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How to Fine-Tune Your Existing Website for Better Search Engine Optimization

Search is changing. It is now more personal, more engaging, more interactive and more predictive. Search Engine Results Pages no longer just display 10 blue links — they have become more useful and more visually appealing across all device types.

Google’s Hummingbird update in August 2013 brought semantic search to the forefront of these changes. Beginning with user intent and interpretation of the query itself, semantic technology is used to refine the query, extract entities as answers, personalize search results, predict search queries and more — providing a more interactive, conversational or dialogue-based search result.

In order to leverage the benefits of semantic search on your own website, you’ll have to understand how semantic search works at a conceptual level.

1. Optimize for User Intent

semantic-searchGoogle is now using “form based” queries at scale in real time. Take a look at the image to the left. Suppose you are a travel agent. If you do a quick search for “flights from dc to”, you’ll see the most common user search queries for that structure of question in the dc area. Well, let’s say you are in the travel industry and you have offerings that would apply to someone traveling to “chicago, orlando, boston or miami”, (e.g., tourist attractions or some sort of event). You might want to make sure your page content includes that destination (entity or city or airport) as well as activities and items geared toward the interest of your target audience.

 

2. Align Your Search Engine Optimization with Social Media Campaigns

Identify your social audience and their interests. Write content that covers those interests, your offerings, and the intersection thereof. You can find a great example here, detailing how Virgin leveraged big data to create an interest graph, thereby creating a more targeted content strategy.

3. Make Sure You Leverage Google+ to Its Full Potential

Google+ is critical when it comes to how Google will view your business (and you, too, if you elect to create a profile for yourself). With regard to Google+ for business, here is a great and comprehensive resource from Simply Business.

GoogleplusguideforbizbyGoogle1

4. Ensure Your Web Pages Use Structured Data Markup

Paying special attention to HTML markup vocabulary from schema.org, as that is recognized by most major search engines at this point in time.

There are several great new tools currently available to assist with the process of adding this HTML markup to your pages, including various WordPress plugins and code snippet generators (including Google’s own Structured Data Markup Helper).

5. Use Standard SEO Techniques

The standard SEO techniques that worked previously are still important:

  • Optimize page load times,
  • Optimize sitemaps and website architecture,
  • Cross-platform optimization

The last one is more important than ever with the rise of mobile devices, especially since sites that offer a poor mobile experience may find themselves hurting in mobile rankings.

 

What Google Hummingbird Means For Your Website

Google Hummingbird is a significant improvement because it lends understanding to the contextual intent and meaning of terms used in a query.

Back in August of 2013, Google unveiled its new algorithm for search – Google Hummingbird. Hummingbird allows the Google search engine to better do its job through improvements in semantic search. Semantic search is conversational search – “What’s the best pizza place in dc?” – “How do I get to the Redskins’ stadium?” – “How old is RG3?”

Let’s take a closer look at my semantic search examples.

1) “What’s the best pizza place in dc?”

Hummingbird does a really good job with synonyms, so it takes my query and substitutes “place” with “restaurant”. It also knows that in this context “dc” refers to “Washington, DC”, “district of columbia”, and even the entire “DC metro area”.

2) “How do I get to the Redskins’ stadium?”

One of the cool new features of the Hummingbird algorithm is something called the Knowledge Graph.  The Knowledge Graph is a gigantic semantic database with more than 570 million objects and more than 18 billion facts about and relationships between different objects that are used to understand the meaning of the keywords entered for the search. So in my example “How do I get to Redskins’ stadium?”, Hummingbird first figures out where I am (it knows this because it queries my IP address) and then the Knowledge Graph shows me a Google map to Fedex field, it tells me how long it will take in my car, how many miles it is to the stadium, and there’s even a drop-down with turn-by-turn directions from my house to the stadium.

google_hummingbird_semantic_search_example1

3) “How old is rg3?”

In this query, Google Hummingbird is starting to do something really interesting. It uses the contextual information from my previous search to help confirm that “rg3” in this context means “Robert Griffin Jr, the 3rd.” Then the Knowledge Graph tells me that he’s 23 years old, his birthday is February 12, 1990, and a whole host of other related information – his 40 yard dash time, where he was born, who he’s married to, how much he makes, his career stats as well as his stats for the past 3 games.

Keywords are still central to SEO

Google’s algorithm continues to be a complex mix of factors that weigh the relevancy of a page for a query. That hasn’t changed.

While some people may be panicking that their SEO strategy needs to be revamped, if you have been evolving on a natural SEO pace, there’s nothing to worry about. You’re on the right track.

Here is a sample of some of the things that continue to matter:

  • Mobile SEO: Conversational search is driven by the way people search using their mobile devices — so, mobile optimization is going to continue to be critical.
  • Structured Data Markup: Providing search engines with as much information as possible about your page content helps them do their job better. Structured data can also improve click-through rates in the search results when displayed in rich snippets.
  • Google+: Google’s social network is essential in helping to identify your online brand, connecting it with concepts and serving your content in the Google results.
  • Links: Google may not want SEOs obsessing over PageRank data, but that doesn’t mean links are irrelevant. Links help Google put concepts together on the Web; they also send strong signals to Google about page credibility.
  • Keyword Optimization & Content Creation: Nowadays, it seems there is a lot of debate over the usefulness of focusing on keywords. But keywords are not dead. Quality content is crucial, and that includes at least some level of keyword optimization.

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