Your keyword strategy is wrong because Google made significant changes to their algorithm last week. The change represents a major shift in how Google ranks search results and, more important, a major shift in how we search the web today. The most amazing part of the news was that the algorithm change was made, and few of us knew it or recognized it until Google made a formal announcement. Before you join others in throwing up your hands, pulling out hair, or other expressions of frustration and generalized search-change angst, keep in mind that although your keyword strategy is wrong now, it can be fixed.
Several Recent Changes in Search
Google made several important changes in September and in the first 15 days of October. We have updated you in the past about Google Penguin, Google Panda, and about Google Penguin 2.0. It should not be surprising that there has been a Penguin 2.1 update (effective October 4, 2013). Many of us who work with SEO, search algorithms, and the like every day did not expect the next update for another four to six weeks. Thus, just as you were getting your mind around Penguin 2.0, Google hits you with more changes. But don’t panic.
The primary changes are the ability to crawl and analyze pages that are deeper in your website to identify spam activities. What do you need to do? The same thing we told you to do in May:
- Review your backlinks; identify any spammy links, remove them or disavow them.
- Stop spamming.
- Stop trying to game the system.
- Produce quality content, promote it, and trust that the cream will rise to the top.
All of Google’s recent updates and changes to its search functionality are intended to help the user find the right information faster and in more focused results. Penguin 2.1 updates are intended to improve Google’s ability to filter out spam and low-quality results. Google also introduced new interfaces and features in its iOS and Android apps. Again, the goal is a faster, easier, and more focused experience for the user. Google also upgraded its integration with the Knowledge Graph.
Another recent Google upgrade is the redesign of the search results page to include complete articles on the page. This change is a mixed blessing for marketers and for some businesses. While returning a complete article saves time, which is good, it also filters out a large number of other pages and articles. We are expected to trust Google’s search algorithms to identify the best or the most accurate piece of content to display, or to proceed to other page listings.
Perhaps the most important, and interesting, upgrade is the recent change (apparently largely unnoticed when introduced) to what Google is calling Hummingbird. The update is a response to changes in the way people search and the complexity of their questions. The new hummingbird algorithm affects 90% of search results, according to Google.
An increasing number of searches are phrased as questions. Google calls these conversation search queries. This trend reflects both how people enter searches with a keyboard and the ability to search by verbally asking a question using the voice. The hummingbird update, however, is a far more significant change than this.
Google wants to continue to be the leading search engine. To do that, Google must become so easy to use, so accurate in providing precisely the information you need, so quickly, and to penetrate the question you ask in order to understand the intent of your question, and then return the right information. This is a huge change.
The change from typing a keyword, getting a massive list of results, and clicking on links until we find the information we want to conversation search queries has been slow and gradual (some are calling it evolutionary). Over the past ten years or so, we have moved to adding additional words to our keywords in order to narrow and focus the pages returned by search engines. Voice search was probably the final step from qualifying keywords to simply asking the question we want answered. This evolution will certainly make search faster and it will return the specific results we desire.
On the other hand, for marketers, publishers, businesses, content producers, bloggers, and website owners, the hummingbird update has several important implications. Here are a few of the changes people in the industry are seeing thus far:
- Keyword stuffing is dead and buried.
- “Dumb” keyword optimization is over.
- Context is important for the search engine in understanding the intent of the question or the search (location, hyper-local factors, platform, device, etc).
- Knowledge graph will play a more important role in determining intent
- Content must now address reader intent, not just keywords.
- The content returned by Google’s search engine must be high quality, and it must answer broader questions. The most relevant pieces of content will rank higher.
- Your website or blog needs to be designed to help the search engine find your content.
- Authorship matters more. The search engine will rely on Google+ author profiles to correctly assess author authority.
- Old-school link building is dead and buried. Like other tricks (including keyword stuffing), the new search algorithm has outsmarted our efforts to make poor quality content rank high. Search ranking is clearly about the user now. Trick links will quickly become apparent to Google because people will quickly bounce from the site and because the content will not be shared via social media platforms.
- Links will continue to be important indications of high quality content that answers questions users are asking. Trying to game the system, however, will only result in penalties.
What do these changes mean for your search experience, your website, and your Keyword strategy? If you have been producing rich (high-quality), authoritative content that is relevant to the needs and interests of your target audience, the impact will be minimal. If, on the other hand, you have or your SEO expert has achieved some level in search rankings by old school keyword strategies, you need a complete makeover. If you have relied on any of the tricks to try to rank higher in SERPs, or if you are writing primarily to optimize for keywords, your keyword strategy is wrong. But you can fix it. You need to rethink and re-strategize your content and focus on the questions your customers and prospects are asking. Then answer their questions with high-quality, authoritative content that you place in appropriate contexts.