Search is the primary way we actively discover new things. Every month, there are 115 billion Internet searches, with 22 billion searches conducted in the United States alone. Last month, the information that we discover when searching Google changed radically. From a business perspective, billions of dollars in search traffic was suddenly routed from old places to new, creating a different slate of search winners and losers.
What happened? On September 26th, Google announced it had quietly introduced the most significant change to its core search engine in a decade, with a release called “Hummingbird.” For years, SEO experts have reported updates to Google’s search algorithms, including a series of changes nicknamed “Penguin” and “Panda.” These two updates, however, represented modest updates to the existing Google algorithm and typically affected 10 to 15 percent of Google’s search results. Hummingbird is not an update. Hummingbird is an entirely new core algorithm that incorporates more than 200 different factors, some of which were part of the old algorithm, and some of which are new.
What’s new? Google updates algorithms periodically to connect people with the information they seek more efficiently. The new algorithm adds significant focus to two things:
- Natural language processing (NLP): Google now uses NLP to better understand what searchers seek to learn.
- Google’s knowledge graph: The company’s method of mapping the semantic web to surface relevant information for the searcher. In effect, Google shifted from a system that was based on pure keyword matching to one where the search engine tries to figure out the information you are searching for, in context, and deliver that information to you. Danny Sullivan described the knowledge graph in detail when it first appeared in May, 2012.
Google reports that the new algorithm changed approximately 90 percent of search results presented to users.
Why change? Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information. Generally speaking, Google changes core algorithms to help people find useful information more easily. One driver for natural language processing is that, over the past few years, we have begun to search for information using mobile devices with increasing frequency. When we search on mobile, we often search by speaking full sentences. On a laptop, for example, we might type “pharmacy, Boston, South End” into the search box on Google.com. Using our smartphones, however, we are more likely to search “Find a pharmacy nearby” and rely on Google to leverage our location to provide results. NLP helps Google understand our query, allowing Google to look for pharmacies nearest the mobile device we’re using to search.
In a keyword driven system, Google would have simply looked for the keyword “pharmacy” in its search results. Using its knowledge graph (their approach to semantic search), Google also recognizes that Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens are all pharmacies and that Target and Walmart have pharmacies inside them. Google will show these options to us when we search for the word pharmacy, even if that keyword is not listed prominently on those sites.
So what should you do? There have been a number of articles suggesting that, with this change, SEO is now dead. That is definitely not the case. This new release makes understanding how consumers search more important than ever. Crafting original content that addresses mobile search phrases (as well as laptop searches) will continue to drive meaningful, earned search traffic to marketers and publishers. Understanding the knowledge graph and helping Google organize your web content by feeding it clues is equally important. Here are five tips to help you out:
- Understand Google’s knowledge graph. Google seeks to organize the world into people, places, and things. It then breaks up each of those categories into sub segments, for example places might be “countries, cities, parks, etc.” (each of which is a type of place) and people might be “actors, elected officials, business leaders, etc.” Each type has certain attributes that Google knows searchers might want to know. Harrison Ford, for example, is a person. People have certain attributes like birthplace, age, gender, and marital status. Harrison Ford is an “actor,” and actors have other attributes like movies and television shows they have been in, and the roles they have played. Similarly, “movie” is a type of thing. Movies will have certain attributes like a director, a set of actors, a release date, and a genre. Google would map Harrison Ford to each of his movies and vice versa, allowing Google to provide the user with much better information in its results than simply a set of pages that might include that information.
- Create amazing web content. This one is easy: Google is getting better and better at finding great original material. If you want to reach customers when they look for information, and have Google recommend your content highly when they do, create really terrific content. Do it consistently. And focus your publishing on an area where you can demonstrate expertise.
- Weave your content into the knowledge graph. Before you publish your content, identify the people, places, and things that it refers to and call out those that are frequently searched to Google. The Skyword Platform does this automatically for you. When your authors have finished their work, we scan it and identify the people, places, and things found in the content. The image below shows some of the topics that Skyword’s content marketing platform found for this piece of content.
- Socially promote your content and encourage your authors to do so consistently. Google watches social signals to understand what content is most valuable to people who read and consume it. Promoting your content, especially on Google+, and by having your writers use Google Authorship, helps drive better placement for what you create.
- Measure how you perform, analyze your successes and failures, and adjust. Search analytics platforms like Conductor or BrightEdge, or content platforms like Skyword’s that integrate search performance measurement, will show you what’s working well and where your content isn’t performing. Consider where Google is rewarding your work most when adjusting your plan each quarter.
Following these simple steps will help ensure that your content captures an even larger share of the billions of dollars in search traffic that Google sends across the web. To learn more about how Skyword’s Platform can help you capitalize on Google’s new release, please contact us. I’d love to hear your questions and suggestions, so please tweet @tomgerace and @Skyword.
Photo credit: Flickr contributor Fortherock