In August 2013, Google quietly introduced their new Hummingbird algorithm… or at least they tried to introduce it quietly. Online marketers everywhere jumped on the update and began asking whether this meant that SEO as we know it is over.
The short answer is that no, search engine optimization is not dead and buried. There are, however, certain bad habits that some online marketers have gotten into, and continuing these habits isn’t going to do their clients’ websites any favors. For the most part, though, these bad practices were bad long before Hummingbird came along.
In today’s post, I want to discuss some of the ineffective SEO strategies that marketers still insist on using. But before I get into that, I want to quickly lay out what we know about the Hummingbird algorithm so that you can use that context to craft your SEO strategy.
Hummingbird: It’s All about Intentions
In the past, Google’s search engine has looked at the specific keywords that web users entered and generated results with web pages containing those exact keywords. (Obviously there are a lot of other factors that are used to rank pages, like traffic, original content, and links, but that’s the basic gist.) This meant if someone had a specific question in mind, like “Where’s the best coffee shop to study in Seattle?”, they would get better results if they entered something like “coffee shops study Seattle” than if they entered the whole question, which would factor in unnecessary words. Essentially, web users had to use a lot more trial and error to get the results they actually wanted.
Hummingbird, on the other hand, focuses on web users’ intentions rather than just the words they type into the search bar. What does that mean? Basically, that Google has realized just generating results containing the searched for keywords isn’t necessarily going to hone in on what a web user is trying to find.
Now, for example, someone could enter the phrase “What’s the best coffee shop near me?” and the top Google results would be for coffee shops in their local area, not just sites for coffee shops that also contain the phrase “near me.” Essentially, Google is making things easier for their users by making searches much more conversational.
To reiterate, this new approach isn’t going to kill SEO. It’s just going to reward sites that focus on content over keywords, which is the direction SEO has been going for a while now. With that in mind, here are 4 practices that you definitely need to bury now if you haven’t already.
Throw These 4 SEO Tactics Out the Window
Keyword stuffing. If there was one overall thing to learn about the way SEO is going, it’s this: Your mantra should be “focus on content, not keywords.” This should have been your goal for a while now, as quality content is what tends to generate quality leads, but some people were so focused on driving traffic that they fell into bad practices. How so? Well, in the early days of Google’s search engine, you may have been able to boost your page ranking by using the same phrase over and over again in a practically incoherent fashion. But when web users clicked on your link, this spammy content would quickly dissuade them from going any farther.
Now, more than ever, the keywords a user searches for don’t matter as much as the content they’re looking for. That means that you need to generate well-written content that actually answers the questions your target audience will be asking.
Putting your focus on on-page content. According to a 2013 Pew report, 56% of American adults own a smartphone, and that number is only going to go up as these mobile devices become more accessible and ingrained in our culture. That means that more and more people are performing web searches from their phones, and Google has taken notice. Websites that optimize their content for mobile devices will rank more highly than those that don’t, which means that your SEO strategy can’t just be about the words on your web page—it has to be about ease of use.
Additionally, marketers need to work on establishing a strong social media presence for their company. Although Google hasn’t come right out and said how social media affects rankings, it’s safe to say that those who effectively use sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ will fare better because they’re directing more (and better) traffic to their site.
Guest posting solely for links. The practice of churning out low-quality articles that are a thinly-veiled advertisement for your company and soliciting websites to post them should have died a long time ago. For one thing, most bloggers are wise to this practice and won’t accept articles that seem to have been written for the sole purpose of linking back to your site. For another, Google is getting better at recognizing spammy content and punishing the sites that produce it in their search engine rankings.
That’s not to say that you should completely throw in the towel on guest posting. If you do continue using this SEO tactic, however, you need to make sure that you’re producing informative and engaging content that blog readers will actually want to read. There has to be something in it for the audience and for the site you’re posting on.
Posting the same content all over the web. The emphasis in Google’s search engine rankings is on high-quality, original content. While syndicating a popular article might not hurt you, submitting the same article over and over again to an article directory will. Google has cracked down on duplicate content, so posting one article on as many sites as you can is going to have the counterintuitive effect of decreasing your visibility.
The take away from all this should be that if you’re already producing good content, you have nothing to worry about and your SEO strategy really won’t need to change. If you focus on what your potential customers want rather than obsessing over keywords and underhanded shortcuts to get to the top of the search engine rankings, Google will reward your efforts.