What is the Google Hummingbird Update?

What is the Google Hummingbird Update?No Google haven’t started to breed hummingbirds, we’re talking about the name given to their recent update to their search engine algorithm. And although the Hummingbird is among the smallest of birds it has most certainly created a huge amount of discussion and debate within SEO and tech communities. So much so, that since the update happened around the end of September it even got featured in a Telegraph newspaper article.

So what’s all the fuss about and how big an impact is Hummingbird likely to have on SEO strategy?

What exactly is Hummingbird?

Essentially, Hummingbird consists of a new technology called the Knowledge Graph. In a nutshell the Knowledge Graph is Google’s attempt at a creating a more intelligent search engine and one that tries to get inside the mind of someone carrying out a search to better understand what type of information they’re really after. Because of the huge volumes of digital content that now exist on the web, Google’s users are having to be more specific in the way they search and to do this they’re having to type longer phrases into Google and in some cases they’re often having to completely rephrase their query if Google was way off the mark first time round. And all this is frustrating and time consuming for Google’s users which isn’t great for the brand, which now has shareholders to keep happy!

So what Google is now capable of doing, similar to a human mind is make connections between items and answer complex questions. It does this through its semantic search capabilities, to the layman that means Google is analysing all words used in a search query to better understand the true meaning of the phrase we have typed in. This is a subtle move away from just simply providing a set of search results and web pages to delivering meaningful answers. For example Hummingbird will more greatly consider question words like “how” “why”, “where” and “when” in search phrases.

Another thing built into the Hummingbird update is conversational search or ‘hot wording’ as Google calls it.

I tried it out myself and asked Google “Where is my nearest GP” and to my amazement Google served the ‘Find Services’ page on the NHS website at the top of its search results. Exactly the type of page I’d need if I was indeed looking for my nearest doctors surgery. So it does look like Google is able to intelligently connect up the words and provide users with highly relevant content. Eventually, this technology might reach the point of understanding text on a more nuanced and human level, a scary and yet thrilling thought.

How does this impact SEO?

However, Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Its best practice guidance remains the same: create original, high-quality content, but I do believe healthcare marketers now need to think beyond simple therapy/disease or product and service based keywords and think about the types of sentences they’ll be typing in. To do this well you really do need to understand your target audiences’ information needs and the different stages they go through as part of their decision making or purchasing process.

Marketers need to better understand the types of problems certain groups of patients and HCPs are looking to solve when they go online and the common types of questions they seek credible answers to. Once they’ve done this they then need to think about the actual content itself and make sure their digital content is relevant to those search queries being ‘Googled’. It’s also important to try and determine what format is most likely to appeal to and engage those audiences when they first come into contact with that content, i.e. static web pages, videos, infographics, images or a combination of them all, as this will help to reduce bounce rates which will also help secure high rankings.

One beneficial result of Hummingbird should be that it creates a more level playing field for smaller healthcare organisations that specialise in a particular aspect of healthcare or focus on a specific therapy/disease area.  The high volume, generic paid search keywords are often dominated by large multi-national organisations that have a diverse brand portfolio and deep pockets that enable them to win the Google Adwords bidding war. But because of the more generic nature of their web content, this means that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to the less predictable nature of semantic search results. The Hummingbird update should enable smaller niche companies that have the ability to produce unique, informative and fresh content specifically relating to that niche, gain a higher ranking in the search results when a precise and complex search phrase is used.

However, one negative linked to Hummingbird is that as Google accelerates its movement away from Google keyword search to Google semantic search, Google will encrypt all future search results, which means that they’ll no longer provide any data whatsoever within web analytics packages on organic keyword referrals. For us marketers this means that we are going to be completely in the dark when it comes to knowing which keywords are sending people to our website and more importantly driving and assisting conversions from the organic search results. There’s more on this topic in my other post titled: “Google Analytics no longer providing organic keyword data“.

Need help?

If your organisation has been hit by Hummingbird and need expert help to better understand what changes you should be making to your healthcare SEO strategy to get your site performing well in the organic search results then get in touch to request a Google Hummingbird Impact Assessment.

How Google’s ‘Penguin’ is changing the face of SEO

Google’s latest update to its algorithm, dubbed ‘Penguin’, was only released on 24th April, but has already had a huge impact on hundreds of companies over the last few months and the way in which they strategise their search engine optimisation efforts.

The update is designed to counter web spam and over optimisation, by penalising sites that employ these underhand techniques with a significantly lower ranking in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Google’s Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts, announced Penguin in a blog post, which explained the principles on which the update is based. In particular, he emphasised the differentiation between ‘white hat’ SEO and ‘black hat’ web spam, highlighting the benefits of the former and the pitfalls of the latter.

The blog post stressed the importance of maintaining a focus of high quality content and user-focused pages under the principles of ‘white hat’ SEO and avoiding any of the ‘black hat’ techniques, such as keyword stuffing, link schemes, or unoriginal, duplicated content.

The online pharmaceutical sector is likely to be as affected as any other area of business, and so it is important for digital marketers in the industry to fully understand the Penguin update, and be aware of what they need to do to prevent their company from being affected – by Penguin or any of its successors. Cutts estimates the update will only affect around 3% of queries negatively, so as long as digital marketers follow and maintain the ‘white hat’ SEO guidelines, it is unlikely that there will be a detriment to their company’s online presence.

If your healthcare, medical or pharma website has been hit by the Google Penguin update then get in touch to learn more about how we can help you fix the SEO problems you might be facing.

Google’s Venice update – will your healthcare website sink or swim?

Google is the process of rolling out its new Venice update all part of its “40 changes for February” project. So what is the Venice update and how will it impact your healthcare SEO strategy?

In a nutshell ‘Venice’ is all about Google serving up more locally relevant websites in its search results, well that is what Google is trying to achieve, but from my initial experience the accuracy of the results are pretty poor and I had to physically alter some of the search settings before I started to see more relevant results.

Here’s an example…

Yesterday I ‘Googled’ “osteopath” and straight away I noticed that Google was serving up quite a few listings from its Google Places entries along with a map of where those osteopaths are based. Below those results there were still some generic, non-local standard organic results too. Now you might think this is great, because you’re only seeing results showing osteopaths located near to you, as you are not going to be interested in learning more about an osteopath located some 100 miles away from you. However, when I carried out the search, Google seemed to think I was based in Liverpool, which I’m not, I actually live in East Sussex. Google was therefore serving up a list of osteopaths situated in the wrong area! Totally useless for me and frustrating also, so why did this happen? Basically Google uses a number of methods to detect where a user is based – most notably, the user can set their default location in their search preferences, but if that is not set then Google will also look at GPS, Wifi information and IP address and to some degree past search history to try and determine your location.

So for me the IP route failed, so I had to alter the Google search preferences and change my location (I guess most searchers won’t automatically think of doing this) and finally I started to get a list of more relevant local results. Next, I went and carried out the same Google search on my iPhone and this time Google thought I was based in London, so again I had to update my location in the search preferences.

Local SEO Strategies for Healthcare Websites

So, what impact will this new update have on your SEO strategy? What it means is that’s even more important than ever for both smaller local level healthcare businesses and national businesses that have multiple branches dotted across the country to ensure that firstly, they have created and optimised a Google Places listing. Secondly, I would also recommend that you identify the types of searches relevant to your business and carry out a series of searches to see if Google is triggering the Venice algorithm for those phrases. Then you need to check that the on-page elements of your web pages are optimised for those target key phrases but also include a location, e.g. “Osteopaths in High Wycombe, Bucks”.  For a smaller healthcare business that is based in just one area, then you can easily do this by optimising top level pages such as the home page or product and service pages. However, if you are national business then you are going to need to think about how you can incorporate multiple location pages into your site so that you can optimise a page for each specific location. However, you need to approach this tactic with care as you don’t want to erroneously create pages that have duplicated content, as this could trigger a penalty.

If you’re healthcare website has been impacted by the Venice update and you want some help in developing a Google compliant local SEO strategy then drop us a line.

What impact will Apple’s Siri have on SEO?

Are you getting Siri-ous?

Siri is Apple’s new voice recognition app that allows users to control their smartphones using speech by talking directly into their handset.  I’m sure you’ve all see the latest iPhone TV ads showing how you can check the weather, search for restaurants, set reminders and even write and send emails. So, you can understand why so many Apple advocates are starting to say it’s only a matter of time before smartphone users start to dump Google in favour of Siri.  But in my opinion I can’t see this happening and Google will continue to dominate ‘Search’ for some time yet. Let’s not forget that Google has had voice-enabled search functionality for some time on iOS and Android devices, so it’s hard to call Siri an “innovation” when it’s more of an evolution of an existing piece of technology.

However, as digital marketers there are a few things we need to be aware of when it comes to understanding how Siri and voice enabled search results are generated and how this might impact our search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy.

Where does Siri get its information from?

Firstly let’s try and understand a little more about the information Siri is able to access and where that information is drawn from. If you use Siri to search for local information in the US such as “Italian restaurants nearby,” Siri returns results from Yelp instead of Google Places. If you need a quick fact from Siri such as “how many ounces are in two cups?” you will most often get results from Wolfram Alpha instead of Google Calculator.  At present Siri can only look for local businesses in the US, so users in the UK will just get Google search results. So if you say to Siri, “Search the web for a private GP in London” or ask a question it can’t answer it will search Google by default (unless you change the default search engine setting within Safari). How exactly Siri collects and processes information is not fully known, but it’s safe to assume that the program is drawing on well-cultivated public data sources, like Google Places, Yelp and similar sites. If Siri is eventually able to pull information from third party apps, as many predict it will, it could significantly reduce traffic to traditional websites.

Optimising for Siri and Smartphones

So what do you need to do to make your website appear in Siri and related voice generated search? Here are our 5 tips for developing a voice search engine optimisation plan (VSEO):

  1. Optimise for smartphones
    We’re not stating anything new here as smartphones and mobile search capability has been around for some time now. A recent study conducted by Ipsos OTX looked at general smart phone usage and the searching behaviour of over 5,000 adult smartphone users. The study revealed that for many individuals their smartphone acts as a pocket PC and extends their desktop experience. As with more conventional web surfing, search engines like Google are the most visited websites via a smartphone (77% of visits). In terms of what people are searching for on their mobile phone – ‘News’ came up top at 57%, ‘Medical related information’ was the second most popular topic (26%) and ‘Health & Fitness was third at 23%. The message is clear – make sure you can be found via mobile search as both healthcare professionals and consumers are regularly using their mobile phones to search for information.
  2. Build a specific mobile site template as part of your web assets
    Building a mobile optimised version of your site will improve the user experience and usability of your website when it is being accessed via a smartphone and thus users will want to browse more. For web developers that have the right skills, this isn’t a difficult job to do, and many web publishing platforms like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal already mobile-optimised themes that can be integrated into your site portfolio. Furthermore, it’s also worth exploring the use of ‘responsive web design’ techniques. Responsive web design is a term that describes the concept of building a website design in a way that allows the layout to change depending on what screen resolution the viewer has. For example, an advanced four-column layout that looks great with a screen width of 1280 pixels (or higher) could be simplified into a more simple 2-column layout on screens with 1024 pixels width – and further down to a single column on small screens such as those on smartphones or small tablet computers. It is an alternative to building separate mobile sites.
  3. Implement a local search strategy
    In the US Siri’s main source of information comes from the Local Business Review Website – Yelp. Siri also uses data from Google Places, albeit less frequently, but it is still worthwhile creating and optimising a Google Places listing. Creating a well optimised Google Place is vital if you are serious about increasing your chances of showing up in a set of localised voice activated search results in the UK. We’d also recommend that you set up a presence on these other sites too and where possible start to encourage customers to rate your business for maximum exposure:
    – Yelp UK
    – Yahoo Local
    – Bing Local
    – Yellow Pages
    – Facebook Places
  4. Address any potential content access problems
    The use of Macromedia Flash and JavaScript are already “no-no’s” when it comes to mobile optimisation and there are no immediate plans for the Apple operating system to support Flash graphics. Burying important information within PDFs and sub-pages could put your site at a disadvantage, so think carefully about where certain content sits within your site hierarchy and how it is presented. One other important element to consider with regards to content is to add ‘rich snippets’ (microformats) into your HTML.  Google started supporting rich snippets in 2009, and they allow your site to incorporate relevant microdata such as business details, i.e. name, address, URL, and phone number that could help Siri extract important information about your site more quickly. You can also include a ‘review rich snippet’. Review information such as ratings and descriptions can help users to better identify good content positive reviews. Check out the many different kinds of snippets that Google supports, as the number keeps growing.
  5. Monitor the number of people coming to your site from smartphones
    Using tools like Google Analytics you can measure the number of people visiting your site from smartphones. Understanding mobile traffic to your site can give you an indication of whether you need to design your site to accommodate both smartphone and PC traffic, or whether the traffic justifies the build of a site devoted exclusively to mobile platforms with streamlined content and simpler navigation. You can also create segments for different devices or operating systems, so you can compare visits and conversions from Galaxies, iPads, or Android and iPhone devices. If you have developed an app for Android or iPhone then you can also track their usage by adding Google Analytics tracking scripts into the source code of the actual app.