Google has made stark changes over the past couple years in the way it ranks websites. When one of its most recent algorithm incarnations, Hummingbird, was released in August of 2013, it created a whirlwind in the search landscape and has since continued to have far reaching impact.
In its wake, businesses have been forced to modify their web marketing strategies and SEO efforts to regain favor with Google to reclaim their former search rankings.
Read on for the insights we’ve gained and what you need to do to thrive in this new environment.
What We’ve Learned So Far
In keeping pace with the evolution of Google’s search algorithms, reviewing our clients’ sites, and implementing strategies to sync the two, we have gained some valuable first-hand insights.
Our SEO program prioritizes the auditing of our current clients’ sites to gain a clear, up-to-date view of what is and is not working and where we need to focus our efforts to achieve ongoing success in the ever-changing digital world.
Our post-Hummingbird launch audits have shown a range of results. Some clients’ search rankings immediately improved because their competitors’ rankings dropped from failing to cooperate with Google’s changes. In other cases, we saw our clients’ rankings maintain or rise as a result of prior efforts to build their organic search results.
Though a few of our clients’ rankings slipped slightly, none have been severely affected thus far – likely because our SEO efforts were already on the same trajectory as Google. For those clients that experienced minor dips, our audits have shown us where and how to make the necessary adjustments to get them back on track.
What Has & Has Not Changed: What You Need To Do
The key elements examined in our audits are those that you would expect. In order to make Hummingbird work for your site, you will still need to focus your efforts on the same features you’re likely already focusing on. The difference lies in the methods of implementing each of those features.
Technical Site Features
An internal link structure and architecture that facilitates the customer moving through your site easily is a must. Fast page loading, optimized images and sitemaps all contribute to the end-user experience and that, in the end, is what matters the most.
The rumors aren’t true: basic on-page elements still play a huge role in SEO ranking. Title tags, page URLs, ALT image tags and appropriate H1 tags are taking on new levels of importance. We have seen some of our clients improve their search results by as much as 45% simply by focusing on these items.
Hopefully, you’re not too tired of hearing “Content is King” because it’s more important now than ever… and it doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon. Make sure your content is never duplicated, always high quality and is relevant and useful to your audience.
What is the Ultimate Goal?
With Hummingbird in place, the websites that are rewarded with top ranking results are those that deliver a consistent and accurate customer-centric experience. What exactly do we mean by this? Basically, everything about a site must be for the benefit of the customer, and that goal must be clear and obvious to Google.
How Can This Be Achieved?
First, all of the elements above must be properly maintained in order to keep up with Hummingbird. Additionally, there are some specific strategies that we’ve found have worked and continue to work today.
The following are some of our key recommendations:
• Post Natural Content
Content should read almost conversationally; it shouldn’t sound awkward or forced in order to squeeze in certain keywords. The end goal is to make it easy for a visitor to understand the products/services you provide.
• Use Page URLs Like Website Signage
Page URLs should read normally and actually indicate to the visitor what page he or she is being directed to. Get rid of mumbo-jumbo special characters and indecipherable URL formats.
• Keep Site Bounces At Bay With Accurate Title Tags
Title tags and meta descriptions should accurately reflect the page content, not mislead searchers in an attempt to get more click-throughs. For locally-focused companies, a heavy emphasis on the geographical reference will also aid positive results.
• Make Your Site Architecture Easy
Architecture should deliver intuitive use and navigation so that visitors never have to wonder how to find what they need.
• Embrace The Mobile Web
Full support for mobile devices is a must. With the expected number of mobile online users surpassing desktop users this year, this market will only continue to grow. If your site does not capture this audience, you’re likely to see a big dip in traffic if you haven’t yet already.
The Bottom Line
Many people have considered Hummingbird as the “all-new” algorithm. We, however, look at Hummingbird more as the next logical step in Google’s evolution. It clearly builds on all of the changes that have come before it and takes them to the next level.
Companies that continue to modify their SEO strategies and marketing efforts to coincide with Google’s algorithm changes will win in the end.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.