Google Hummingbird – Google Vs SEO

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The moment search engines came into existence, companies realised the importance of being on page 1 (and as high up as possible) of the results pages of Google.

This created an industry of people who employed both ethical and unethical techniques for getting websites ranked. Ever since, Google has been working hard to close loop-holes in its algorithm that allowed SEO experts to achieve a high ranking for a site at the expense of more deserving sites.

In the industry, it’s known as ‘White Hat’ and ‘Black Hat’ SEO. I see the world of SEO mimicking a very well known western movie, because there are three ways to optimise websites: The Good SEO, The Bad SEO and The Ugly SEO!

I am not going to cover the truly unethical techniques used by SEO Bandits (The Bad SEO) such as doorway pages and the like, but instead focus on The Good and The Ugly.

So what is ‘Ugly SEO’ and why is it spoofing?

Let me give you a few examples:

Originally, Google’s ‘simple’ algorithm put a great deal of emphasis on the metadata of each page. This is specific data held within the code of the site that describes what each page is about.

So, implementing Ugly SEO would mean packing the Title, Description and Keyword tags full of keywords so Google would read them and then rank the site against those keywords.

Soon, Google’s algorithm started placing far more emphasis on links from other websites pointing into your site (essentially seen by Google as an endorsement of your site) and the Ugly SEO experts went into overdrive by requesting reciprocal links, (whereby I link to you as long as you link to me) and link farms started sprouting up where you could get a link in a directory-type listing for free or for a small fee.

Both of these provided a nice a simple way to get lots of links into your site. Google didn’t much like that and soon starting discounting links to you where it found a link back to that site or where it found the links were coming from pages with hundreds or even thousands of outbound-links with no meaningful content.

But Ugly SEO was unstoppable and quickly adapted to the creation of circular links, where A links to B, B links to C, C links to D and D links back to A. In this way everybody gets a one-way link (the nirvana for link-building). Again Google quickly adapted by tracing the links from site to site and discounting links of a circular nature.

Another Ugly SEO technique was content keyword stuffing. In its earliest and ugliest form it involved placing a massive paragraph of keywords at the very bottom of the page. If they wanted to “hide” this ugly text from visitors, they would simply make the text the same colour (or one shade darker) than the background colour of the site. Google soon figured this out and starting ignoring or even penalising sites using this technique. More recently Ugly SEO would create text for websites where keywords were simply shoehorned into sentences in the most ridiculous way. For instance:

“If you need windows Dublin, then call us. We’re a Dublin windows company that sells windows in Dublin. Our quality Dublin windows are perfect for people looking for new windows Dublin…”

I think you get the idea and you might have even seen websites where there are paragraphs of text that literally say nothing and read just like this.

The bottom line is that Ugly SEO is a sledge-hammer smashing at Google’s ranking algorithm to wedge a website into position.

It’s a brute-force technique that can deliver results, but can equally not and in some cases can get your site penalised. But one thing is for sure; Google hates this type of SEO!

It’s a technique that monkeys with their ratings and fools them into ranking a site where it shouldn’t be. Google is all about delivering useful and honest results to visitors, after all a search engine lives and dies by the accuracy and usefulness of its results. So any attempt by a website to try and spoof the algorithm is definitely frowned upon and ultimately every hole they find, that allows Ugly SEO techniques to work, is plugged.

Conversely, ‘Good SEO’ is actually quite ethereal in that it’s not even SEO really. Rather than stuffing keywords in Metadata and web copytext, a Good SEO expert uses a small number of relevant keywords naturally in sentences that focus more on the reading experience rather than SEO. Instead of creating a huge number of links in a number of days/weeks (which some Bad and Ugly SEO services offer), the Good SEO expert builds links over an extended period of time through social media, blogging, Online PR and article writing – creating content that is compelling enough that people want to link to it.

But if Ugly SEO is a sledgehammer then Good SEO is a watchmaker’s toolkit. Delicately applying various parts to the mechanism to see how it then performs. The problem is that we can’t see the mechanism (Google’s Algorithm) as it’s a closely guarded secret. So Good SEO is actually more like peering at the watch from the outside and looking at the face with a magnifying glass trying to work out what is happening inside.

What Google does tell us is the kind of things they like to see. Quality, unique, naturally written content. The natural growth of links coming into your site, well structured websites with xml sitemaps and the like. Ultimately, the message is “do the right things and we’ll like you”. That ‘like’ is embodied by your PageRank score.

Of course many business owners don’t have the expertise or time to do all this and that’s where Good SEO practitioners come in. Patiently working away, doing the right things to get their clients’ sites noticed. But this takes time and data, both of which we don’t have (but for different reasons).

No Time For Good SEO

The problem with SEO is that it takes more time than clients have. They want results and they want it quickly. Of course that’s a natural desire as they want to get the phones ringing, but following Google’s Penguin, Panda and now Hummingbird algorithm changes, quick results are much, much harder to achieve.

This all means that more and more I am advising clients that if they need the phones to ring quickly, then Google Adwords is their best bet instead of, or while, working in SEO.

No Data For Good SEO

SEO is based on accurate data.

What are people searching for and how does your website rank for the keywords and phrases most important to you. I won’t bore you with the detail, but we used to have a myriad of tools that achieved both. Google’s Keyword Tool was the most important among them, giving us data on what people were searching for. Combine that with Google Analytics and you could identify what phrases actually triggered visits to your site. Then finally use one of the commercially available keyword tracking tools that would run searches on a list of keywords and look for a particular company name/url, so you could see where exactly it ranked.

Over the last few months major changes occurred in each of these areas. Google switched off their freely available Keyword tool, so now you MUST have a Google Adwords account if you want to use their new Keyword Planner.

The next thing they did was encrypt all their keyword data. You’ll notice now that if you go to www.google.com you will be taken to https://www.google.com. This is a secure and encrypted site and all the data about searches and volumes of search are all now hidden away. They don’t even show all the data in Analytics anymore. So it is near impossible to get completely granular with the keyword data.

Finally, the tools we used to track website ranking against a list of keywords simply stopped being accurate, with results varying wildly from what they really are if you do a manual search.

So, it’s harder still for Ugly SEO practitioners to get the data they need to spoof Google’s engine, but at the same time it’s also much harder for Good SEO practitioners to do the right thing. Ultimately this again means that clients opt for Google Adwords over SEO – a win-win for Google.

 Why Google Hummingbird Was Rolled Out

Google introduced Hummingbird silently in September and only officially announced its introduction in October 2013. It’s new algorithm was created to specifically cater for a key shift in how we are searching; the ‘conversational’ search. In the past when we searched, we tended to do so in a rather minimalist, disjointed and unnatural way, i.e. “window company Dublin”. The user searching for this might actually be searching for triple glazed sash windows, but in the past Google’s accuracy wasn’t high enough for people to put in very specific searches, so we used shorter, broader searches.

These days people are searching in a more natural and conversational way, so the same search would look like this: “where can I buy triple-glazed sash windows in Dublin?”.

But they are not just searching with their keyboard anymore. Voice-based search is becoming more and more popular, thanks to the rise of Smartphones and apps like Siri and Google saw the writing on the wall. So Hummingbird is a specific enabler for voice-based searches on any device.

It deals with location-based searches better too. So you can say “Where’s the nearest Chinese restaurant” or “Where is the cheapest iPhone 5 closest to me”. Google knows where you are (especially if you are using a smartphone or have shared details such as your home and work address in your Google account) so it can associate the thing you are searching for with your location and give you accurate results.

Linked searches are also more advanced, so the context of the subject matter is linked between searches. For instance:

Search 1 – How old is Tom Cruise?
Search 2 – Where did he go to school?
Search 3 – What movies has he starred in?

Previously there would be no relationship between these searches, but now Google knows that search 2 and 3 relate to your original search and so they show education and movie history about Tom Cruise. Again, this is something we do naturally conversationally, which never translated to typed searches – until now.

Hummingbird also takes a scythe to the rankings, so if you’ve seen your website drop off page 1 of the search results and into oblivion, it’s because Google thinks you are implementing Ugly SEO!

Another side to the Hummingbird engine is the expansion of the data on the search page itself and this is sending shockwaves through the online world. You’ll remember that the Google results page was typically a list of search results, with ads above and to the right of them. So if you wanted to find out about the cast of “Breaking Bad”, you would previously have seen website listings that you would have had to go into, one by one, until you find the site that had the information you wanted. But now Google scrapes information from various sites and displays a host of information about the subject matter in question, thereby helping you on their site.

Clearly, some people are rather upset about this development because of the use of their information and because of the impact it will have on visits to their website. But for me as a web user, it’s a good thing and therein lies the issue.

Does Google focus on what’s good for users or for the website owners?

It seems the users are winning out.

 Google Hummingbird – Final Thoughts

Google has become a company we cannot do without. As such they can do pretty much what they want and we have to like it. Undoubtedly their motives for this last release are four-fold:

  1. Enable more advanced search features for users
  2. Eliminate bad results from sites optimised with Ugly SEO
  3. Drive more businesses to use their paid services like Google Adwords
  4. Keep users on Google’s pages as much as possible

All this points to a whole new world for SEO and online marketing and nobody has worked out what the new landscape looks like yet.

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