Changes in SEO sometimes happen as fast as Google can return a user’s search results. The search engine reportedly makes hundreds of small—and sometimes large—alterations to its algorithm per year, with the latest substantial one being Hummingbird in September 2013. It is Google’s biggest update to the search algorithm in three years, using semantic search to return more accurate results.
And in early February 2014, Google “launched a refresh,” according to Google head of webspam Matt Cutts, of its Page Layout Algorithm.
Right after Hummingbird was announced (somewhat evasively), some SEOs were ready to chuck their old strategies out the window and start from scratch. But although Hummingbird may have redefined the way Google returns results, tried-and-true tactics shouldn’t be dismissed—instead, they should be strengthened.
–Panda and Penguin Penalties Still Apply
The algorithm may have changed, but that doesn’t mean updates like Panda and Penguin are gone. These updates penalize websites for content quality and Google’s Webmaster Guideline violations, respectively.
It may be obvious, but checking your website for unnatural backlinks or keyword stuffing should be the first step; to see more clearly if Google updates have impacted your website, a tool like the Google Penalty Checker can help.
This tool uses data from a variety of sources to isolate which updates have the most significant impact on a website. Knowing this data will help lay the groundwork for an effective SEO plan—either work on a better, more credible link-building strategy, or improve the content.
–Content Remains King
With Hummingbird’s focus on delivering the most relevant results for users’ conversational queries, it is more important than ever to focus on quality content. Instead of creating content just for the sake of having more of it out there, focus on creating content that answers the questions people in your specific industry often ask.
Regarding the update to the Page Layout Algorithm, Google is targeting sites that are “top-heavy” on ads with little substantial content, giving even more reason to focus on content quality over quantity. This also is a consequence of a website’s overall design, an area of focus that can improve a user’s experience.
A favorite SEO strategy, guest blogging, has gone the way of the dinosaur, according to Cutts. However, there are still benefits to using them if they are authoritative, relevant blogs.
If the post links to a Google+ profile, it also boosts credibility and allows for readers to connect with the author and find more content. Authorship and Author Rank have still not been fully embraced by the SEO community, but it is gaining traction.
Establishing a Google+ profile and maintaining it has not actually been proven to improve search rankings just yet, but there is evidence that it is gradually affecting them. It’s better to jump on the bandwagon sooner rather than later, so make sure that your Google+ profile is complete.
Using other social media platforms smartly circles back to content. If the content is good, it is more likely to be shared on websites like Facebook or Twitter. Visual content is just as good for platforms like Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest, but the same rules apply: quality over quantity!
Maintaining several active social media profiles can be overwhelming, so it is best to focus on the ones that actively cater to your industry to avoid dead accounts. Make sure your content is shareable on these sites, so that even if you’re not on the platform, your content can be.
–Be Accessible on the Go
Pew Research recently reported that 55% of Americans have smartphones, with 60% of those cell phone owners using their phones to access the Internet. Tablets are catching up, with 42% of Americans owning one. People are shifting their Internet use to mobile devices; Pew says that 34% of cell phone owners who use the Internet use that device more frequently to access the Web than a desktop or laptop computer.
In short—make your website mobile-friendly. Google’s Hummingbird update was to improve semantic search; the updated Google Search app has voice capability, which relies, of course, on conversational speech.
If your website isn’t yet up, start out with its mobile version, which is obviously a “lite” form of the desktop version. Starting out this way can also improve the quality of the full website, as the mobile version strips down the website to its bare bones.
Instead of wiping the SEO slate clean, embrace but improve the tactics that have been in use for years: most importantly, high-quality content. As Hummingbird takes semantics instead of keywords into account, it opens up the possibilities of creating really unique, useful content—a component of websites and link-building that can affect all other aspects of SEO.