shifted our reliance on keywords to a more concept based model. The new Hummingbird update takes the focus off of individual keywords, using its “Knowledge Graph” and relational data to more specifically answer the question or concept behind the grouping of words. Actually, a great improvement in the way that a search engine understands queries, and something that Google has been working on for a long time. This makes it more difficult for a single entity or site to totally dominate a concept based on a set of keywords, and means that more specific ideas and questions can be understood and answered. Again, this only helps to secure Google’s position as the most useful and popular search engine around, further securing their ad revenue.
How will SEO ever recover?
I’m beginning to feel like a broken record with my opinion on how to navigate Google’s frequent changes. I’ve said time and time again that if you look at Google’s attempts to provide better results for search queries as the enemy, then you’re never going to win.
In fact, we should be glad when Google gives us the opportunity to give search engine users more specific answers to their questions. The “Knowledge Graph” update allows us to do that, as long as we focus on the content instead of the individual keywords. Find the questions that your target users want answered and answer them. If you provide the answers that the search users want, then you’ll be working with Google instead of against them, which will always be the path of least resistance.
Now, how do we do our jobs as search optimizers without our main source of information? The AdWords keyword planner can provide a reasonable picture of search volume, as well as the competition for paid search placement. While this paid competition doesn’t directly link to organic competition data, it can give you some idea of what you’re up against. The best way to gauge your competition though, has always been the search engine results pages themselves. While sifting through this data is much more time consuming than scanning down a list, it can also give you a more complete picture of the landscape. The process can also be made more efficient by using tools like Moz’s Rank Tracker, rather than scrolling through pages of search data. Google webmaster tools can also give you some useful data about search traffic driven to your site. Placing tracking on search bars that are on your site will also help to give you an idea of what people are looking for on your site, which paints a picture of what they were in search of when they landed there.
While none of these tools can completely replace having the search data, using them together can provide some very useful data for optimizing.
I guess the moral here is don’t be surprised that Google is working against you. There has always been a push-pull relationship between Google and the optimizers who try to bend its search engine to their will. You can do a lot to mitigate Google’s constant attacks on your strategy by just going with the flow. Acquire your inbound searches by finding out what people are looking for and give it to them. This will not only gain you Google’s good will, but your users and prospective customers as well. What more could you want?