In the weeks since Google’s Hummingbird update, SEOs from around the Web have been trying to figure out what the heck it was all about. Most of us saw no appreciable change in rankings, up or down. And we know it has to do with speed, but now we’re learning that it also has to do not just with semantic search, but with “entity-based search.”
What does that mean?
We have all grown up online learning that pages were the cornerstone of search. What you did on-page and off-page were very important to search rankings. Then, more than a year ago, we started hearing about Authorship and Authority, and how these things would change the face of search.
That may be what Hummingbird is more about – finding out who you are and what type of clout you have online. How big is your site? How much relevant and engaging content do you have published? Who’s reading your stuff, and are they interacting with it? Every bit of that is important these days.
Nobodies will rank no more?
Think of it as a popularity contest, in a way. Are you a respected source of information on the Internet? What are your connections? Who Are You? Who-Who? Who-Who?
For a couple of years, I’ve seen more and more evidence that Google is wiping Mom & Pop off the map and leaning toward entity-based search. If you can’t write – be gone! If you don’t have a bazillion social media followers – you’re out! And if you don’t write for respected publications and make a difference in your niche, well… You get the idea.
Google wants to be the new Yellow Pages, but much better. They want searchers to not only find information they’re looking for, but find information that is important, well-written, and authoritative. Though you can pay for positioning, organic traffic is free. That's always good for the bottom line.
Of course, this new entity-based model benefits Google by making their search results pleasing to searchers, which (let’s face it) is their business, but it certainly doesn’t benefit the millions of people who believe they can still come online and make a gazillion dollars from nothing. It’s still happening, but not as often, and certainly doesn’t happen as easily as it did in the past.
What other SEOs are saying
One important thing about search that the average person in a one-person business often overlooks is that it’s critical to keep your ear to the ground. I understand if you’re a busy e-commerce shop owner running a one-man show, it’s hard to do. And still, if you want the free organic traffic and conversion that Google provides… You either need to keep your head up or hire someone to keep theirs up for you.
And believe it, other SEOs around the Web are finding the same things I am about this new way to think about search.
Justin Briggs wrote in his blog, “I’m also tempted to propose that ‘entity search’ could even be considered its own vertical in a sense, in the same way local, images, and social results are – with entity results being weighted when search queries trigger this vertical.”
He also goes on to say that entities can be people (both celebrity and non-celebrity), movies, brands, etc. An entity has roots that have grown deep into the Web.
For example, if you write a lot for the Web, you can be an entity yourself. But if you write an article that people consider to be the canon on a topic, that article becomes the entity. I suppose another way to define an entity is anything online that is important, something or someone that people like, find helpful, and talk about.
Stephen Kenwright wrote, "Like Caffeine, Hummingbird is an infrastructure update – the new algorithm allows Google to incorporate new technologies; much like Caffeine paved the way for Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird will enable new updates that will improve the quality of search results and weed out the spam."
I agree. I think Hummingbird is just another step to crush SEO as we have known it. I know, we’ve heard that so many times before, but as I mentioned in my last article, Matt Cutts let the cat out of the bag when he mentioned leveling the playing field so that “…people don’t do SEO.” They have been trying to get us to stop manipulating results for years – not so much the white hat people, but the people who are trying to game the system.
I’ve never been one for that. I knew that gray and black hat tactics work for a while, but eventually the day comes when all the work you’ve done to get onto page one is garbage and you’re in the clean-up position or on the move to another domain position. Who needs that?
And I truly believe that Google, Bing and all the other search engines want us to help them figure out what’s what. They still need us to do that for them – to date. And yet, they’re looking forward to the day when the “entity” will be King or Queen of search, not the SEO.
What to do?
Mary Weinstein wrote a good article about how all the recent Google shifts are stacking up to make entity based search and semantic search reality.
Keyword “not provided” data in Google Analytics is also part of this plan. And I agree with her assessment of what’s to be done to make this work for you or for your clients. Two of the ways she mentioned are, in my opinion, crucial:
- “Optimize your Google+ Local Business Page”
Super important! Make sure you do this, and if you don’t have a G+LBP page, get one. I sometimes work with businesses that have little funding for SEO, and one of the most important things I do for them is to simply get them right with G+LBP. This is important for any entity with products and location and it’s free. Why wouldn’t you do this one simple thing?
- “Include business images for the Google Carousel”
This is huge, especially when businesses are showing up at the top of the page in the carousel for “pizza,” for example. Use some high-quality photographs of your building (if you have one), of your products, of your employees – any images that people may see in the carousel, be interested in learning more about, and are driven to click on. Search for pizza in your area and you’ll see not only Pizza Hut and Domino’s but also small shops who have taken the time to upload some great pictures.
One of my own additions to this list would be to make sure your site is as fast as it can possibly be. Test it at Pingdom.com, which measures how quickly your page loads. Fix anything that’s bogging your pages down and making them load slowly.
One BIG thing I see in clients’ sites a lot are images that aren’t resized and compressed. If you’re taking images right from your cell, tablet, scanner or other digital source, they’re going to be Gigantor-sized. Be sure to make images you put on your site as small in filesize as they can possibly be.
The other thing is not taking advantage of browser caching. This means your site temporarily stores an image of your page on the visitor’s browser cache. That way, when they come back to your site, they’re seeing the image of the page that’s stored in their browser and not the actual site page, unless it’s been updated since you visited last. Or, when they press the back button, they don’t have to wait for the page to load because their computer already has a copy of it.
However, there are tons of things you can do to make you pages run faster, and you should do at least some of them. Faster is better. Slower is loss of sales.
Keep your ears open
Remember, Google changes all the time. Some changes they tell us about, and others they do not. Still, if you’re a student of search, you can almost feel changes in your bones like the weather. If you’re not tuned to search and still want organic traffic (and we optimize for Google because it’s not just the Big Dog, but the trendsetter), you need to look and listen, or hire someone else to do it for you.
The days of throwing up a site, putting a bunch of keywords into your title and description behind the page, and into the copy on the front of your page are over. Buying backlinks will crush you. Tactics you learned in 2006 or even 2010 just don’t work anymore. In fact, some of them could hurt more than help you.
Become an authority in your niche and show people what you know. If you write well, it’s a good idea to get articles published on sites where they’ll make the biggest bang. If you don’t know how to write or don’t want to write, pay someone to write for you. Take photos and post them to Google+, Instagram and wherever else you have a social presence. Create videos and slideshows. Be the go-to person who answers questions on sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers. Show search engines that you know your stuff and are eager to share what you know with others. (Isn’t that a good Web Karma-building, tool?)
Then, and only then can you or your brand become an “entity.” Forget authorship as the Golden Ticket. It’s important, but it’s not the whole foot-long sub.
My point is: Everything you do online is being watched these days. I mean, think of yourself as a variety show host, who has to continually bring in lots of acts that are relevant and interesting. The days of “The Ed Sullivan Show” might be over, but this same concept is just warming up online. You need to be a virtuoso performer in several disciplines. Who can do all of that?
Here’s the thing: If you’re not, you probably won’t find huge success, at least in terms of search. Google, for example, seems to be wanting entities that can afford to do things right. I mean, would Target, as an example, put out an ad that wasn’t well-done and engaging?
We’re Probably Being a Tad Dramatic
I’m hoping that it’s not really that dramatic a change from what we’ve become used to online – several entities and a few nobodies, and maybe it isn’t.
Yet, you can still come out ahead in search and just in business period, if you’ve got the chops or can pay to do it all. And I do believe that Google would encourage dynamic entities, even if the company, thing or person wasn’t a household name.
In conclusion, realize that you need a plan for moving forward. Don’t forget that everything accumulates online. The article you wrote today will probably still be around 10 years from now. And think about all that you have written or what you’ve produced in that time. You’ll have a body of work. If it’s knowledgeable and engaging work, you’ll be the “entity” Google wants to see.
What’s your plan for improving your entity-ship today? I’d love to hear some ideas in the comments below!
Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager for her digital marketing company, MagnaSites.com, which handles everything from site construction to mobile marketing, copywriting, editing and SEO. View Pat's last article for SEMrush, "Are Keywords Singing Their Swan Song?" here.