Even though it certainly no longer qualifies as "news," a lot of the online marketing world is still grumbling, both privately and publicly, about the long-term effects of Google's Hummingbird algorithm update. More than a few businesses, not to mention website design companies, essentially think of it as the worst thing that could ever have happened... years of work literally undone overnight.
However, all of that traffic didn't just suddenly up and disappear. More people than ever are using Google's search bar (to the tune of 2 billion+ hits per day), so where is all that traffic going? And, what conclusions can we draw from the fact that we don't often hear from the "winners" in the latest round of the top-of-the-search sweepstakes?
Who's Coming Out Ahead After Hummingbird?
I'll begin by sharing that my own firm, Kayak Online Marketing, has done very well since Hummingbird. Using HubSpot, MOZ, Positionly and other keyword analysis tools, we can see that our site currently ranks highly in a number of different areas (positions vary daily), including: (to those who would say keywords don't count any more, I'll respond with a hearty, Oh yes they do!)
- 120+ top-three keywords in Canada (with more than 80 #1s)
- 220+ first-page keywords in Canada
- 65+ top-three keywords in the U.S. (which has more competition and is in our primary market)
- 120+ first-page keywords in the U.S.
These would be great results for a company 10 times our size, and yet we do very little in the way of "technical" search engine optimization. In fact, over the past year, we have implemented a strict 90% policy, meaning that we pay the vast majority of attention to putting together original, timely, and unique pieces of content (like this post) that speak to our most important target audiences.
The only challenge with this approach is that it requires a lot more upfront research and content crafting. And, I guess you could say that it requires some of our time and energy to keep up with comments and feedback on each piece of content that we post. But, that keeps us well away from the position that many of our peers found themselves in after Hummingbird - wondering where traffic went, complaining about things we can't control, and looking for the next shortcut or easy way to game the system.
If this sounds like I'm being overly harsh, understand that I'm not trying to condemn any of my peers or competitors, just to point out that it's always better to give your most important customers what they're looking for, rather than trying to rig your website (and eventually need to counter that rigging as well) to make it more appealing to search spiders.
That's been true since the first days of online marketing, but the current state of search technology is unmasking a lot of the individuals and organizations who tried to get away from that. In other words, the answers are more obvious than they've ever been.
How to Look at SEO - and Hummingbird - Now
Besides companies that have smart content building and engagement strategies, do you know who else never complains about Google algorithm updates? The answer is actual searchers. - RM
In other words, the folks who aren't dependent on Google for marketing aren't just supportive of what the world's largest search engine is doing, but actively supportive. They love that the company is doing all it can to take out spammy, redundant, and low-quality links. Neither they nor Google has anything against your business, they just want it to be easier to find the information and resources they are actually looking for when they type a query into the search box, rather than keyword-heavy pages that waste their time.
The way to look at SEO, and specifically search optimization in a post-Hummingbird world, isn't that it's getting harder, but that things are getting better. In order to come out on top, a business or marketer needs to be relevant, timely, and engaging. That's something we should all be shooting for all along.