By now, you’ve probably heard the latest buzz from Google and it all involves a ‘little’ animal we call the Hummingbird. Personally, I think Google should have named their newest algorithm after a much larger animal, considering how big of a change this is for searchers everywhere. However, it’s been rumored that Google chose the name to reflect how “precise” and “fast” their new Hummingbird algorithm is.
So, what the heck is Google Hummingbird?
It is a completely new search algorithm, not just an update (Google says that it affects 90% of all searches). Hummingbird looks at a searcher’s intent such as the question they ask or the problem they are trying to solve (i.e. Where is the closest hotel to Soldier Field in Chicago?) and tries to provide them the best response in the shortest amount of time. Rather than focusing on individual keywords as Google’s old algorithm did, the Hummingbird search algorithm now focuses on the entire query that a person types (or says!). This is what Google calls conversational search.
What was Google’s intent by introducing Hummingbird?
Unlike the Google Panda and Google Penguin updates, Google does not intend for Hummingbird to penalize sites. While Panda and Penguin were SPAM related algorithm updates meant to filter out black hat SEO (keyword stuffing and spammy inbound links, anyone?), Hummingbird is a brand new algorithm that takes these previous updates into consideration and creates a whole new search experience around searcher intent. Basically, Google wants to get the searcher the best information to solve their query based on their intent. Take note hotels: is the searcher looking for a hotel in your city from their phone because they are there right now or are they planning a future trip to your area from their desktop? Each of these queries has a different intent and Hummingbird will therefore display different results accordingly.
What are Hummingbird’s implications on SEO and how does this change my hotel’s strategy?
Now, just because Hummingbird doesn’t focus on a single keyword combination that you worked so hard to research and rank for does NOT mean you should stop doing SEO. Hummingbird understands meaning – not individual words – and is looking to websites to provide meaningful content to pull from when tailoring results to a searcher’s query. As a hotel, you do not need to panic! Embrace Google’s brand new search engine algorithm and fine-tune your SEO tactics. Below is a list of important search engine optimization initiatives, an overview of how the Hummingbird algorithm affects each of them and suggestions on how hotels can adjust their SEO strategies to improve their rankings:
Implications for SEO: If Google sees that relevant, related websites are linking to your hotel’s site, they will see you as an authority on that particular content, thus helping them collect the best information to formulate an answer (search result) for the searcher. Google will also be looking at the type of value those links provide; for instance when people click through to your site from a referring website do they stay on the site, showing Google that it sent the visitor where they intended to go, or do they jump off of your site quickly, causing your site’s bounce rate to increase? High bounce rates from numerous inbound links to your website can send signals to Google that you have a poor quality site. Hummingbird does not affect link building – it has Google Panda to take care of low quality links. So, continue to include link building as a part of your SEO efforts by focusing on relevant, quality inbound links.
Hotel SEO Strategy: Hopefully, you know not to trust SEO companies that claim they can improve your hotel’s search engine ranking by obtaining a ton of links to your site in a short amount of time. What you need to do is focus on which websites would be best at driving revenue to your website. If you have an excellent water park package and you’re working with the local water park to promote it, it would make sense to have a direct link on the water park’s website guiding visitors to that special offer residing on your hotel’s website as it will most likely lead to bookings. Overall, focus your link building efforts on building quality links to your website and spend less time and money worrying about spammy inbound links; Google’s Panda update already works hard on finding these low quality sites and often penalizes these sites by knocking them down.
Implications for SEO: Exploring the search volume and competition for your target keywords is the first step to creating relevant, quality content and cannot be ignored. If Google’s Hummingbird algorithm sees a lot of traffic around a particular group of keywords, it can associate those with a particular intent based on the searcher’s query. Keyword research is the starting point of building meaningful content. You need to first make sure there is actually search volume for keywords you want to be found for before developing a page around them. Continue to research the keywords that you want to rank well for, but put less emphasis on how well you rank for that one keyword. Instead, develop informative content that incorporates a tight keyword theme to show Google that your site is a relevant resource.
Hotel SEO Strategy: As a hotel, you still need to figure out what people are searching for before you create any landing pages on your hotel’s site (don’t blindly choose keywords). Hummingbird challenges hotel marketers to think outside the box when it comes to your hotel’s SEO strategy. Consider looking into keywords beyond the typical ‘hotels in [city].’ If you’re writing a page that targets business travelers, ask yourself, “If I was a business traveler and needed a hotel, what type of things would I be looking for?” This might inspire you to look for a variety of keywords like ‘hotels in [city] with free Wi-Fi access’ or ‘hotels near [insert corporate business]’. Combining these long-tail keywords specific to business travelers could really help someone intending to search for a hotel that offers free Wi-Fi and is located near McDonald’s headquarters. It’s important to note here that Google continues to take away our keyword data in Analytics; not only does this tell us that keywords aren’t all the rage anymore but it also forces us to focus on developing higher quality content. So, keyword themes that are naturally integrated within your well-written page copy will be more beneficial for SEO.
Implications for SEO: If your business information is not consistent across the web, you will confuse Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. The more sources that give the same location information, the more likely your hotel will be found. Google Hummingbird works to collect enough information from various listings across the web to give the searcher the best response. Searcher intent is the key element of Hummingbird, so if someone is performing a local search it will be crucial that you have updated local listings Hummingbird can pull from. Hummingbird shouldn’t affect how you optimize your hotel for local search, you just need to make sure that you still include local listing updates as part of your SEO strategy.
Hotel SEO Strategy: While it’s important to check all of your local listings, I cannot stress how important it is that you verify your Google+ Page. If anything, this is the most important local listing you need. Considering Google pulls information it has from its own database (i.e. verified Google+ pages) and utilizes it in local search results through the new Google Carousel (the bar at the top of search results), you need to make sure your Google+ page is verified and updated as much as possible.
It is also important to point out here that when you click on a hotel in the carousel, Google’s search results change to pull in specific pages from that hotel’s website. This is important for your hotel because the person searching now sees more details about your hotel and links to the various landing pages within your website, increasing the likelihood that they will click through and book a reservation on your website. Likewise, the online travel agencies (OTAs) that may have been organically ranking above a hotel before are now pushed further down the results while the hotel’s landing pages, like maps & directions or dining, fly to the top of the results.
Additionally, the knowledge graph card from the hotel’s verified Google+ page pops up on the right hand side of results, providing the searcher with easy-to-read information. An example of Google’s search result page before clicking on a hotel in the carousel and after clicking on one of the hotels in the carousel is below:
Implications for SEO: Use keyword research as a starting point for the topic your new content will cover. Next, build relevant, original and high quality content by taking your keyword research and constantly asking yourself: “How does this page provide answers to someone running a search for [this topic]?” Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land says it best, “Pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” Hummingbird affects websites who have irrelevant content; If your page is simply full of keywords you want to rank for and doesn’t offer helpful information to the visitor (resulting in a high bounce rate) then Hummingbird will have a hard time considering it a quality resource. While you should have already been writing great content, you now have more of a reason to do so. Focus on building each page on your website with this in mind: How is this page a great resource for someone looking for answers on [insert page topic]?
Hotel SEO Strategy: Remember, you need to constantly ask yourself how the landing page you are writing will provide the best answers to someone conducting a search on the topic you are covering. Let’s say you are writing an attractions page and you want people to know how close your hotel is to a particular sports arena. Rather than just writing “Our hotel is close to PNC Arena”, provide the searcher with more information about how guests can get to the arena from your hotel, how visitors can purchase tickets to the game or concert, what types of packages your hotel may offer those attending an upcoming game, etc. Review your page’s content and think about what a user’s intention may be for clicking your site. For example, what hotels near the [insert sports arena] have special offers and how close are they to the [sports arena]. Does the hotel offer a complimentary shuttle service?
Assuming your hotel has followed all SEO best practices and not gone down the black-hat road, Google Hummingbird should not negatively impact your hotel. It has always been extremely important for your hotel’s website to have outstanding, relevant, and helpful content that answers potential guests’ most common questions – not just about your hotel but also about the area and experience they would get by staying with you. Now, it is essential.
What if I have no control over the content I can provide potential guests?
If your hotel has limited control over your brand site content and SEO, Hummingbird can still help improve your standalone website traffic as long as you are following SEO best practices. By having more control over the type of information you are sharing with potential guests online (i.e. through additional landing pages with related area information), your hotel will have a better chance of being found and booked. Learn more here by understanding how your standalone website can benefit your hotel from an SEO standpoint.