Driven by the migration of internet access to mobile devices with voice search capabilities, Google completely changed its ranking algorithm in August of 2013 with an objective of improving the relevancy of search results. While this has always been the primary objective of the search engine, the new algorithm, named Hummingbird, was also retooled to base results on conversational queries as posed using voice commands on mobile devices, rather than keyword-based terms that are typed into the search bar. Generally speaking, conversational search terms are longer than a typed query, which enables the algorithm to get a better sense of the context of the search when determining results, rather than calculating returns and relevancy based on the number of keywords on a page that happen to match the search term.
Here are three areas of SEO that have been affected by this massive change:
- Keyword-centric SEO campaigns are basically dead – Basing the returns on keyword-centric searches was always problematic for Google, due to the wide margin for error when returns were based on a couple of keywords. This problem was exacerbated further due to the fact that their previous ranking algorithms based the relevancy of results on the percentage of keywords within the content on a page. Whether this type of content was being produced to manipulate the algorithm or just had keywords that didn’t match the context of the search, the returns often had listings that carried no value for searchers.
- Content development – With Google’s assessment of keyword density being discounted substantially, the new focus is on content that provides information, answers, and/or solutions to longer conversational search terms. In terms of content development, the companies that will benefit the most from the Hummingbird algorithm will be the ones that successfully define the ways that people using mobile devices search for their businesses, products, and services and then publish on and off-site content that satisfies those searches.
- Social actions are the new links – This isn’t to say that links are no longer important, but successful SEO campaigns now must develop a few high quality links rather than setting up backlinks by the thousands. At the same time, social actions such as the sharing of content are carrying increasing weight in the new ranking algorithm.
Google has long expressed its desire to surface informative content that addresses search queries directly. If your SEO strategies have already been designed around these parameters, the switch to conversational search is very much in your favor. If you’re still going “old school” with your SEO work, the time to make changes is right now.