Google's Hummingbird and Your Self Storage Business
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Mini Storage Messenger Magazine.
If your storage facility has a website, chances are that you have a pretty strong opinion about where that website shows up on Google.
Last year, I explained what Google's May 2013 algorithm, Penguin 2.0, changed for the industry. Though a relatively small tweak to the algorithm, it delivered powerful results. The better sites climbed the rankings and won the market for certain keyword searches. Meanwhile, the poor-quality websites quickly fell from their top spots – and many of them never recovered.
Together, we went through the facts of SEO and concluded three main points:
Google’s approach to search engine optimization is designed with the user, rather than the business, in mind.
Penguin 2.0 was an update to Google’s algorithm that targeted unnatural link building. Through case studies in the self storage industry, we saw that some websites received either dramatic drops or dramatic climbs in their rankings.
Proper site architecture is still important. But the best way for businesses to approach SEO is to expend time and energy on providing an exceptional user experience rather than trying to calculate the formula and trick the system.
So, hold onto your seats. Google has released the biggest change to its algorithm in more than a decade.
Hummingbird: The biggest thing to happen to SEO since 2001
In August 2013, Google released Hummingbird, an algorithm that received its name for being “precise and fast,” according to Google. However, you won’t find any articles about it earlier than September. Along with releasing an algorithm bigger than Penguin and Panda combined, Google released it one month before informing the public of its existence.
The easiest way to understand what changes Hummingbird brought forth is to consider how you conduct a Google search. If you’re driving through a new part of town and need to know the nearest place to access an ATM, how do you find the information you need?
If you’re like many people, you pick up your smart phone and simply ask the question, “Where’s the nearest ATM?”
Before Hummingbird, Google would rely heavily on keywords to help you. In this particular instance, “ATM” is the phrase that gives clues to the intent behind your search. You may have found what you were looking for, but only after fiddling with your phone at red lights to figure out which link on the results page was right for you.
Now that Hummingbird is fully functioning, Google has sharpened its ability to quickly provide the answer you need. It understands your location, determines what it is that you’re asking, and instantly provides a combination of ATM locator pages and actual listings of nearby machines – all sorted by distance.
Essentially, Google has turned itself into an all-knowing friend. You ask it your question, and it sees past your “keyword phrases” to get to the general meaning of your search.
If you understand this feature, you understand Hummingbird.
Do you have to worry about Penguin or Panda anymore?
The release of Hummingbird was like putting a new engine in an old car, while keeping some functioning, older parts. Penguin and Panda are those older parts. But they certainly aren’t gone.
Think about this. Search engines are the only websites that aim for users to spend as little time on them as possible. Google will do whatever it needs to do to accomplish this goal. That includes becoming more efficient with its results.
Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, and every other part of Google’s algorithm work together to display the most relevant, most helpful websites to the user. The product Google sells is navigation through a massive knowledge database. You could try to determine how Google perceives a website to be excellent. Or, you could save yourself the panic after the next algorithm tweak and just make sure that your site truly is excellent.
Hummingbird is a big change, but it really isn't a surprise
If you think about it, you’ll probably realize that this is how you’ve been doing search for quite awhile. Have you noticed that Google tries to help you along your search? As I began to type, “Where is the nearest ATM,” Google predicted several similar options based on popular searches.
The update should be especially unsurprising to SEO experts. Google has declared for a long time that keywords alone won’t get you what you’re after. Google’s reason for existence is to answer people’s questions. Sure, keywords could help people phrase their questions correctly to adapt to Google’s functions – but now, they don’t have to.
Let’s look at a great example that demonstrates how Google is getting better at helping the user. I asked Google, “What is self storage?”
In the past, I would have sifted through paid advertisements from facilities and websites trying to sell me their units. Now, Google knows what my search means and quickly displays the exact information I’m after.
Ultimately, Hummingbird uses its abilities to further enhance the user experience on Google. This algorithm is by far the biggest thing to happen to SEO in years, but as a storage facility owner and businessman looking out for your bottom line, Hummingbird actually doesn’t change too many strategies for you.
At least, it shouldn’t.
The big question: How can you use Hummingbird to succeed in the self storage industry?
Great question. Google’s strategies aside, you should be concerned with the state of your company’s online presence.
There are a few practical approaches you can take to move with the current algorithm that Google has unleashed. Below are some simple steps, compiled from articles by Asher Elran (Dynamic Search), Jim Yu (BrightEdge), Johann Carpio (The Washington Times), and John Hall (Influence & Co.).
Let your content be. You can actually do yourself a detriment if you run to your site content and try to tweak it after each Google update. There hasn’t been an uprising of upset businesses that dropped in the rankings, and Google has announced that Hummingbird is “only making things better.” If your site content reads naturally and serves a purpose to the reader, it’s right where it needs to be.
Focus less on quantity and more on quality. As you begin to write more content in the future, you won’t need to worry as much about keyword-to-content ratios. You can worry less about stuffing the page with as much content as possible, and begin focusing on how you can creatively improve your user’s experience.
Educate your users on your product with separate pages. One fact that’s become clear with Hummingbird is that you can add value to your site by producing high-quality landing pages that filter information in various ways. Consider if it’d be useful for your facility to include separate pages for FAQs, interviews, or expert opinions that are easily accessible from the home page.
Become an authority in your industry. If I were you, I would seriously consider the idea of maintaining a blog or a YouTube channel, where you can educate and connect with your customers. As a storage facility owner, you have something to contribute to the industry as a whole. Whether you’ve been managing facilities for a few years or several, you have a level of expertise to offer. It’s time to make yourself known.
Set up a Google Authorship profile. This is a particularly important step if you post blogs and/or press releases. Have you ever seen an author’s picture posted next to an article on Google? That writer has his Google Authorship profile set up. This simple step can increase click-through rates to your site and provide a level of credibility as you become a stronger authority in your industry.
How can you be ahead of the game?
Are you curious to know the best way to stay at the cutting edge of Google’s updates? Simply focus on the customer.
The good news is that Google has been an open book about its intentions moving forward. If you want to be on track to beat out the next algorithm instead of conducting frantic damage control, it’s time to shift your focus away from the search engine and toward your customers. Before you do anything online, whether it’s social media, link building, writing content, sharing images, marketing your brand, generating leads, or posting a blog, ask yourself what good your efforts will do for your consumers.
SEO is little more than good customer service – online. You and Google share the same goal: reach out to customers and make their online experience awesome. Answer their questions. Teach them something new. Make information easily accessible.
You’ll be better off moving toward these goals and away from the detailed breakdowns of every little thing you can do to scrap your SEO strategy and start anew. Your business will become better – and Google will become better at recognizing it.