So you have a question you would like answered, and that question is:
“How Will Google Hummingbird Impact Links?”
It’s still way too early in Hummingbird season to fully understand the impact of the new algorithm, but I’ve spotted a few clues, and the title of this column is a direct result of those clues.
I wrote the title of this column in the form of a question, and I’ll write the body of the piece in the form of an answer. And my guess is in about 48 hours, if you type the above question into Google’s search box, or speak it into your headset via Google voice search, this very column’s URL will appear high up in your search results.
I know I’m taking a risk with that statement, and I’ve been wrong many times before; however, if you’ve paid attention to any of the several hundred columns I’ve written, you’ll see I’ve been pretty close to right about what it is Google wants for 15 years. So, humor me. Why? Because the single biggest clue of all can be found if we take a moment to ignore everything else written so far and focus sharply on a quote from Amit Singhal, Google SVP/Fellow, Software Engineer, and the head of Google’s core ranking team:
The change needed to be done, Singhal said, because people have become so reliant on Google that they now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics.
So there’s Clue #1. Searchers enter questions. Google wants to give them answers — fast, accurately, and preferably without having to leave Google.com.
Clue #2. Searchers are shifting toward mobile devices.
Depending on which study you read, the percentage of searches taking place on mobile devices could be 50% or higher. The exact number is less important than the overall reality: people are using their mobile devices more, their PCs less.
Inferred Clue #3. If searchers are entering longer searches in the form of questions, and if those searches are originating from a handheld device, then it’s quite likely that more and more of those searches are being entered by voice rather than keypad — especially if you are driving. “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” This question takes 2 seconds to ask by voice to your phone. It takes 20 seconds to type, and your eyes have to look away from the road to do it.
Thoughts & Observations About Hummingbird
With all that as a backdrop, below are a few additional details and thoughts designed to (I hope) help people understand what just happened.
If you haven’t already, take the time to read Danny Sullivan’s FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm. In it, he wrote:
No, SEO is not yet again dead. In fact, Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Guidance remains the same, it says: have original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.
I know many people don’t trust a word Google says, and that’s fine; but, common sense tells us that if you create original, deep, subject-relevant content on your sites, you will continue to generate signals of quality that matter to Google. After all, Hummingbird doesn’t suddenly turn great content into bad content. Authority and reputation, as determined by the methods Google has used and improved on for years, remain crucial.
The quote above implies that everything that was rewarded before this update will continue to be rewarded, and in some cases, more so. Google has said content is king for years, and with long tail phrases and conversational searching, authoritative content will continue to win.
Further support for this idea comes from Bill Slawski’s piece, which explores what is likely the Hummingbird patent. I concur with Bill’s thinking here: “Google doesn’t appear to have replaced previous signals such as PageRank or many of the other signals that they use to rank pages.”
Some additional notes and thoughts:
- Google has said the Hummingbird algorithm represents the biggest change in 12 years.
- Hummingbird is part of Google’s need to become less dependent on keywords.
- Google’s Penguin and Panda were additions to the existing algorithm, but Hummingbird is a complete replacement of the algorithm. Penguin and Panda have been incorporated into the Hummingbird algorithm.
- Hummingbird looks at over 200 signals when determining search rank for a site — and PageRank appears to be one of them.
- Links can and will continue to impact PageRank, meaning that credible backlinks are a major component of Hummingbird.
- Google Plus will impact the search experience, but not in the same way for all people and all searches
Given everything we know, what follows are six ways in which Google Hummingbird could impact links.
1. Good Content With Strong Backlinks May No Longer Be Enough
This may be painful to hear, but logic dictates that if Google is anticipating longer search phrases and answering questions directly, then that means even if you have a great answer to that same question and your page containing that answer ranks at position 4, the end user may never see it or click on it because Google has answered the question for them.
For example, you may have the greatest NFL stats website on the Web, but when I do a search for [Peyton Manning stats], here’s what Google gives me, without me having to leave or click anywhere else:
The above result is awesome for the end user looking for those stats, but I can’t help but feel bad for all those NFL statistics websites that are losing clicks as Google’s strategy plays out. At the same time, I’ve stood at podiums at least 150 times and told audiences, “Google does not owe you traffic, and if your business model is based on Google sending you traffic, you better diversify your linking/traffic strategies.”
2. Identify Content That Needs Reworking
While you shouldn’t knee-jerk your content (or link anchors) into a 100% Question/Answer format, you may want to read through your content to see which pages of your site do, in fact, answer specific questions, and see if you can further edit it to send obvious semantic Q/A signals within the HTML.
Do some Google searches using both the allintitle: and site: operators to find content on your site that is (or isn’t) question/answer oriented already, like this:
allintitle:”how do” site:ericward.com
allintitle:”how can” site:ericward.com
Based on this test, I see the need for me to make some tweaks to my content. I’m a bit shocked to find that, after 19 years and a few hundred pages, I’ve never written an article that had the words “how can” adjacent to each other in a title tag. Seriously? Shame on me — and that’s a Hummingbird I hear calling.
3. Don’t Play Link Jeopardy
Fight the urge to purposely seek links to your content in the form of a question, like this: How Twitter Can Impact Link Building?
Shame on me. Why? Because it stands to reason that any time Google rolls out an algorithm tweak — let alone a whole new algorithm — they are also prepared for the various ways in which people will try to game that algorithm. Likewise, while it might seem logical to begin writing all your new blog posts in Q/A format, don’t — unless, of course, that’s what your blog was for in the first place (hint).
4. Continue To Focus On Quality
Hummingbirds are madly in love with natural and relevant link profiles: links from relevant sources (and not just PageRank 7 sources); links from evergreen content sites; links from established, reputable online publications. Trust and authority remain king. How do you get that? Provide content that helps people solve problems, or better yet, teaches them something.
5. Authorship, Authorship, Authorship
Trust me. Just do it. Now.
6. Know Your Options — And Use Them!
If you are going to play in Google’s house of links, know where all the rooms are for your links to hang out.
This is just common sense, but it’s amazing how few people are utilizing the various Google properties for content distribution. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t do much with video. Then I started creating some video content — not for SEO purposes, but rather to help me sell newsletter subscriptions by giving people on my site something to watch. Then a funny thing happened. Take a look at this search result:
I had no idea that my 2-hour Live Hangout On Air would end up ranking #4 out of 19 million. But there’s got to be a lesson here. The live hangout was a Google-owned technology (free), streamed (free) and then recorded (free) and hosted (free) at YouTube, another Google property. If it’s true that part of Google’s search results goal is to send people to content ASAP, and if that content is on Google owned properties, even faster; then, start getting your content and links out there on Google properties.
One last note. When I do that same search on my mobile phone, my video ranks #1 rather than #4. Have a look.
Embrace the Hummingbird. It’s here to stay.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.