By Carrie-ann | Oct 17, 2013 | SEO

Hummingbird and Link building

Were you engaged in old-style link building activity? If Hummingbird didn’t catch you out you’re very lucky. But it’s far more likely your rankings have taken a nose dive. But off the back of Hummingbird we can safely say link building, as the term is commonly understood, is finished..

Where Hummingbird is Leading Us

I’ve written before on the dramatic changes in SEO over the last few years. Panda re-shaped the way people think about content. Penguin followed on to sort out low quality links. Then within the last month came Hummingbird, launched on Google’s 15th birthday.

Hummingbird is a more fundamental change than either Penguin or Panda because it’s a new search engine. I will also say Hummingbird will be the platform to usher in further dramatic changes. You can bet on it.
Google wants to improve the searchers experience. Hummingbird enables, for example, better searching on mobiles and allows conversational cross platform search. From this you can take away Google’s number one aim is to produce the best results for searchers, faster.  This makes sense since the internet is a far different place than when Google was originally launched.
As I wrote recently, Hummingbird is geared towards semantic search; actually understanding the meaning behind words and their context. Searching for ‘curry’ on your PC is likely to mean something quite different relative to the same search on a mobile.  The fact it can also handle longer conversational queries is important too. This means longer search strings, requiring more specific, complex answers (content).
Your goal as the owner of a small business website hasn’t changed. Your content must give searchers what they want.  For example, if your business builds laptops, you might want to have content that answers typical queries such as what laptops are a best buy and why. Or which laptops are best for music production or website design. The alternative would be to simply list laptops by model, including all their technical bells and whistles.  This is a product-led perspective rather than a customer-led one. If you provide helpful and interesting and sometimes distracting content you’ll find other people and businesses will want to link to it.

How Hummingbird Changed Link Building

The practice of link building was always going to get found out. In simple terms it put the cart before the horse. The premise underlying it was to encourage Google to think your site was more important than it actually was. In truth, that’s manipulation of the highest order.
It’s no secret Google’s over-riding aim is to improve the user experience. Tell me then how finding a 5 page website at the top of rankings, helps the searcher? Naturally it would be there on account of link building activity. If you prioritised your aims over searchers needs in that way your small business website was doomed to failure.
In commonly understood marketing terminology you can look at it like this. You must be customer/searcher centred and use their goals not your own as your starting point when it comes to developing content.  Rather than build links proactively, you should be looking to earn them passively.
This is a huge change in mind set that puts your site squarely in the middle of an online ecosystem. From there you must build relationships with influencers who occupy the same space as your business.  It follows social media will be central to how your business operates online. Be a proactive member of your online community and links will follow if you’re content is interesting enough. Seen this way, linkbuilding is a by-product not the goal of your online marketing.

Future Proofing Your Website

There is no doubt that the link building community is now on the defensive. Trickery no longer works and in my view hasn’t really worked for some time. As a consultant I sometimes meet people who are flummoxed by a sudden drop in rankings. This only happens for one of two reasons. Either Google has changed or the site has tried something new, and a so-called link building programme is often to blame.
I have written before only Google knows what Google is going to do next. All the SEO community can do is watch and wait. But post Hummingbird there are things you can adjust to give your site the best chance of success.
Real SEO starts with content. From a small business’s point of view this means it has to address specific needs – what’s known as the ‘long tail’ and also be authoritative. Authority makes content longer lasting and is also a point of differentiation. Google likes this and actively seeks out authority sites regardless of size.
Since Hummingbird can handle more conversational queries, be prepared to create content that can answer those queries. Also make sure your content is helpful. That’s a great way to earn links. In the old days it was called ‘link bait’. Now it’s about creating content that real people want to share.
All this suggests a certain level of customer knowledge. And you’d be right in thinking customer research will become more important for online businesses. Historic search information such as that provided in the old Google keywords tool has less significance. The long tail is no longer an abstract concept. Rather than second guess your customers now is an opportune moment to get to know them.
Small businesses struggle with customer research but it doesn’t need to be expensive nor heavy handed. Simply spending face time with customers can yield surprising results. It’s here that businesses operating solely online are at a disadvantage. But if you can devise ways to capture customer insights then you have the basis of some great content: Exactly what Google wants you to produce.
In that sense then perhaps Hummingbird has done small business a favour. Business theory says this kind of business is better placed to learn from its customers. Great content, in Google’s eyes, is no longer the preserve of big companies and their sites. Hummingbird has levelled the playing field.