Big changes are underway at Google. During its 15th anniversary, the search engine unveiled its newest search algorithm, “Hummingbird.” This algorithm resulted in many websites losing their previously lofty positions on Google’s search engine results page (SERP). Many affiliate marketers were spooked, to say the least; the following is a comment posted on Pat Flynn’s The Smart Passive Income blog:

Do you know something about Google ‘Hummingbird’, I lost 80% of my traffic after this update. Do you have any change to your traffic on SPI and on your other sites.

The first Hummingbird buzzings

Google’s Matt Cutts told webmasters back in May 2013 that the search engine was working to improve the rankings of authority and quality websites. “As long as you’re working hard for users, we’re working hard to try to show your high quality content to users as well,” Cutts stated. In line with this objective, Cutts went on to outline what else was in store:

  • A more comprehensive effort to find web spam
  • Targeting of advertorials and not allowing them to rise on the SERPs
  • Requiring advertorials to have “clear and conspicuous disclosures” about their nature.
  • Implementing more effective link analysis efforts.
  • Improving ranking of authority sites on niche topics.
  • Improving ranking of mediocre but still quality content sites.
  • Hacked site detection and communication to webmasters
  • A single URL resource for webmasters of hacked sites

The double-punch: Keyword (not provided) and Keyword Planner

Perhaps as part of its upcoming Hummingbird rollout, Google started encrypting a higher percentage of search query data. In other words, if someone was using Google while performing a search query via specific input keywords, those keywords could not be drawn up by affiliate marketers as part of their keyword research. Instead, those keywords would be listed in a separate category termed “(not provided).”

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At first, only users logged into their Google accounts had search query terms encrypted. Then, Google encrypted all search queries except for clicks on ads. As a result, affiliate marketers attempting to perform keyword research on their users are now presented with an ever growing “keyword not provided” category in their search findings. According to Search Engine Land, the increasing “keyword not provided” trend is expected to continue.

In another hit to thorough keyword analysis, Google replaced its Keyword Tool with Keyword Planner. The Keyword Planner is accessible only through AdWords accounts and is more streamlined than the Tool; for example, local and global searches are now consolidated into a single column called “average monthly searches.” Likewise, the Planner provides historical search data for exact match keywords only instead of exact, phrase and broad.

What’s an affiliate marketer to do?

Many affiliate marketers have been wringing their hands in anguish over their traffic flow losses coupled with an inability to perform effective keyword research. However, there is hope, and that hope comes in understanding what Google’s intentions were in launching Hummingbird.

Step 1. Understand the new animal that is Hummingbird.

Hummingbird is a completely new Google search algorithm. While Penguin and Panda were updates to the existing search engine algorithm, Hummingbird takes user search intent into consideration rather than just input (i.e., keywords). Hummingbird is expecting users to input complex queries like “Where can I go eat MSG-free Asian cuisine in Chicago?” rather than just “MSG-free restaurants Chicago.” In other words, Hummingbird is preparing the way for semantic and not just informational search.

Hummingbird is also betting on more users using voice recognition-enabled mobile devices to input queries rather than keyboards. As such, search queries are likely to become more conversational. For the affiliate marketer, the SEO strategist and Search Engine Land author Trond Lyngbø had the following advice:

“You can’t just optimize for a solitary keyword and think that’s ‘good enough.’ It’s important that you take the user intent into account every step of the way and create content that reflects how a real person might look for information.”

In other words, don’t create content for Google search bots; create content for human audiences.

Step 2. Understand where Hummingbird is flying.

Google has been steadily and quietly building the Knowledge Graph, which was launched this May. In short, the Knowledge Graph is an online library of content that enables users to input a term and be presented with an appropriate interpretation of their search intent. A set of possible interpretations are provided on the right-hand side of the SERP under the terms “See results about.” The user can click each one of these interpretations in the process of reaching her intended one.

Thus far, the Knowledge Graph contains 570 million concepts and their inter-relationships. Hummingbird takes advantage of the Knowledge Graph when providing search query results. What this means is that affiliate marketers need to follow Hummingbird to its destination and provide more quality and authority content for users, including tutorials, podcasts, webinars, infographics, white papers, applications, etc.

Also, don’t forget that quality and authority content is also a matter of social opinion, or social SEO as it’s sometimes called. In that respect, distributing your content through social media so that it gets shared helps your expertise go viral. Remember, the more shares your content has, the more authority it will be attributed by Hummingbird.

Step 3. Understand what Hummingbird is eating.

Is SEO dead? Not by a long shot. Hummingbird is still using keywords to provide search results to users; the only difference now is that the keywords are becoming keyphrases (i.e., long-tailed keywords). Therefore, you are best advised to target keyphrases when generating user content. To that end, the AdWords-based Keyword Planner can still help you- as long as you set up an AdWords account first or link to AdWords via your general Google account.

According to the results of a study published by GodOverYou SEO, Hummingbird may more favorably weigh content that is written to answer questions (much like the long-gone AskJeeves). Thus, writing page titles that directly ask and answer questions about the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of a product or service is the best potential “food” for the Hummingbird. And doing so should actually make your life easier, since affiliate marketing is all about answering questions about your product or service.

The growing Google zoo can be good news

As semantic search replaces good-only-for-bots search, quality content sites and their owners will be increasingly rewarded by high volume traffic and (it is assumed) affiliate sales conversions. As the focus on keywords falls away, you will worry less and less about archaic SEO techniques and focus more on what would actually interest a human audience. This can only be a good thing, both for you as the search engine user and benefactor.

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Join the Discussion

  • Sabriga

    Whew! The best part of this is the reassuring advice to write page titles that ask/answer the direct W questions – will definitely keep it in mind for upcoming headlines.

  • Katie

    Thank you for this helpful post! I’ve read a bit about the changes with Hummingbird, but this is the first article that has really helped me figure out how it will affect my writing, particularly in terms of headlines and page titles.

  • Lori Mauger
    Lori Mauger

    Such a thorough yet simple explanation of the increasingly complicated parameters of search. The intent behind Google’s launch of Hummingbird makes sense thanks to your post. Kudos!

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