How to Survive a Hummingbird Bite

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic Principal & Author, Kayak Online Marketing

Posted on December 9th 2013

How to Survive a Hummingbird Bite

It's probably not a coincidence that Google likes to choose cute, cuddly animals and delicate birds to name its search algorithm updates after.

hummingbird algorithm updates

First there were Penguins and Pandas, and now business owners and online marketers are dealing with Hummingbirds. It just seems a lot easier to take a loss in search position when it's coming from a loveable zoo favourite.

But, as more and more companies are discovering, Hummingbird does have a bite. In fact, some estimates range that up to 90% of all search queries have been affected in some way, meaning that your company could have seen phones and inboxes go quiet virtually overnight.

If that's the position you're in right now, it doesn't really matter what Google names its algorithms... you just want buyers coming back to your website. So, how do you survive a Hummingbird bite?

Here are two simple steps you can take to climb your way back to a winning search engine position:

First, assess the problem.

The core of Google's Hummingbird update was an attempt to make search results more contextual, instead of adhering to strict keyword matches. Google is making a concerted effort to think more about what a searcher is actually looking for, rather than just noting whether or not a few distinct phrases show up in an identical or repeated way.

Additionally, this algorithm update exaggerated past patterns, with low-quality content and links being deemphasized or actively punished. Websites that were already feeling the effects of Penguin and Panda have been further suppressed in the search rankings.

If your search engine positioning has been affected by Hummingbird, the first step is to figure out why. For most of the clients we work with, causes can be traced back to SEO work that was done on their behalf in the past. It could be that someone you hired did so-called "black hat" techniques that didn't do much to hurt or help you at the time, but are serving as an anchor that's dragging your search rankings down with the new emphasis on unique, relevant results.

Next, change your philosophy.

The new evolution of search engine optimization isn't driven by search terms, but compelling content. Google doesn't want you focusing on solely keywords and links anymore. In fact, they never really did; those were simply the easiest ways for search engine spiders to try to understand what your website was actually about.

Now, though, they are moving away from straight "matching" in search algorithms and towards models that incorporate logic and probability. The new ranking system takes elements like the popularity of a page, social indicators, and even the way past searchers have treated the results into account.

That takes the power away from technical SEO "specialists" and puts it in the hands of the best content creators and distributors. Post-Hummingbird, the websites with the highest search rankings aren't necessarily going to be the ones that have the perfect keyword density, or the highest number of inbound links, but the most information, relevance, and credibility.

If you aren't prepared to undertake the challenge of creating strong content that's targeted directly at your most important buyer personas, you're going to be left behind on Google by other companies that are.

If Google's latest Hummingbird algorithm update is affecting your business, then looking for another set of short-term tricks isn't likely to help you. Your declining traffic is probably a sign that your company (or your web team) has been slow to catch up to current trends in search engine optimization, and hasn't been emphasizing quality over quantity in your content.

In other words, it's time to start giving Google and its billions of users what they want, rather than what they have accepted in the past.

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By Randy Milanovic

Randy Milanovic

Randy Milanovic

Principal & Author, Kayak Online Marketing

Randy is author of 2 books: Findability: Why Search Engine Optimization is Dying + 21 New Rules of Content Marketing, and Building a Better Business Website. He is the Prinicipal of Kayak Online Marketing.

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Comments

ubersocialmedia
Posted on December 10th 2013 at 10:52AM

Good article Randy. The most important thing definitely is to figure out why a penalty has occured and like you, with all the clients I work with, the reason is always SEO that was done, in many cases several years ago, using technniques which used to work, but that are now having the exact opposite effect.

A lot of manual work is generally necessary to pinpoint potential all potential causes - reversing them or 'de-optimising' takes time, and it takes even more time for penalties to be lifted, so it's important that people realise that once they identify and correct bad/old techniques, that they won't bounce back up over night and in many cases it can take several months to recover.

Randy Milanovic
Posted on December 16th 2013 at 11:38PM

I read that a company making a massive disavow managed to bounce back very quickly. Matt Cutts explained that the mass effort was a clear signal to Google that the site was taking the bad links seriously.