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What 3 big Google updates mean for your SEO strategy

James A. Martin | Oct. 17, 2013
Recent changes to Google's search algorithm, its keyword planner tool and the availability of search query data may have you rethinking your SEO and online marketing strategies, but experts say it's best not to overthink things.

In recent months, Google has made three significant changes to its offerings. Each has both minor and major implications for search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing.

Google remains by far the dominant search engine, with 67 percent of the overall market, according to comScore. Whenever it revises, gets rid of, adds to or otherwise changes its search-related services, then, search marketing professionals take note.

The three recent updates are Google Hummingbird, which is a complete overhaul to Google's search engine algorithm, the encryption of all search data and the switch to the new Keyword Planner tool.

SEO and online marketing professionals say the cumulative effect of these changes underscores the growing importance of three things: Optimizing for natural language and mobile search, not focusing too intently on keywords for SEO and, above all, keeping your sites set on regularly publishing high-quality content.

Now more than ever, says Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, an SEO, social media and guest blogging service, you need a "solid content marketing strategy."

Google Hummingbird: Now Supporting 'Conversational Search'
What is it? On Sept. 26, on its 15th birthday, Google announced it had dramatically rewritten its search algorithm for the first time in at least a dozen years. Google is calling the revamped algorithm "Hummingbird," according to Search Engine Land, because it's "precise and fast."

(In a surprise to many, Google also announced that the algorithm change had been in place for more than one month.)

"Google Hummingbird is a complete algorithm makeover, designed to do a better job of understanding the intent of long-tail search queries as well as spoken and natural language search queries," DeMers says. (A long-tail search query includes more than a few words. Google Hummingbird is a short-tail query, while What does Google Hummingbird mean for SEO? is a long-tail query.)
Hummingbird is meant to deliver the best results for "conversational search." Such queries are occurring more frequently as people ask questions of their smartphones - a habit that carries over to desktop searches as well.

What does it do? In a Google Hummingbird FAQ, Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan used the long-tail query What's the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home? as an example of how Hummingbird differs from the previous Google search engine algorithm.

With that iPhone 5s query, "A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words - finding a page that says 'buy' and 'iPhone 5s,' for example," Sullivan notes. Hummingbird, on the other hand, should "better understand the actual location of your home, if you've shared that with Google. It might understand that 'place' means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that 'iPhone 5s' is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words."


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