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Search Marketing Update: Hummingbird Algorithm Change, Penguin 5 and Other Tidbits


Google turned 15 a couple weeks ago, marking the search engine’s birthday as a special day for Internet users. So what’s next? Many changes – Google’s 100 percent “not provided” data, the continuing rise of the knowledge graph and the convergence of SEO – have taken place since our last search marketing update, giving us plenty to talk about in this latest edition of search marketing news.

Elasticity partner, Andy Barnett, shared his thoughts on the rise of “not provided” in a post – Flying Blind: The Impact of Google’s Secure Search – late last month, rightfully complaining about the loss of powerful keyword data that inhibits the way we make smart decisions that drive strategy. Nonetheless, this is our chance to shine once again, as our SEO team turns to content and brand marketing strategies that move the needle in how we achieve organic results.

I highly recommend Andy’s post to any company that uses a website to sell their products and services, whether it’s a B2B or B2C brand. We must move on to cover the other important changes taking place in search, including the powerful new Hummingbird algorithm, Penguin 5 and more subtle changes like hashtag search and Google Now in Google Maps.

Hummingbird Algorithm Change

On September 26th, the eve of their 15th birthday, Google launched a major search engine algorithm update named Hummingbird. This update was designed to be more contextually relevant to queries, using semantics. Hummingbird aims to tie search queries together instead of treating them as separate searches. For example, if you do a search for “who is Barack Obama,” followed by “how old is he,” you’ll notice that Google now recognizes “he” as Barack Obama.

This is the first major algorithm change since 2011.And from an SEO perspective, it will likely make social signals a more powerful part of how Google ranks sites, since social media is such a contextually driven platform. Also, it will be important to expand on the use of long-tail keywords in SEO efforts, since voice search queries are much different than that of text.

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[Courtesy of Google]

With the new Hummingbird release, businesses and SEOs need to be more mindful of the semantic web and how it plays a role in Google’s knowledge graph. Aside from solely pushing out high-quality, authoritative content, you should also work to answer the questions that customers are asking, whether it be through social media channels like Google+, blog comments, or video.

For example, a consumer might search (using their voice) for “who is the best dentist in St. Louis?” A dentist may want to write a blog post on the subject with this title, touting their reputation on review sites and social media sites.

Lastly, Google will continue to provide more localized and personalized results for user queries. Have you optimized your local listings on directory and review sites? Are you answering the questions that customers are asking in your area, through social media marketing and reputation management strategies?

Penguin Update Number Five

We understand that post is turning into a petting zoo for animals with wings, but we must drudge on…

If you remember our first search update, you learned that Penguin is important to digital marketers because it pushes SEOs to develop and market content that is valuable to website visitors, whether it’s in the form on an ebook, a how-to guide, or an infographic. Not to be confused with Panda, the update that hurts sites with little content, Penguin aims to lower rankings of sites that manipulate the number of links that point to specific pages.

The most recent Penguin update – version 2.1 – is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, said in a tweet on October 4th that Penguin 2.1 will affect ~1% of searches.

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If you were hit by Penguin, you would likely notice a marked drop in traffic that began somewhere around October 5th or 6th. To recover from this penalty, try reaching out to the spammy, link farm sites that are linking to you, asking them to remove the links. If you’ve already exhausted all of these options, you might want to consider the Disavow links tool in Webmaster Tools.

Other Tidbits

There were a couple of other minor search engine changes that caught my eye in the last couple weeks. The first being that Google’s knowledge graph now incorporates comparisons. For example, a search for “pinot noir vs merlot” will yield this:

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Results on the knowledge graph can also be filtered using the drop down right above the result carousel, letting searchers switch to similar types of searches. Here’s an example with the search “pop music”:

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On the mobile search front, Google rolled out a much cleaner display of results that is much more suitable for mobile users. Here’s what the new card-based results look like:

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[Courtesy of Search Engine Land]

Lastly, Google is integrating hashtags into their searches, showing users Google+ posts on search results pages. For example, if you search “#mileycycrus”, you’ll see something like this:

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The only posts that will show up on Google searches are those that are shared publicly, or shared with you if you’re a Google+ user.

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