It has been a few months since Google implemented changes to its search infrastructure. This change, called Hummingbird, is intended to address more complex search queries by making it faster for searchers to find precisely what they want. With mobile search on the rise, Hummingbird also impacts conversational types of keywords to better match results to the query.

The focus is no longer on just keywords but on the overall meaning of the search phrase. In addition, long-tail keywords (keyword phrases that contain more than three keywords), which have always been beneficial for attracting highly targeted users, are increasingly important as well. With more and more users speaking their search terms into a mobile device, how people are searching is changing… and so are the results.

How-to related query performance

 My impression is that the search assumes that people are often looking for the answers to questions—and frequently, a how-to article can answer those questions. How-to posts and articles are ranking higher in the search results than in the past. To test that theory, I took a look at the search engine traffic results for the popular website Wikihow. A marked increase in traffic to this how-to site is apparent around the time that Hummingbird was released. That’s a good indicator that how-to content is valuable as part of your overall strategy.

Hummingbird also impacted paid search

Not only is this affecting organic search, but also paid search. In some broad match search marketing campaigns, we’ve seen a 14 percent increase in clicks and a 50 percent increase in impressions on how-to related queries in the last 30 days versus two months ago. In this new search algorithm, we’ve also discovered that pages can rank for keywords other than what SEO has optimized for—there is more semantic intent in the search results. A focus on long-tail SEO strategies and development of quality content will help SEO managers stay on top of these changes. I also recommend reviewing paid search queries and parsing the data to see what questions users are asking so you can tailor future content strategies toward answering those questions. But if you don’t want to burn a little paid budget for keyword discovery, the related keywords area within the Google search engine results page (SERP) is also a good place to look when thinking about semantically related keywords.

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Should SEO managers make strategy changes?

The short answer? As usual, it depends. It appears that Google is trying to vary the results for a particular query to answer questions in different ways and to essentially make the Google SERP a topic page for a given keyword. This could mean that topic pages and subcategory level pages might be less important to Google in the future, and it may be advisable to think about how topic or subcategory pages play into your overall content architecture and business objectives.

Although there are some exceptions to the rule, typically Google does not like to land users on search results pages from its own search result page because it causes the searcher to have to do two searches. The same idea would be true if Google starts to turn the SERP landscape into a topic page for each keyword. A topic page within the Google SERP in the future might be a page that answers search queries by approaching it from different angles. So, not only would the search find the answer to the main query but also results pages that cover related topics and concepts. This may include information that relates to background information relating to the search topic, too. I see this change as a step toward how Google goes about finding the most relevant page by using new ways of establishing relevancy.

I don’t advise creating pages simply to conform to the new changes, but creating useful content that answers user questions is more important than ever. By combining keyword best practices and factoring in ways to better answer user questions and searches for content, we can achieve even greater SEO results.

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