To say 2013 was a challenging year for search engine optimization professionals is indeed an understatement. Apart from the different Panda and Penguin updates that saw many sites suffering various degrees of organic traffic decline, the latest release of the Hummingbird algorithm a few days ago have greatly tasked search engine optimization professionals so much that the questions on the lips of SEOs right now are:
What is Google really up to?
What will the SEO terrain look like in 2014?
How can I make my website and website relevant in the scheme of things?
And of course, whether to continue with search engine optimization or to simply look for some other form of website traffic!
Must Read: Is SEO A Dead Web Marketing Strategy?
Now, because my “job” as an SEO web content writer is basically about helping brands drive organic traffic through optimized marketing content, keeping up with the constantly fluctuating array of updates in order to stay current with the latest trends had given me some insights about these questions. And so, in this article I intend to provide some answers to these questions as much as I can.
So if you are ready, let’s begin!
First, the Big One – The Hummingbird Algorithm!
Released a few days ago, the Hummingbird algorithm is definitely Google’s major change in recent times. A careful study shows that the panda and all the other update introduced by Google in the past couple of years were actually a build up to the launch of the hummingbird algorithm.
Here are a few insights to help you make meaning of the hummingbird algorithm:
1. The Hummingbird algorithm is a new complete rewriting of Google’s search algorithm. Unlike the Penguin and Panda updates which were simply changes to Google’s existing algorithm, Hummingbird is a complete replacement.
2. Hummingbird is designed to provide faster and more precise query results.
3. It is based on semantic search – that is, it focuses on user intent instead of individual search terms. What this means is that Google will no longer return search results based on individual words or phrases but rather based on each word in a search query. At least, this sort of explains why Google recently decided that search term data are now ’100% not provided!’ It is no longer about keywords but customer intent.
4. According to Google about 90% of all searches were to be affected by the release of the Hummingbird algorithm.
5. Though Hummingbird is a complete rewrite of Google’s algorithm many of the existing rules and weightings, for example PageRank, will still apply.
What will be the State of SEO in 2014?
Now, let’s turn our attention to what the SEO terrain will be like in 2014 considering the various changes introduced by Google. Some may say it is too early to really predict (can we really use that word since it is very clear already?) what the terrain will be like 2014. But from what we have seen so far, there is actually nothing for SEO professionals to fear in the coming year 2014 and beyond.
It only demands that one take a careful look at what Google has been releasing into the market and the picture will be clear indeed. If you have understood very well what the Hummingbird algorithm is all about (please read the insights above again) and you take that with the various panda and penguin updates that Google has pushed into the market over the past couple of years, you will understand that search engine optimization is not dead and so SEOs should not give up.
Rather SEO professionals who want to stay relevant should focus on the following proven SEO practices in 2014:
1. Be valuable with your content. This is very obvious. Instead of simply pumping out content, focus on providing value. As a business brand, identify your unique value proposition and become an authority in it. Position yourself to be the provider of answers to what people are seeking.
2. Trust is now the new king of search, therefore focus on pleasing your customers and not the search engines.
3. Be natural instead of keyword focused. It is clear that when conversing with a friend you will not continuously repeat a particular word or phrase over and over again even when you want to emphasize a point. Your marketing content must align to this. Put less emphasis on keyword data and more on customer engagement.
4. Focus on building relationships that could help in link acquisition instead of using some covert tactics to build links.
5. Hummingbird is about providing in-depth knowledge on a subject treated. Therefore be authoritative and transparent with your content. Get a grip on what semantic search and the knowledge graph are and adapt your content accordingly.
6. Your keyword research should focus on identifying the intent, needs and problems behind queries and then provide solutions and answers with your content.
7. Implement Google authorship and some other aspects of the Schema.org article markup like headline and alternativeHeadline, image, description, datePublished, articleBody, etc.
8. Make your site design appealing.
9. Mobile-ize your web properties. It is not an accident that in demonstrating the launch of Hummingbird Google decided to use images of its mobile app and not the desktop site. This shows that the future and by extension Hummingbird, will be more about mobile. It will be a plus therefore that you go for responsive themes for your sites (you can get some very cheap and powerful ones from this site). Creating mobile apps to power your online business will also be a great idea.
How about SEO beyond 2014!
It is definite that Google will continue to fine-tune the new Hummingbird algorithm in the years to come. But trying to predict what SEO will be like beyond 2014 is a tall order indeed. By jealously guarding the factors used in ranking websites Google has so far been able to outwit even the smartest SEO professional thus far.
However, with the launch of Hummingbird Google has made a categorical statement that it is moving towards “natural” when it comes to ranking websites/pages. There is therefore going to be a push towards improving this technology in the years to come.
So, beyond 2014 SEO is definitely going to be less focused on keywords and more on authority.
And do not forget that on the net authority is most times gauged by your circle of influence. This means that your connections and social media reach would play a big role in SEO beyond 2014.
My suggestion therefore is to grow your social networks. Focus most of your energy on Google plus and Youtube (I predict that Google would be pushing people towards these two in the years to come!) and then Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This does not mean other social media sites are not relevant. However, depending on your target market, always focus on these big ones before any other.
It is quite clear that SEO in 2014 and beyond is not going to be less challenging to search engine optimization professionals than what we have seen in 2013. Statistics already shows that many brands are now moving towards paid search as organic traffic continues to decrease (an indication that that Google’s game plan is working great for them!).
However, SEO professionals mustn’t give up. The noose may be tightening on organic search traffic but as long as Google still have a column in the SERPs for organic search results, what SEO professionals should work towards is a better understanding of what Google is driving at with the various updates and changes and then put in place a strategy, built on a few key time-tested tactics.
In creating content, brands must be more strategic and tactical and also focus on social relationships. They must also be more transparent and provide the consumer real value for their time as it is now clear that valuable, authoritative and customer-focused content would rule the search engines in 2014 and beyond!
Your turn: These indeed may be my thoughts but no doubt they reflect the views of many SEO professionals and experts. You too are an expert in your own way. So, what are your views on SEO in 2014 and beyond? Share with us in your comments below.