In late September, Google announced the first rewrite of its search algorithm since 2000. The new algorithm, called Hummingbird, restructures the computations behind search so Google can better handle longer and more complex queries, with a focus more on trying to understand the meanings and relationships among things, rather simply matching keywords.
For B2B marketers, how does Hummingbird impact existing search engine optimization (SEO) strategies built on keywords?
First of all, it’s not as if keywords no longer have relevance for search – optimizing content for keywords is still an important strategy. Also, when Google executives announced the update, the Hummingbird algorithm had already been running the Google search engine for about a month, and no one had detected the change. If your SEO analytics are still strong, then your current strategies are still working.
However, there is one very good reason to re-optimize your SEO to take advantage of Hummingbird’s new powers: mobile voice search.
According to the New York Times, Google executives said they made changes to their search algorithm because search users are asking increasingly long and complex questions and are searching Google more often on mobile devices with voice search.
Think about how you use the search engine on your laptop versus how you talk to your mobile phone when using voice search features such as Siri. If you’re typing a query into Google search, you’re probably going to focus on keywords: “Portland French Restaurant” for instance. Search queries using voice are more likely to use natural language, and to contain references to contextual information, such as location and other data that your device may know about you. “What is the nearest French restaurant to me” is, in terms of search, conceptually much more complex than its equivalent keyword search. The new Hummingbird algorithm recognizes this and is designed to deliver mobile users better results when asking a question out loud in a natural speech pattern.
How do you optimize your SEO for longer, linguistically more natural queries, including those from voice search? The Hummingbird algorithm is still new, and optimizing for its new search process is still an evolving art, but from all evidence, it doesn’t require an entirely new SEO strategy but an expansion of the keyword strategies that came before.
Think about how people would conversationally ask for your content, using natural, everyday language, and try to understand the intent and concepts behind common queries that would return links to your content. People are increasingly not just searching for keyword matches, but something more complex, such as the answer to a question. Is there contextual information, such as location, that would further help differentiate your content to the Hummingbird search engine?
To open up your SEO to more conceptual and natural language querying, perhaps the place to start is to ask yourself this: If your content is the answer, what is the question?