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What Does Google’s Latest Hummingbird Update Mean for Professional Services Firms?

Over the month of September, you may have noticed a trend in your analytics: small, unexplained rises or dips in your website’s page authority and domain authority. Pages or posts that had never quite set the world on fire suddenly making notable gains. On September 26, Google resolved a month of confusion and curiosity by announcing not only a completely revamped search algorithm, dubbed Hummingbird, but confirming that Hummingbird had been flitting away under the hood of Google searches and analytics for the last month.

Hummingbird continues the trajectory of the last update, Penguin, aiming to privilege truly strong, useful material over keyword-riddled SEO bait. Unlike Penguin, Hummingbird is an entirely new algorithm – the most significant change in three years. And it alters how prospects find your firm online in some major ways.

Arguing semantics

Google recently announced that going forward, keyword data would not be available in Google Analytics. Hummingbird further disrupts the keyword practices of old by moving toward naturalistic or “semantic” queries.

Think about the sort of searches you likely make on a phone or tablet, perhaps by speaking rather than typing the request. “What’s the best Ethiopian restaurant in Alexandria?” “What’s with Google’s latest update?” This is search in the age of Siri and Google Glass – Hummingbird works to return the best possible results for an entire question, making more coherent sense of the relationships between words.

If you’ve adapted your SEO practice for Penguin, then you shouldn’t see dramatic upheavals in your content’s performance under Hummingbird. But in order to thrive, professional services firms should adopt (or continue) a few relatively straightforward strategies.

Focus on quality, not keyword cram

If you read between the lines, you’ll see a lot of SEO practitioners panicking over the direction of Penguin and Hummingbird. But for folks producing rich, robust content, these changes are great news. Google’s algorithm is focusing less and less on artificial factors like keyword density – and less on short, discrete keywords themselves. Instead, it’s looking at the bigger picture, evaluating the meaning and value of a web page as a whole.

In your blog, focus on writing the best and more informative posts possible without getting caught up in keyword cramming. Now, it’s still important to use keyword research as a tool to understand what people are searching for in general. And you should still include your most important keywords in page titles and headers. But it’s important to remember that Google is looking at the piece as a whole. If it's not genuinely substantive, relevant content, it won't rank – no matter what words you use. 

Be as specific as you can

Google increasingly rewards specific, 'long-tail' content. As users search for more specific topics, Google wants to provide the most targeted and informative answers possible. 

As a professional services firm, you need to drill down deep and understand the specific business challenges your clients are facing. Don't just write about 'business intelligence' – instead, explore 'how geospatial BI will affect retailers in 2013.' Specificity is a key to both providing useful, relevant results in search and also crafting engaging content. In blogging as in storytelling, specificity brings your content to life.

Don’t stop producing content

As each Google update is released over the years, educational content becomes more and more important.  Blog posts and specific thought leadership pieces continue to rise to the top of rankings as users are searching more and more for educational topics.  To fare well in search, do not let up in content production.  Publish to your blog every week and show Google that you are a credible source that deserves to be ranking.  

Google’s ongoing changes send a clear signal: attempts to game the system with clever keyword tricks are going to have a short shelf life, but quality content – like focused educational material – is an ongoing priority. That means producing good content remains the most reliable search strategy for professional services firms. As in other types of work your firm does, make quality, specificity, and consistency your priorities.

For more search engine optimization tips, check out our SEO Guide for Professional Services (it's free!).

Sean McVey

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