NEW YORK—Website owners and web marketers are facing major upheavals in the coming months thanks to
Google's newest algorithm update, dubbed "Hummingbird," which eliminates organic keyword referral data from Google Analytics.
According to Google, the update's main emphasis is to promote conversational searches. For example, instead of searching for "Optometrist NYC," Google is promoting searches for "Where's an optometrist in NYC?" The practical result of the update, however, is that you will no longer be able to see which keywords are effective in bringing traffic to your webpages.
Google Analytics has long been the go-to tool for any website owner or web marketer to measure webpage traffic and visitor data. Keyword data, or metrics that show which keywords or phrases are bringing and affecting site traffic is a major indicator used to gain information about what your users are looking for, to measure success and to adapt SEO strategy to improve rankings.
Over the past year, Google has gradually held back more and more of this data and unfortunately, within the next few months, it will obscure 100 percent of all organic referrals (as opposed to paid referrals such as
Google Adwords, which still receive keyword data). The result is that while you will still be able to see which pages are getting traffic to your site, you will no longer be able to see what users are searching for and how they got there.
How does this affect your web marketing?
According to Rand Fishkin, CEO of
Moz, a top web marketing company, "Without referral data, our tasks as Internet marketers become far more difficult—but not impossible." The major impact this change will have is in one's ability to easily measure success and to adapt SEO strategy. Keyword data allows you to understand how searchers perceive your brand and content, and how to find opportunities to improve your ranking and your webpage performance with users. There are still roundabout ways to obtain some of this data but it will be more time consuming and less accurate. Web marketers see this change as a tremendous loss of insight that the industry is already learning to adapt to.
Current Uses for Organic Keyword Referral Data, per Fishkin at Moz:
- Finding opportunities for improving a page's ranking or performance
- Connecting rank improvement efforts to traffic growth
- Understanding how searchers perceive your brand and content
- Uncovering keyword opportunities
What about the other search engines? While you could retrieve some keyword data from Bing's
webmaster analytics tool, the vast majority of web search in North America is performed through Google's search engine, so this won't benefit you unless you are receiving a considerable amount of traffic from Bing.
Here is what's essential to know in light of this situation:
- The update which was released a month ago but only announced recently, could have affected website rankings, but the good news is it would have happened already. If you haven't noticed any changes in traffic over the past month, you are in the clear.
- Keywords and key phrases are still an essential part of SEO, but it will now be harder to measure their success.
- Referral traffic results will be less accurate in terms of knowing how and through which key terms visitors arrive at the site.
- Traffic can still be measured on a page level (ie. which pages are gaining traffic, which have a high bounce rate etc.).
- Google still tracks all search data on the web and as a result we are still able to research and identify the keywords that generate the most search results in the industry (from Google Adwords, namely Google's Keyword Planner). Using this insight into people's search habits, one can create a strongly educated keyword strategy based on user trends.
What should you do to ensure that patients searching for ODs in your area can find you and your practice? We suggest:
Fewer keywords, more pizzazz
The best way to make sure this change doesn't affect your online traffic and SEO ranking is to make sure you provide quality, unique and relevant content on your website. As opposed to past SEO strategy which involved strategically placing keywords throughout the website, the focus should now be on including these keywords in longer, catchier sentences within in the body of the webpage and in title tags, descriptions and H2 and H3 tags. For example, where in the past a title tag might read: Optometrist New York City | Eye Care NYC | New York Optometry Inc., we are now looking for the following: Complete Eye Care By the Leading Optometrist in NYC or Total New York City Eye Care for the Whole Family At New York Optometry Inc. In this example there are fewer keywords used throughout the title, but it tells the searcher more, gives personality to the site, and may appeal more to users which we hope will result in more click-throughs from the SERPs.
More unique, relevant content
Content is king and that is the only thing we can "guarantee" now that will bring in traffic. Fresh content and lots of activity on social networks is what will have an impact on traffic. An onsite blog is a great way to consistently add personalized content directed at your specific client base. Enlist your opticians, office manager and desk staff to give input about what is interesting to your potential customer, and create an office-wide initiative to bolster your online presence through engaging content.
Offsite SEO still is in the game
Lastly, offsite SEO strategies such as link-building and local directory optimization still have the same impact on your site as ever before. Keep up with these same practices which for now at least remain unaffected.
If you have hired a company to maintain your web marketing, speak to them to find out how they plan to adapt their strategy moving forward. If you have a good team, they are already aware of the situation and working toward educated solutions to work within these new limitations.
Nancy Rausman is the managing editor of the
EyeCarePro blog and Optometry Web Newsletter. She is responsible for providing ECPs with educational content that helps them advance their practices through technology, management strategies and digital marketing.