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What’s All the Buzz about Google Hummingbird?

If you’re tapped in to the SEO-verse, you’ve probably noticed some commotion in the past couple of weeks. On September 26, Google announced the birth of Hummingbird, a major update to its search algorithm. Hummingbird is perhaps Google’s most significant update since 2001, and was thought to replace all previous algorithm tweaks, like Panda and Penguin. Then on October 4, another update to Penguin rolled out. Huh?

What the heck is Hummingbird? What did it do to poor Penguin and Panda? And what does it all mean for your SEO strategy? Allow me to explain.

First off, it’s probably time to stop losing our minds every time Google releases an update. The company actually changes its search algorithm between 500-600 times per year—and we almost never know the difference. Developers following SEO best practices, in particular, should rarely take a turn for the worse after an algorithm change.

I choose you, Hummingbird

When an update is major enough to affect a significant percentage of searches, however, Google will make an announcement—usually in the form of a tweet from Matt Cutts. But Hummingbird got way more than 140 characters to declare its arrival. Hummingbird was announced at Google’s 15th birthday party—but in fact, it had already been active for more than a month without anyone knowing.

Google’s search wizards didn’t release much detail about how Hummingbird actually works. But we do know that it’s a response to our shifting reliance on search: more users are speaking questions into their smartphones (“Where can I get Chinese food nearby?”) rather than browsing at their desks.

Hummingbird is geared toward “conversational search” (also called “semantic” or “entity” search)—responding to full questions rather than random strings of keywords. It’s designed to be better than ever at sorting out irrelevant stuff—and giving users the answers they need, as quickly as possible.

What about earlier algorithm updates?

As I’ve explained before, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates were built weed out to low-quality and spam-filled sites, respectively. So did Hummingbird’s razor-sharp beak and motor-fast wings tear cuddly Panda and Penguin to shreds? Hardly.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land explains it this way: think of Google search like a car engine. It might be high-quality, but over years of use, it will simply become outdated. Hummingbird is like a brand-new engine. Penguin and Panda, in contrast, are like an oil filter and a fresh batch of coolant: they still help the car run its best. But they can be swapped out easily without affecting the whole system.

That means we can still expect to see Panda and Penguin updates, even with Hummingbird now in place. So no, you’re not suddenly off the hook if you’ve been using black-hat tactics—you’ll still be penalized for tricks like spammy backlinks. (Penguin 2.1, released October 4, particularly zeroed in on this issue.)

What’s an SEO to do?

We don’t know much yet about how Hummingbird actually works. So it’s hard to say how to make the most of it. Because Hummingbird seems to favor content written as answers to potential search queries, it might be tempting to frame every page title in the form of a question. Eric Ward, also at Search Engine Land, cautions against this—as past updates have taught us, there are consequences for going overboard or trying to game the system. He does offer a few tips for how you might use Hummingbird to your advantage and integrate it naturally into your site.

Above all, there doesn’t seem to be much cause for concern. As Google’s been telling us for years now, we should stop obsessing over the algorithm’s particulars. Instead, create awesome content that’s helpful to users, and traffic will follow.

Does your site match up to Google’s latest guidelines? Give Atomic a call, and we’ll get you up to speed.

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SEO: Slow and Steady Wins the Ranks

Google released an update to its Penguin algorithm last month. And naturally, bloggers all over the web are sharing their thoughts. I read one article that summed up Penguin 2.0’s impact pretty well: SEO “silver bullets” are no more.

Before Google’s search algorithms got as smart as they are now, there were plenty of backhanded, “black-hat” strategies SEOs could use to boost their rankings. Things like building inbound links from phony sites, stuffing keywords unnecessarily into content, or posting click-grubbing comments on external blogs.

Savvy SEO pros gave these tactics up years ago. But the truth is, even among so-called “white hat” techniques, there’s no one fix that will guarantee the search ranking you want—and keep you immune to Google’s changing algorithms.

That’s because the “silver bullets” of past SEO dogma focus on the short term. But as SEO’s evolution shows, rankings with true staying power don’t come cheap. You’ve gotta work for them.

What’s an SEO master to do? Keep sites fresh with regular, relevant content.

Of course, I can’t make Atomic’s clients do content marketing. But I can help them get started on the right track. Here are a few things we suggest:

• Set up a blog. And actually use it. We encourage clients to plan a calendar for publishing blogs—and make sure everyone understands who’s responsible for what (even if that means outsourcing to a copywriting team). Regular updates means Google will index your site more quickly—and you’ll build authority in your area of expertise.

• Schedule regular check-ups. I recommend an overall site review at least twice a year to ensure links are functional, verify information is correct, and adjust, if needed, to the demands of new search guidelines. This reveals less obvious problems inadvertently sabotaging your rank.

• Look at your numbers. A peek at your site’s analytics can show how users are engaging with your site. Are they finding you primarily on mobile devices or via social links? Mainly through mentions on other sites? These insights can help you build a better user experience over time.

Content marketing and ongoing site review aren’t the easiest ways to do SEO. But they’re the closest thing to a silver bullet we’ve got (more like a slow, strategically planned attack than a single bullet, really).

Best of all, they’re sustainable—they’ll keep you on top no matter what algorithm tweaks come and go. And if search result domination is what you want, the effort is worth it.

It’s time to stop searching for the next quick fix—and instead, commit to great content. Let’s get to work.

Need help refining your site’s long-term SEO strategy? Let the Atomic team help.

 

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Attack of the Penguin (Update)

Google rolled out version three of its Penguin algorithm a few weeks back, and SEO folk everywhere took note. The original Penguin was released in April, and targeted sites that Google considers spam. (In contrast to last year’s Panda, which went after low-quality sites, Penguin is built to weed out violators of Google’s anti-spam guidelines.)

What’s new with Penguin 3

Victims of Penguin’s wrath include keyword-stuffed sites, link schemes (manipulation of links to or from a site), “cloaking” (showing search engines and users different content), and content that’s purposefully duplicated from other pages.

With each update, Penguin has gotten smarter. The first version of the algorithm affected 3.1 percent of sites across the web; the latest update affected just 0.3 percent, as most sneaky sites have already been sorted out.

Who cares? You might be wondering. If you’re not one of the sad content creators still trying to boost rankings the shady way, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Well, yes and no. If you’re following Google’s quality guidelines and aren’t doing anything clearly unethical, you shouldn’t get hit too hard. On the other hand, you could be racking up penalties unintentionally.

For example, maybe you haven’t updated your site in a while, and some of your outbound links are now defunct. Or maybe you have just one more keyword per paragraph than Penguin likes. You may not notice a huge ranking change, but you’ll pay the price.

How to fight back

What’s an upstanding SEO manager to do? Stay informed on updates like Penguin. There are plenty of plugins and software you can download to make sure you’re in the clear (I use free plugin SEOquake). Also, check out SEO news sites, blogs, and head Google spam-slayer Matt Cutts’ infamous Twitter feed.

At Atomic, we keep our clients’ websites search-friendly by running a checkup every few months using a checklist of SEO guidelines. Staying current and updating regularly saves us time in the long run—and ensures that we’re prepared for what’s ahead. That way, when the SEO gods at Google unleash their next beast (Platypus? Prairie Dog?), we’ll be ready for it.

SEO still a total mystery? Contact Atomic and we’ll help you fight off Penguin and Panda alike.

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The New Face of SEO: Life After Google’s Panda Update

In 2011, Google changed how it ranks websites in its search results. Google’s new ranking algorithm is called Google Panda, and this algorithm is intended to promote high-quality, informative websites and weed out spam-filled web pages. Marketers and business owners alike should be aware of these changes. Websites that continue to use old practices will fall in the rankings under the new guidelines and this can cause companies to lose potential customers and clients. Keep reading to find out more about life after Google’s Panda update and important new SEO practices.

No More Keyword Stuffing

The new changes penalize websites for stuffing their content with keywords. Articles need to be informative and well-written. A large number of spelling mistakes and other typos on a website can also damage its search engine ranking. Instead of trying to game the search engine system, companies should focus on creating articles that website visitors will find legitimately valuable. Keywords can still be used sparingly, but should no longer be the primary focus of any article.

Plagiarized Website Copy Can Get A Website Banned 

One of the worst things that a company can do is steal content from another website. Although this practice has been common in the past, the Google Panda algorithm specifically looks for instances of plagiarism. If a website is determined to be composed of stolen content, Google might delete the page from its search engine entirely. Companies should invest in original, well-written content for their web pages.

Relationships And Contacts Are Key

Google’s Panda algorithm wants to promote websites that are considered trustworthy and authoritative, and one of the ways Google Panda makes this determination is by counting the number of pages that link back to the original article. Companies should work on relationship building by encouraging visitors to share articles and features. By including social media buttons, websites can make it easier for visitors to share pages. Social media engagement can help boost a website’s search engine ranking and help companies with relationship building online. Marketers should make sure that every article published on their client’s website is worthy of sharing.

Fresh Content Is More Important Than Ever

Under the new search ranking guidelines, fresh, high-quality content is more important than ever. Google Panda privileges websites that are updated frequently over those that are not. Companies should make sure that their pages are not filled with stale content. Updating a website at least once a week is a good strategy. Of course, in the attempt to produce fresh content and comply with new SEO practices, website managers should not forget that all their content should be original, error-free, and informative.

Keep Ads From Cluttering The Page

Google Panda also will penalize websites for overcrowding pages with advertisements. Not only does the inclusion of too many ads make it difficult for readers to navigate a website, but will also cause the page to drop in the search engine rankings. Companies should choose ads for their websites strategically, and should make sure that any ads that are posted do not distract visitors.

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Using Google Analytics to Refine Your Keywords: 4 Basic Steps

Optimizing your website for search is a critical way of bringing visitors to your site. And you do that, in part, by matching the keywords in your site with the words that users type into their search engines. Sounds straightforward enough.

But finding just the right keywords? That’s another matter.

Tools like Google Adwords can be helpful in developing an initial list of targeted keywords and phrases. But there’s no way to predict exactly what phrases web users are going to search to find your site. And it’s difficult to predict what phrases Google will associate with your site.

The answer? Google Analytics.

After your site has been initially optimized and is up and running, you can use Google Analytics to learn exactly what phrases were typed into search engines to find your site. By regularly checking what phrases are attracting visitors, you’ll get a better idea of what phrases should be dominant on your website, and which to target. Often, Google Analytics will turn up phrases that would never have occurred to you on your own.

Here’s an example.

Say you’re a beanbag importer and you’ve optimized a page on your site for “Beanbag Chairs. ” But when you check Google Analytics, you discover that “Children’s Furniture” is unexpectedly attracting lots of web users to your site.

Now you have real-world data on how real users are getting to your site. Here’s what you do in response.

  • Search. The first step is Googling “Children’s Furniture” and locating the first page of your website that appears on Google. You’ll want to make this page your landing page for “Children’s Furniture.”
  • Adjust. Once you’ve identified that page, you can adjust the page’s meta data, content, headlines, images, and image alt tags to increase number of times this new phrase appears.
  • Observe. Over time, these adjustments should improve the Google positioning of your site when “Children’s Furniture” is searched, thus increasing the number of visits to your site.
  • Repeat. Monthly or quarterly, you should repeat this process, discovering what new phrases are taking hold and bringing visitors to your site. And you would adjust your landing pages and content accordingly.

This process is time-consuming and can be tedious, but it’s a critical part of a complete SEO process. Doing it religiously is the only way to ensure that your site stays aligned with what real users are searching for online.