It's been a few months now since Google unveiled its new search algorithm, that mysterious calculation it uses to determine your website's position in the search results. They called this new beast Hummingbird.
Still feeling the pangs of Panda and Penguin, announcement of another animal-named algorithm change sent the dread factor to 11 for business owners who lost traffic to those two previous website killers.
Hummingbird. Sounds busy, right?
Sounds like it's going to hover in place in a death flutter and drain your sweet rankings right out of the search results. Another precious-sounding animal whose modus operandi is to ruin your online presence.
Even worse, it wasn't an update, but a complete rewrite of how search works. The first full rewrite of Google's algorithm in nearly thirteen years.
Google said the search engine overhaul would affect 90 percent of searches. Panda and Penguin claimed to affect only 12 and 3 percent, respectively, and they destroyed rankings for many popular websites. Who would ever survive 90 percent?
But It's All About the Conversation
Google's thing is to make its search engine think more like a human when answering queries.
Said Amit Singhal, Google's search chief, "Hummingbird is primarily aimed at giving Google's search engine a better grasp at understanding concepts instead of mere words."
So, Hummingbird's main focus isn't websites. It's users.
It looks at the entire phrase a user types into the search box and tries to put that whole string into context instead of picking out a few key words in the string.
Does it do that? Well, Google says it does. There isn't really a metric to measure against on our end of things. But Google's goal has always been to make search smarter and over the past several years they've implemented several tools to make conversational search work.
And you should expect that shift to affect how your content is looked at and weighed for ranking purposes if you depend on organic traffic.
In the end, it's less about keywords and more about meaning.
So Are Keywords Useless?
Not at all. Keywords are absolutely necessary.
Take a query like "what's the name of that movie with that guy that does that thing and causes all that stuff to happen?"
Google doesn't know the answer. Only Brandon knows the answer. (Brandon is the developer at Merry Fools and he has a curious talent for accurately identifying our team's vague movie queries.)
But Google doesn't have a Brandon. So keywords are still very relevant. For both user and content.
You still need keywords in your header elements and page structure for SEO purposes, but you should be focusing content on your audience's needs and not what keywords you want to rank for.
Besides, with organic keyword data obfuscated in Google Analytics, there's no accurate way to gauge keyword rankings anyway.
What's the Bottom Line for Your Business?
If anything, you might have noticed traffic picking up. That is, if you've been writing meaningful content that answers the questions your audience is looking to have answered.
And that's what I like to stress in these content posts.
Your website is more than a mere business card. It is where you establish your business as an authority presence in your industry.
Your goal online is to be the go-to business that people think of when they decide to make a buying decision.
You do that by creating content that addresses their problems. That content builds up your authority and your authority builds trust for your business.
If Content is king, Trust is the coup d'état.
But it's not as easy as "write it and they will come." We are amidst a content tsunami and 2014 is predicted to be a washout. How will your content rise above the crowd when there is so much of the same available for your industry?
Google Authorship, Author Rank and Social Proof
Authorship imparts Trust in this brave new Google.
You've seen the faces beside results in the SERPs, right? That's Google Authorship in action.
Studies show results with author profiles receive better click-through rates, often outperforming number one positioning.
One caveat, getting authorship to work for you requires you to break down and open that Google+ account you've been reluctant to open. This is advised for everyone who regularly contributes content for your business.
Where linking used to be the way to gain higher rankings, authorship can influence the rankings of content on which that author's name appears.
It's all part of that trust factor.
Author rank is a speculation in the SEO world, but having authorship markup in your content helps Google identify the experts in a field and present content that is better suited to a user's query.
Authorship is just one piece of the puzzle, though. There's also social proof to consider.
Social proof is having your content shared, liked, pinned, tweeted, linked, and so on. It is also customer reviews, testimonials, endorsements and PR, but by far the easiest way to attain social proof is through social media.
Social Media Optimization Is the New SEO
Google has increased the value of social endorsements of all kinds. Which is reasonable.
If Hummingbird is to reach a better understanding of human queries and achieve a human-like response, it only makes sense to consider social interaction in its metrics for ranking content.
It's just more of the popularity contest that Google has always used to measure rankings. Where at one time it was quantity of links to your web property that measured its popularity and increased your rankings, now it is how many people interact with your content.
That means your content has to be more "like" able and more engaging than ever to get noticed.
So, with social media optimization, you're creating content that generates shares across social media and other networking websites.
And Make Sure Your Content Is Mobile
There's no doubt Hummingbird and conversational search is geared toward mobile devices and new wearable devices that can utilize hands-free search. If mobile is the future of the web, the future is now.
Optimizing content for mobile is essential. Google actually penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly.
And responsive design is the way to go. Instead of different sites for different devices, design one site to rule them all.
Make sure your content is easy to consume. Breaking up paragraphs into a few sentences makes it easier to follow than a huge wall of text, especially on a phone. For a list of blog articles, don't include excerpts. Titles that concisely describe your content are enough.
In short, keep it simple.
Search has changed, with personalization at the forefront. Content is no longer about ranking for keywords, but including semantic language in your content to satisfy user queries. Make it compelling and make it sociable.
In the end, Hummingbird isn't bad for business. It's allowing business to be better for users.
Phil Foxwell is the senior copy writer and SEO consultant at Merry Fools. Follow Phil on Google+ and learn the ONE secret handshake that will get you into any SEO circle. Not really, but it's a good place to continue the conversation.