Google’s New Algorithm & Your Company’s Reputation
On September 26, 2013, Search Engine Giant Google announced a new “Hummingbird” algorithm designed to improve search results for users around the world. The announcement was made at a live event commemorating the 15th anniversary of the company’s founding.
As Amit Singhal, the head of Google’s search team, noted, Hummingbird helps by “giving you the best possible answers, making it easy to have a conversation and helping out before you even have to ask.”
As with every change to a major search engine algorithm, Hummingbird alters the way in which companies should direct their resources online. For one industry in particular, the new algorithm requires a novel approach. Online reputation management is entirely dependent upon search engine results and the impact of Hummingbird necessitates a comprehensive audit of your ORM practices.
The Biggest Difference in ORM
The biggest difference between Hummingbird and previous iterations of Google’s search architecture is found in the manner in which the search engine handles phrases. As one site summarizes, “the algorithm can make use of more complex search requests and has a better understanding of the concept of human language, rather than a few scattered words.”
Traditionally, the online reputation management industry has focused on specific key phrases such as “Company X Reviews” or “Client Y Bad”. By encouraging company-affiliated properties to rise higher in search results, ORM companies could gradually change the composition of search results for a given phrase.
But now, the “more intelligent” engine running Google’s search means that focusing on a specific keyphrase may no longer be sufficient. Even if the search results for “Company X Reviews” are improved through ORM, that may not necessarily change the composition of results for “Information on Company X” or “Company X Info.”
Even worse, from a client perspective, is the fact that the multitude of ways to search for information on a company or individual means that individual targeting of different key terms may ignore the majority of relevant searches. Longtail results are increasingly important and Hummingbird will only accelerate the shift away from high-volume
Best Practices For ORM After Hummingbird
The largest impact of Hummingbird on ORM will be on the relationship between non-specific search terms and existing online items. In previous iterations of Google search, firms could target specific key phrases for reputation management services, and ignore less-visible, longtail terms. This strategy was an effective use of resources as the majority of searches for a client would be for targeted key phrases.
With the implementation of Hummingbird, the precise words used in a search phrase are now less important than the overall meaning of the entire phrase. ORM companies can no longer rely on the old model of attacking specific keywords.
If the Google algorithm determines that the meaning of a search phrase matches the content of a page with negative information, the negative page will show up prominently in search results. These negative items may appear even if they do not have traditional indicators like URL path, H1 tags, and page title matching the precise words in the search phrase.
Similarly, Hummingbird will alter the way ORM companies highlight positive mentions about a client. Pages employing grey-hat backlinks and keyword repetition are less useful. Legitimate, beneficial items are even more valuable.
Positive mentions in both online and offline media are now critical. Highlighting these items and pages that link to them should be the primary goal of a basic ORM effort. Favorable review sites and location citation pages should be treated with similar respect.
Raj Verma, manager at Argon Marketing, a Honolulu online reputation management firm, details a more advanced ORM tactic to use with Hummingbird:
“Work on getting unpaid, editorial links to third-party sites that link to positive mentions of a client. Such supporting references can result in improve search rankings for the positive mentions, third-party sites, and initial links themselves. At its best, a comprehensive online reputation management effort can dominate the front page of a search engine for every variation of search terms for a given client.”
Online Reputation Management Strategies to Avoid
Coincidentally, shortly before the release of Hummingbird, the head of Google’s Web Spam team, Matt Cutts, released a video which mentioned the online reputation management industry. In the video, Cutts identifies a hypothetical example where a client uses a reputation management firm to send spammy backlinks at a positive newspaper article in an attempt to manipulate search results.
Logically, if the head of the Google team responsible for penalizing sites mentions a specific tactic, then that tactic is probably no longer a good choice for ORM companies or their clients. But the introduction of Hummingbird also creates an additional complication.
Spammy backlinks or other questionable tactics always ran the risk of a search ranking demotion for the specific keyphrase. But now with Hummingbird, such penalties may extend beyond one particular search term and affect a multitude of relevant searches.
Hummingbird also impacts the creation of non-editorial backlinks. Since ORM firms can no longer limit the effect of a link campaign to a single search phrase, the influence of backlinks is much harder to analyze. Additional links to a particular URL may alter the composition of search results for hundreds of terms relevant to the underlying meaning of the URL content.
ORM Life After Hummingbird
Online reputation management is a dynamic niche in a dynamic industry. Firms that fail to adapt to the daily mechanations of the search engines will cease to exist. For ORM companies adjusting to Hummingbird, relying on old tactics is a sure path to oblivion.
However, professional ORM providers who move towards a holistic understand of their clients will become increasingly effective. With Hummingbird, legitimate, positive mentions of a client can now appear prominently in hundreds of variations of a search phrase. Highlighting an editorially-driven media article can drive that article to the top of dozens of different search results.
Calibrating an online reputation management service after Google’s Hummingbird is no easy task. But for brave ORM providers who can modify their strategies, the new search engine algorithm represents an opportunity to capture market share from less-nimble competition.
This article has been written by Nolan Kido. Nolan works in the technology industry in Honolulu, Hawaii.