Reach for the stars

With the recent ‘Hummingbird’ announcement from Google, made on their 15th birthday, Semantic Search seems cemented at the core of Google’s algorithms. Search Engine Land gave a good overview of the change that has impacted over 90% of searches and is seen as possibly the biggest algorithm update ever!

Any doubt about the implementation of semantic search at Google has now been removed, indeed Hummingbird has been active for a month now and any impact on search traffic should already be apparent. So lets have a look at what that impact is, particularly for small to medium businesses.

More accurate search

If you remember from last week’s article, we now know that semantic search places more emphasis on understanding the intent of the search, and if possible uses knowledge of the person making the search to refine the results further still.

Some of the Hummingbird algorithm is about using the whole query, rather than picking certain keywords out and using them as the basis of the search. Other parts are about understanding a series of queries, so that the same keywords don’t have to be repeated each time.

This is a huge shift in the intelligence of search on the input side of the equation, and for small businesses trying to attract web traffic it can mean that certain tactics may no longer work. For instance, if you previously got significant traffic from optimising pages on your site for misspellings of a popular keyword or phrase, then you’ll probably find that traffic dropping off even more now (Google have been correcting misspellings for some time, though).

I’m not aware of any hard data on the subject, but it seems reasonable to assume from the growth of smartphones and from Google’s increasing emphasis on interpreting longer search sentences accurately, that voice search is an subset of search that is growing significantly. If this is the case, then it will be more usual for people to ask a ‘natural language’ query of Google search than to ask a one or two word query, as they would if typing.

Missing keywords

Another impact of this change is that you may find traffic hitting your site even though the phrase they used for that particular search doesn’t contain the keyword for which you have optimised the page.

How? Consider the example voice search we saw in last week’s article…

A person searches for information about ‘Thanksgiving’ as is returned details about Thanksgiving in the US. Their next search is ‘I meant the Canadian one’, and in the context of those searches Google knows to return results for Thanksgiving in Canada.

So if you have a page optimised for ‘canadian thanksgiving’ that appears on page 1 of the results, it’s feasible that searches without that phrase will still find you.

At first glance this seems great (and it’s certainly not a bad thing), but you need to be careful when measuring the effectiveness of your SEO efforts that you take this into account. After all, if you decide to change the page’s keyword to something else on the basis that not enough searches for ‘canadian thanksgiving’ are resulting in visits, then you could end up shooting yourself in the foot!

 It’s early days for this kind of search, and right now many of the data sources that Google uses to provide this information are the likes of Wikipedia and not SME sites. However, there has recently been some indications that the so-called ‘knowledge graph’ is starting to pull information from smaller websites that demonstrate a high degree of trustworthiness. In other words, they contain accurate information that is shared and visited by subject-area experts.


This aspect of Semantic Search is likely to have a relatively minor impact on organic search traffic, and indeed could even result in a boost for certain phrases. But there are other algorithm changes that have the potential to be more penal unless you ensure your website, and other aspects of your SEO strategy, are correctly aligned.

A prime example is Authorship markup. This is a term used to describe how content is linked to your Google+ profile, which Google are promoting as the hub of your personal online identity. Through a relatively simple process, the content that you create on your website, or on other sites/blogs/etc, is tagged with your Google+ profile address. This is a process I will describe in more detail in a future article.

Once that link is in place, the SEO benefits of that content flow through to you, and on to your business. Over time, the accumulation of SEO goodwill from your articles will result in a growing Google reputation, and increasing trust in your authority in relevant subject areas.

Its important to state that, at the moment, there is no indication that authorship has any direct impact on the ranking of a page in search results. But as Mark Traphagen says in his article, there are definite side-benefits to authorship that can have a positive impact on search traffic and rankings now.

It is also important to see where the wind is blowing as far as search is concerned, and Google have made it very clear that authors that produce fresh, relevant, original content will continue to have an advantage over other types of content.

So what should you, as a business, do to position your organic SEO strategy for the present and the future? 

Steps to take now

  1. Create a Google+ profile
    Whether or not you agree with Google’s strategy for adding a social layer to their products, the fact remains that they are using Google+ IDs to validate the whole authorship process.

    We’ll look at the important aspects of your Google+ profile in next week’s article.

  2. Make your website Google-friendly
    Google has certain expectations of websites when it comes to the way they are organised. Ensuring that all these are in place, and in particular that appropriate links back to your Google+ ID and, if it exists, your company’s Google+ page, are important to ensure that the SEO value of the content is attributed correctly.

    Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at how our favourite website content management system, WordPress, can be configured to ensure all the boxes are ticked. Don’t worry if you use another CMS, or none, though. The same principles apply to every site.

  3. Write regularly
    Producing regular content in your area of expertise will do a number of things. Firstly, it starts building up a body of work that demonstrates to Google that you are a source of knowledge on a particular subject.

    Equally important, it begins to raise your profile amongst peers and the wider community, although you need to give it a helping hand too (as we’ll see).

    Your own blog is an ideal way of enabling this, although not essential. You can guest blog, or add articles to appropriate forums. There’s even a strong argument for using  Google+ as your publishing platform. Whatever approach you take you need to ensure that the content you produce is linked back to your Google+ profile appropriately.

    Over the next few weeks we will take a look at some strategies you can employ when creating content to ensure it draws people back time and time again. Google loves that!

  4. Share your content
    Whilst “If you build it, they will come” may have worked in the film ‘Field of Dreams’, it really doesn’t work with online content. In order to get people to view, and appreciate, your hard work, you need to let them know that it’s there.

    Social media has proven to be a great way of getting that notification out to interested parties. Each platform has its foibles and techniques, though, and it pays to understand them to some extent before you come across as a spammer. The good news is that you’ll already have created a Google+ account, and good interaction on there can be more effective in SEO terms than on other profiles.

    Again, we will have a look at ways of using social media effectively in a later article.

  5. Measure the impact, and feed that back into the loop
    It’s very rare for someone to get all this right from the beginning. So we will look at ways in which you can measure how effective your strategy is, and how you can use that information to tweak your processes.


Optimising your website to the nth degree won’t help if your product/service isn’t in demand, and you don’t have great content to promote it. That should always be your first reality check.

However, assuming you have a great product, and you can communicate your passion for it in an effective way, then following the steps outlined above will maximise the chances that you will benefit from organic search traffic. In other words, you will receive visits to your website from people at the very point at which they are looking for a product like yours.

It doesn’t get much better than that!


Want to learn the detail? My next article will look at getting your Google+ profile set up correctly and linked to your website. You can sign up to monthly newsletter updates in the sidebar. You can also follow me on Google+, like our Facebook page, hook up on LinkedIn or follow us on Twitter…all below.

Image courtesy of Marilyn

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