Panda squashed bad content. Penguin froze low-quality links. And now, did Hummingbird eat link building?
Hummingbird wasn’t just another algorithm update. It was more a re-tooling, behind-the-scenes adjustment to make Google faster and smarter. And it most likely opens the door for a lot more change to come.
Let’s take a look at what Hummingbird means for the future of link building.
It’s a new engine, not a new paint job. It was in effect for 30 days, and we all missed it. It affects 90% of search results. And it’s designed to deliver more relevant results to every user, faster. Danny Sullivan summed it up best:
In general, Hummingbird — Google says — is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of ten years ago, with the technologies back then.
Unlike other algorithm updates, Google didn’t seem to be chastising, correcting or directing the SEO community when they blogged about their 15th birthday the day Hummingbird was announced. Instead, the focus was on how they are making everybody’s life better with intuitive user experience improvements, including:
Hummingbird is all about the user.
Hummingbird is one more (big) step in the same direction Google has been heading since day one: Deliver the absolute best result to users, as fast as possible.
One of the goals of this update is to better understand the meaning behind words in search queries and deliver relevant results — for example, searching [pizza] at home might mean you’re looking for a recipe, but searching [pizza] on your phone most likely means you need the closest pizza joint, pronto. Conversational search came up too: “Having a ‘conversation’ with Google should also be more natural” (from Google’s birthday post).
That means the goal of every forward-thinking SEO and online marketer need not change. Mission critical is still the same: give your audience what they are looking for, quickly and easily.
No. Link building is alive and well. But the definition of link building sure does need to change. As Will Critchlow from Distilled says, “Link building is a terrible name for what we do.” And that is true for so many reasons.
Remember Panda, which was designed to penalize and discourage low-quality content? And Penguin, which put the ax to low-quality “link building”? Hummingbird wasn’t like those updates. As Danny noted in his detailed article, PageRank is still one of the 200 factors that Hummingbird uses to determine search results. But link building ain’t what it used to be.
Link building is dead. Long live link building.
Directly, it changes little. Indirectly, it changes everything.
SEOs used to be able to use links and other factors to trick Google into thinking that their search website was more authoritative and helpful than it actually was. Hummingbird once again makes the end user the absolute focus of search results. We can’t trick Google anymore! Building links to less-than-amazing content will fail. Google will notice high bounce rates, the lack of natural social sharing, and a variety of other quality signals no matter how many links you build — probably even faster with Hummingbird.
Everything we do should also focus on the end user. More than ever, link building needs to be focused on providing real (significant) value to users. Is our site worth the links we are trying to earn? Does blasting 1,000 potential link partners with a link request provide value? How can we leverage link building to provide more value at every step in the process?
Think quality content, intended to meet specific needs (“long tail”) and to be authoritatively long-lasting (“in-depth”).
The Google+ team said it themselves: “Google+: The social spine that improves the user experience across Google.” Now, their team said nothing about Google+ when discussing Hummingbird, but you can find the connection if you read between the lines. More Google+ is coming whether we like it or not — are you ready?
The greatest mistake you could make is seeing Hummingbird as a reason to make another “update” to your link building formulas. For example, maybe you have been trying to build links with this type of framework: 50% branded links, 30% partial match links, 20% exact match links. Now that Hummingbird happened, you might think maybe it’s time to update that formula to something “safer” such as: 70% branded links, 20% partial match links and 10% exact match links.
Rigid link building formulas like this are based on dangerous out-of-date mentalities. Instead, try a new “formula,” like this:
Link building is still important, but treating it as a one-size-fits-all, cut-and-dry tactic is dangerous. Integrating link building into your overarching marketing and content marketing strategy is the only way to be future-proof — and open up new opportunities along the way.