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.


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.