With the recent Hummingbird update to the Google’s search engine, it’s time for small businesses to review and adjust their online marketing strategy. I’ll review the three most important concepts business owners should be aware of and advise on how to move forward.
First off, let’s do a quick primer. What is Google Hummingbird? Hummingbird is an overhaul of their search engine, their biggest algorithm change in over a decade. In a nutshell, Hummingbird allows search queries to be more conversational and more like mobile searching. Instead of focusing on keywords to find local results, you can now type in longer, more conversational questions and get highly relevant answers. Mobile users have been doing this for a couple of years and these changes have finally come to Google’s desktop search.
Hummingbird also incorporates the Panda and Penguin updates, which means it filters out content and sites that use bad SEO techniques and are overly optimized. Hummingbird is a big step towards the future of search and businesses should be aware of the changes.
Below are the three keys to be aware of when developing your online marketing strategy.
Concept #1: You Can’t Do Crappy SEO
The most important concept, which should be obvious but is definitely worth exploring, is you can’t game search engines with crappy SEO any more. Keyword stuffing, link farming, over-optimizing backlink text, creating mountains of crappy content, none of these tactics will get you far. In fact, in many cases, doing bad SEO will get you penalized and dropped from SERPs…at which point it could take you months of work and thousands of dollars to fix.
To give an example, a client I work with had been paying for low quality backlinks for years, in turn dominating the top position locally in his niche. Google noticed and slapped the client with a with a penalty that dropped him from #1 for his search terms to page 5… making him virtually invisible. He saw a 70% decrease in organic traffic and a massive loss in business. The fix was equally painful, requiring a full link audit and contacting hundreds of websites to remove those low quality links, a process that took months to complete.
What does work? Stick to high quality SEO and best practices. These include activities like optimizing page titles, filling out attributes for links and images, having fast page load times, and procuring backlinks from high quality websites. Instead of farming out for thousands of low quality backlinks, businesses should look to earn backlinks from a handful of highly reputable sites. Fewer and higher quality is the name of the game when it comes to link building.
With Hummingbird, the future of SEO is pretty clear. You have to market yourself in an ethical and responsible way. Tricks are a thing of the past. Which is good news for everyone, because it means the businesses with the best products and services will rise to the top.
Look to reputable industry experts like Search Engine Journal and Moz.com for SEO best practices. Avoid so-called SEO experts who promise an immediate rankings boost or sell thousands of backlinks on the cheap.
Pro Tip #1: It’s a best practice to include your city in the page titles of your site. If you’re a luxury homes realtor in Atlanta, you can include “Luxury Homes Realtor in Atlanta, GA” as part of your page title. You want to tell Google you’re a local business and what you specialize in and this is one of the most effective ways to do it.
Pro Tip #2: Connect your website to Google Webmaster Tools and review your inbound links. Look for any weird or suspicious looking websites and explore them. If any sites look like “bad neighborhoods,” write their webmaster an email and request to have your link removed. A bad neighborhood is anything spammy, loaded with ads, asks for money in exchange for links, and otherwise looks crappy. I err on the side of caution here…if it even remotely looks sketchy, I ask for the link to be removed. It might mean I have fewer backlinks than my competitor, but my site will be protected in the long term.
Concept #2: Create Professional Content That Genuinely Helps People
Google rewards in-depth content and real expertise, so the next big key is to produce content that demonstrates an expertise in your industry. This should be written by an expert or a professional. Hire professional writers and researchers to create your content and avoid using less skilled labor like interns to churn out content. The rule of thumb is, if it reads like a $1000 article, it will do well on Google. If it reads like a $10 blog post, you’re not getting anywhere.
Related to this concept is Google loves authors and actual humans behind articles and not faceless marketing departments. Let your writers have bylines and get credit for their hard work. Attributing authorship makes your content more shareable on social networks and more accountable among your peers. You’re now adding a face to the name and increasing your personality in the online world.
With Hummingbird’s recent changes, you have to produce content that genuinely answers questions and helps people. You can’t create pages stuffed with keywords to bait customers into visiting your site. That doesn’t work any more.
Pro Tip: Have your webmaster add Google Authorship code to your website blog or news page. This will increase your visibility in organic results and puts a human face to the business. You should be seeing more and more of these popping up in Google results these days. If you’re using a platform like WordPress, adding Google Authorship code is a simple 5 minute task.
Concept #3: Embrace Google+
This may come as a surprise to some readers, but links from social networks are significant factors in Google rankings. The most significant of these is Google+. Wait, what?! That’s right, Google’s social network that you may or may not be using is now an important factor. Google is making a big push to get businesses on their platform by launching Google Places, which is essentially Google+ for local business.
If you need further evidence, see this article on Moz.com about the Top 20 Local Search Ranking Factors. The top 3 involve Google+ and having an owner-verified site on Google+ comes in at #8.
To get started, claim your business on Google Places. Log in with your Google account, find our business, and verify you’re the site owner. This will involve having Google send a postcard to your address with a code. Fill out your profile as completely as possible and spend a little time making your Google+ profile look lived in with photos and content.
Google wants to own search and social, so it makes sense they’re making Google+ an important factor and driving businesses to it. The good news is, most businesses aren’t using Google+ yet, so you can get ahead of the curve. After you’ve been verified and have a Google+ profile, start asking customers to leave reviews on your page.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve verified your Google Places account, communicate with your loyal fans through email and Facebook and kindly ask them to leave short reviews on your Google+ profile. Reviews are an important factor in rankings with Hummingbird, so you should immediately take advantage of this feature. For customers, a review can take less than a minute to fill out. Google+ reviews carry more weight than reviews from Yelp and other review sites.
Google has been cleaning up their algorithm for several years and they penalize shady SEO tactics and reward good online marketing. Hummingbird goes even further in this direction. Stick to best practices, produce high quality content from experts, and embrace Google+. If you’re already doing this, you’ll be in good shape and should be rewarded in search results. If not, review your online strategy and be prepared to make adjustments.
Consider hiring a reputable marketing firm to advise and work with you on your online marketing strategy if your business doesn’t have the in-house expertise. SEO and online marketing is a constantly changing landscape and can impact your business in a big way.