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How Hummingbird’s Long-Tail Is Changing Search For The Better

December 17, 2013 // By: Stream Companies

Google’s Hummingbird update is not so much of a penalty-inducing shift in search function, as it is an improvement in the way Google examines search queries.

Like the noble Hummingbird, Google aims to be faster and more accurate. They intend to accomplish this by delivering search results based on the perceived intent of long-tailed keywords instead of returning results based on certain keywords contained in complicated queries.

Basic Search Impact

This holiday season, you may be bargain hunting. Hummingbird to the rescue! Let’s see how Google handles two different kinds of searches. 

As you can see, the search returned results for “Christmas” and “King of Prussia,” while the word “deals” was ignored. Trip Advisor makes the King of Prussia Mall look like a tourist destination - not a place for holiday shopping. Being the biggest retail destination in King of Prussia, the mall comes up first.

Now let’s try a long-tail keyword.

This time, I have specifically indicated that I am looking inside the King of Prussia Mall. I have also indicated that I am looking for a hot Christmas item: Beats Headphones. Let’s see what turns up:

As you can see, the mall still comes up first, but this time, I am directed to a certain store inside the mall where I might find Beats Headphones.

The reason the mall’s website has a leg up when searching through the long-tail, is because its content is well segmented. Under the main King of Prussia Mall site, each store has content dedicated to it. So Radio Shack, where I was directed to go for my Beats Headphones, has its own page within the mall’s overall site.

Now if you owned the mall and were creating a website, you might be asking “why should I promote Radio Shack? They are a big company, they can take care of themselves.” The truth is, the more segmented your website is, the more likely you're able to rank for these long-tail keywords and get found by prospective shoppers - resulting in more owners becoming interested in opening a store in the mall.

Mobile Impact

It's no secret that holiday shoppers use their phone while they're out and about. Mapping out your next destination, or looking up online coupons is all a part of being a savvy shopper

Hummingbird makes this process easier as well.

Have you ever used the voice command feature on your smartphone? When using this feature, you have two options: you can either say “Search: Beats Headphones” or you can say “Find deals on Beats Headphones close to me.”

Because of commercials for Apple’s Siri and Google’s voice command feature, most people choose to ask their device questions or commands. As these search queries are often longer and more involved than the average search, creating content around many topics and segmenting your product groups can prepare your site for even the most detailed searches.

How Can You Optimize Around The Long Tail?

Because of the dreaded Keyword (Not Provided) — a segmentation in Google Analytics that hides the majority of keyword data from marketers — SEO consultants have been on the lookout for ways to keep rankings and traffic going in the right direction, without the aid of specific keyword data.

One of the ways we can do that is to focus less on targeting individual keywords, and more on targeting shopping scenarios.

By no means am I suggesting that marketers should abandon keyword targeting. But without data to back up the success of certain keywords over others, it becomes harder to prove the success of SEO efforts. Fortunately, the long tail can help.

Start by navigating your website and searching within your site for something very specific. For example, say I want to find a black 2014 Ram 1500 with heated seats in Philadelphia. Is your site segmented enough to deliver this result? Does each page along the trail to my perfect truck have sufficient keyword targeting to help me find what I am looking for?

As you can see, Google picks apart my search and finds the site closest to Philadelphia with all the pertinent details listed. Other sites, while close to my search, fail to come up first for a few reasons:

  • They don’t list features the way people talk. For example, they list Heated Front Seats and Heated Back Seats separately. No one is searching for Heated Back Seats, they are searching for the simpler, Heated Seats.
  • They list the wrong details in the product description. Our top result for this search won the battle because they listed the car’s color in the description tag. The results below it did not. Instead, they listed things like the car’s trim (2014 Ram 1500 Crew Cab SLT), which no shopper is searching for.
  • They don’t play outside their own sandbox. You can’t stop at targeting your pages for a variety of search and shopper possibilities. Your social signals, brand signals and link signals have to denote that you're a good candidate for a variety of products and locations. For example, do you have Ram in your branding? How about Philadelphia? Are you connected to Ram on social? Do Philadelphia people like your content?

Big Finish

With Google, actions always speak louder than words. Lately, their actions have shown that they are less interested in sites optimized toward specific keywords, and more interested in sites optimized for quality user experience.

From Hummingbird to the Keyword (Not Provided) restriction, Google is steering marketers toward quality design and ease of use across the entire website - not just the pages they hope to optimize.

A few next steps:

  • Search like my grandma: When my grandmother uses Google, she likes to ask it questions or tell it exactly what she wants. Try searching as if you have never used a search engine before and see how your experience differs.
  • See how your site performs as a shopping engine: You can audit your site for long-tail terms by simply entering a long query, then adding a search operator containing your site like site:example.com. This will return all the pages on your site in order of how they rank for that term. See how your site is at returning these shopper-friendly queries.

With only 8 more shopping days left until Christmas, your customers don’t have time to waste. Make sure they're finding you, no matter how they search.

Craving more SEO best practices? Download our free SEO eBook, that explains SEO in simple English, provides insider tips into why your campaigns may not be delivering the results you expect, and more!

All the best,

John Steele

John Steele is an Inbound Marketing Consultant at Stream Companies, a Philadelphia area advertising agency.

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Topics: seo, business seo, digital advertising, google, google search results, Search Engine Optimization, search marketing