For years online marketing has focused on the keyword: the word or phrase that people enter into a search engine when trying to find something on the Internet. The ability to rank in the top three positions for a given keyword was considered the sign of a successful SEO campaign.
For small businesses, this was sometimes the only way they could get their website in front of potential customers. Competition for certain keywords, however, was tough for many firms that couldn’t afford large-scale link-building campaigns and other costly techniques.
That was the case until the search engines recognized that many of these optimization strategies offered little to no value. So they sought to level the playing field for businesses trying to get noticed by establishing themselves as a leader in their industry, not just by gaming the search engine algorithm.
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Now the rules have been modified once again with another update to Google’s algorithm, and small businesses would be wise to get into the game early.
“When Google issued its most recent update (named Hummingbird) to the company’s 15-year-old search algorithm, it raised a number of concerns for small business owners. The update has two primary objectives: using so-called conversational searches to find results, as opposed to the traditional keywords, and displaying search content on the far right side of search pages,” says Michelle Rebecca of SEO Company Go.
Conversational searches are longer and more specific than traditional keyword searches. This is the result of an increasing number of searches being performed via mobile devices, using services like Siri to speak search terms, and also a more educated user. For example, a search years ago may have been for laptops, but nowadays it’s more apt to be along the lines of where can I find the best prices on laptops.
In addition to the change in the way Google returns search results, it’s also changing the way it displays them. Instead of listing results according to their relevance, or at least what Google thinks their relevance to be, answers to “questions” will now appear in special boxes that run along the right side of the page.
These boxes will contain a bit of content from web pages that match the result in an effort to provide the best answer. If it’s what the user’s looking for, there’s no need to search any further … and no need to click any further.
Think like a customer
Experts claim that in order to do well with conversational searches, small businesses would do best to think like their customers to optimize pages for the latest update.
Instead of focusing on keywords, concentrate on questions your potential customers might ask. An accountant might enter a search for how do I find a good accountant or changes to tax law and then create content that relates to these terms in order to enhance his or her content marketing strategy.
To supplement location-based marketing, a business such as an auto mechanic might consider focusing on search terms like are there any good mechanics nearby. This can provide a great deal of benefit to small business owners, because Hummingbird will take the user’s location into consideration when returning the results.
A business located nearby stands to do better than a large company with multiple offices and locations.
For businesses whose focus is online sales, location-based results might not be the best strategy to take. Instead, they should focus on answering other questions a customer might ask regarding their products or services.
Businesses who spend a great deal of time and money focusing on narrow search terms will certainly take a hit from Hummingbird if they don’t adapt. But small businesses who have labored under the shadow of larger companies when it comes to SEO could make out rather well if they seize this opportunity and focus on how their customers are using the Internet to find products and services.