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A Humdinger Called Hummingbird

21 Oct 2013 | Posted Under Internet
By Carl Weiss

You may have heard that Google recently released its latest algorithm update named Hummingbird.  What I find interesting is that Google always seems to name its updates after cute critters like pandas and penguins and hummingbirds.  Meanwhile their effect on many websites is more like being attacked by lions and tigers.  That being said, what I have brought you today is a cold, hard look at when, why and how search engines of all kinds insist on playing games with website owners,as well as what you can do to keep ahead of changes that can leave you stuck in the darkest regions of cyberspace.

What’s it all about?

Having worked the web professionally since 1995, I have seen a lot of changes over the past 18 years.  Back in the beginning, all you needed to get on page one of any search engine was a website.  This was in the days before blogs and social networks, before online video too, since there wasn’t enough bandwidth to stream video.  Search engine algorithms were pretty simple back then as well.  In fact, one of the easiest ways to get on page one in the 90’s was to research sites already on page one, since their code could be dissected and bested. This is one of the reasons that virtually every search engine was soon forced to start changing their algorithms on a regular basis.  You see it wasn’t long before everybody started to realize that you could beat the other site owners by stuffing more of the keywords you were after onto the page.  The crowd also realized that while the sentence, “online casino, online casino, online casino, online casino, online casino,” might get your site to the top of the heap, it wasn’t going to please most visitors.  This is when sharp operators started making these stuffed sentences the same color as the background, which meant that only the search engine spiders could read them.

Of course so could the webmasters of the search engines.  So they decided to up the ante by having owners begin soliciting backlinks, figuring that this was one way of showing the popularity of a website.  Within six months of this edict, entrepreneurs started spawning backlink farms where any site owner could acquire hundreds or even thousands of backlinks overnight.  This rankled the powers that be at the search engines since their spiders were not yet intelligent enough to detect farmed backlinks from the real McCoy.  However, in the tit for tat world of search engine operators, it wasn’t long before the spiders became ever more sophisticated. 

Bear in mind that before Google came onto the scene there were dozens of search engines that could provide viable traffic to businesses.  Even though there were a number of well entrenched operators, no one yet held anything like a monopoly.  What this meant is that if your site didn’t fare well on one search engine, you could always move your operation to another, many of which could be cracked in 24 hours.  Once the 800 lb gorilla in the room called Google went public, the game was changed and not for the better.

Search Engine Market Share 1999
English: a chart to describe the search engine...
AltaVista: 15.5%
HotBot: 11.3%
MSN Search: 8.5%
Infoseek: 8.0%
Google: 7.8%
Yahoo: 7.4%
Excite: 5.6%
Lycos: 2.5%

Google Gets Into the Game.

On August 19, 2004 Google went public.  By July of 2005, its market share had grown to 30.5 percent of search.  A year after that, it control raised to 41.4 percent of search.  By 2010 Google controlled 71 percent of search. Yahoo by this point was down to less than 15 percent and Bing came in third with 9.3 percent.  What this meant to site owners was that they were now forced to answer the question, “What do you feed an 800 lb gorilla?  Anything it wants.”

What Does Google Want?

What Google wants today is content and lots of it.  Nowadays it isn’t enough to have links to your blogs, videos and social sites on your homepage.  Now you are actually expected to feed them regularly.

In a blog entitled “What HummingbirdMeans for Small Business SEO,” posted:
“Websites can't grow their entrance pages without introducing new content regularly. While hard to believe, there are many webmasters who don't update their websites, have no blog, and refuse any assistance.  While introducing new pages of helpful, high-quality content is a great start, Webmasters and small business owners need to be very creative to be noticed.
·         Newsjack hot stories in their areas of expertise.
·         Create infographics.
·         Make videos to post on YouTube.
·         Utilize staff to promote in social media.”

The Pearl Harbor of Algorithm Updates

Worst of all for many website owners was the fact that Hummingbird was launched as a kind of sneak attack, with Google dropping the bomb without warning which had the effect of taking many website owners by surprise. reported that,

“In the past, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have struck fear in the hearts of SEOs as they watched their clients’ rankings plummet. While Panda and Penguin affected 1% or 2% and still caused panic, this new update is reported to affect the majority of search results and no one noticed until the announcement was made a month later.  The last Google update that replaced this much of the search engine was in 2010 with the ‘Caffeine’ update. Caffeine introduced the ‘live search’ and keyword suggestion tools, and many people seem to have forgotten the huge emphasis that it placed on social signals. This new update is possibly even more dramatic since it appears Google now understands the intentions of the words carried in these social signals.”

What it boils down to is that Google is only going to give high ranking to websites that provide a complete
Image representing AltaVista as depicted in Cr...
 multi-media experience to visitors.  This means the age of “Set it and forget it” websites is at an end and that using trickery to garner a high position is no longer going to be possible.  It also means that what was traditionally considered to be SEO-friendly will become as obsolete as many of the search engines that used to rule cyberspace.  (AltaVista, the titan of the search engine world back in 1999 went dark for good in 2010 after seeing its share of the market reduced to two tenths of one percent.)

So if you don’t want to wind up relegated to the bone heap online, you need to create a corporate culture that is designed to feed a world wide web that is hungry for content, before Google’s next cute critter decides to take a bite out of your web presence.

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group, a digital marketing agency that offers guaranteed organic placement on a number of major search engines.  He also owns Jacksonville Video Production and co-hosts the weekly online radio show Working the Web to Win every Tuesday at 4 pm Eastern.

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