We’d like to focus this article on Google Hummingbird and Google’s endeavors at changing the way they handle long tail searches. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, long tail search refers to a search term that contains 3 or more words. These terms are more targeted and are fast becoming the norm for people searching for information.
Long tail comprises a substantially big proportion of the Web search traffic. I think Google faces a few issues handling this. From the advertising perspective, it would be nice to serve up ads targeting the long tail phrases, but Google’s Keyword Tool, AdWords finds it difficult to choose those. Google doesn’t show too much volume around them.
Over the years, we’ve seen Google get more sophisticated regarding context, content, and textual analysis. Hummingbird has been more of an infrastructure update rather than an algorithmic update. Penguin and Panda can be considered algorithmic style updates; ditto with Google Caffeine which brought about a speed upgrade. According to Google, Hummingbird upgrades the way text is processed and affects the understanding mechanism of content and context.
For example, there are two search queries on Google, “best restaurants SEA” (SEA is Seattle’s airport code) and “where to eat at Sea-Tac Airport in Terminal C.” Normally the words ‘Terminal C’ or ‘where to eat’ are not specifically targeted, especially not in titles or headlines and results shown would be similar. With upgrades like Hummingbird in place, Google might be able to perform better.
The SEO world is somewhat affected by this. We as marketers are often biased against long-tail searches, because when keywords are not provided, it indicates that it’s more difficult to decide what people are searching for, what drives traffic, and how to optimize pages and content.
The kinds of signals we’re getting from Google have a few impacts. These include more opportunities for traffic and better opportunities for really great content that might not be doing a fantastic job when it comes to specific keyword targeting. So from an SEO perspective, this is quite interesting.
We are not saying that keyword targeting needs to stop, good keywords are no longer required in titles, and pages need not have contextual relevance to search queries. What we are saying is that when you give importance to long tail search queries, you might just get yourself a tremendous surge in traffic. So there are many benefits of producing great content around such queries and satisfying a large number of needs.
Unfortunately, for some members of the SEO world, the going might get tougher for sites that target lots of medium and long-tail queries via keyword targeting not doing a good job in terms of content or other algorithmic inputs. So if the emphasis is on ranking for long-tail phrases with strong keyword signals, but there aren’t enough brand signals, social signals, link signals, and usage signals, there might be a problem.
Google might say that strong keyword signals don’t mean as much anymore because they can now connect many more pages to queries than they could in the past. In effect, Google is rewarding better quality content over more quantity of content. Today, these are the trends in the SEO world.