Then I see the pricing structure...
And besides which, leaving cash on the bedside dresser on the way out sounds sooooooo tacky!
Keeping your small business or SME afloat is a tricky proposition. Lucky for you, SEO North Sydney is here to help keep the sharks at bay!
So I'm looking into extending my SEO company's reach, using non-traditional channels, when I come across an article on the always erudite website: Forbes.com. An article from a (US) SEO company that is obviously using the platform to pimp their SEO-ride. So I get to thinking...how do I get articles on Forbes? My writing ability and SEO knowledge married with the reach of Forbes? That's got to be a union made in Heaven!
Then I see the pricing structure...
Needless to say I have decided it's better for both parties if we go our separate ways. Because if a fella has to pay US$100,000 a month for a roll in the hay with Forbes, then I'm pretty sure she's not going to be doing it because she loves me for me...
And besides which, leaving cash on the bedside dresser on the way out sounds sooooooo tacky!
Website Design Melbourne
SEO North Sydney are extremely happy to launch a new web design in Melbourne, Victoria, for shippingcontainersmelbourne.com.au, a local container company that specialises in the sales and hire of shipping containers across Victoria. A clean, measured design was the order of the day for this web build, blending the client's light blue logo with a lot of white space in order to offer visitors an effortless experience where website navigation and usability are prioritised above the more flashy websites favoured by some of their competitors.
SEO Copywriting Melbourne | SEO Melbourne
SEO North Sydney built the website, wrote all copy therein, and were hire to run the client's local Melbourne SEO campaign.
Web Design Brisbane
SEO North Sydney are proud to announce the launch of a new website in Brisbane for shippingcontainersbrisbane.com.au, a respected local Brisbane shipping container company! A slick and stylish design, utilising a dark colour pallet to emphasise their stylish branding, this new website delivers on both functionality and style.
SEO Copywriting Brisbane | SEO Brisbane
SEO North Sydney not only designed the site, but were hired to write every single word of copy on the site and run the client's on-going local Brisbane SEO campaign.
Keywords - More is Better, Right?
'Keywords'. Even seeing that written down evokes the art of search engine optimisation in your mind, doesn't it? Come on now, admit it. Despite the murmurings in the Force you've heard to the contrary; deep down you still think keywords are where the action’s at.
Oh sure you're nothing if not a diligent small business owner, so you've done some research on the subject of search engine optimisation. And yes, okay, you've heard about that thing called 'Panda'. You've read about that 'Hummingbird' algo-whatsit. And you're vaguely aware that a 'Penguin' is apparently one of the scariest animals in the Google zoo. But really, when it boils down to it, that's all just smoke and mirrors isn't it? A recherché selection of technobabble that is needlessly esoteric and deliberately designed to obfuscate the subject matter from nerdling neophytes. Right?
“Wrong, wrong, absolutely brimming over with wrongability.”
Arnold J. Rimmer, RED DWARF
Search Engine Optimisation – How to Make it a Fair Fight
If we were having this discussion in 1996 - or heck, even 2006 - I'd hold up my hands and agree with you that keywords are ubur important to ranking your website. In fact I’d likely buy you the first round at the pub, for bringing the subject up. But we're not in the mid-90s or the mid-naughties, we're in 2016. And in 2016 focusing your SEO strategy purely on keywords, is like using strong language to win a fight against a guy who’s carrying a M16A4 assault rifle whilst standing on the deck of the USS Iowa.
Not exactly a fair fight now is it?
The SEO Industry’s Biggest Grift
Naturally I don’t blame the small business owners who call SEO North Sydney for bringing up the subject of keywords. Because the vast majority of them have been (unbeknownst to them) on the receiving end of the SEO industry’s most popular scam: charging per keyword.
“This SEO package comes with 10 keywords!”, says the shady SEO sales guy. “And this SEO package comes with 25 keywords! So which package do you think is a better fit with your website’s needs?”
“Err…um…well,” mumbles the small business owner by way of reply. “I guess more keywords sound better?”
“Of course they do! More keywords means more phone calls. And more phone calls means more money for you, Mr. Small Business Owner!”
“Well then, um. Okay. Yeah, sure. That makes sense. I guess. So I’ll go for the SEO package with the more keywords then. Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay! It’s better than okay, actually. It’s perfect, because it’ll cost you twice the price…”
And so the scam goes. With yet another small business owner getting suckered by the well-oiled sales-patter of an online mountebank.
Keywords Drive Strategy – Not Results
Google search has evolved well beyond the primitive keyword stuffing strategies of yore. SEO types know this all too well. But they don’t want you to know it. Much better for them to up-sell you based on the ‘more must be better’ logic of search engine shenanigans.
Luckily for you though, that’s not the way SEO North Sydney operates. Because at SEO North Sydney, all clients, be they large or small, get UNLIMITED KEYWORDS. Because keywords are a component of the content of a particular page, not the other way around.
Think of it this way:
Imagine you have a page on your website with one headline, one picture and 50 words of text. Now insert 25 keywords into that page.
If you did this, it would naturally be B.A.D on so many levels. Human beings reading it would cringe, and click away (as it would be so obviously ‘written for Google’ as to put them off). And Google’s all important Panda algorithm would penalise the page due to the quality (or lack thereof) of the content therein.
However if you have a page on your website with one headline, one picture and 5,000 words of text, how would 25 keywords look on that page? Would they look ‘forced’ or ‘out of place’? Or rather would they just effortlessly blend into the pastiche of the narrative?
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Four out of every five calls SEO North Sydney receive are from small business owners who dwell on the subject of keywords because they’ve been ‘shaped’ by previous SEO companies to ask questions that the SEO companies know how to answer. But much like Pavlov’s dog continues to salivate, even though no food is on offer, so too SEO companies continue to sound the ‘Keywords’ bell, while offering little in the way of demonstrable returns on investment for the privilege.
Marketing a small business is a matter of common sense, it really is. But to paraphrase that famous Voltaire quote, ‘The trouble with common sense is that not many people have it’. This is perhaps never better demonstrated than when applied to how small business owners approach the Herculean task of promoting their business.
Being Good at What You do Doesn’t Mean You Know How to Market it
The issue at the crux of this matter is pretty straight forward: most business owners are NOT trained marketers.
This isn’t a slight on small business owners. Far from it. We are all of us a hardy breed with entrepreneurial blood flowing through our veins. But most people who go into business for themselves, do so because they are experts at what they do. And therefore conclude (mistakenly) that their future business success is predicated on that particular skill-set. Maybe they’re a plumber, or someone who installs solar panels, or perhaps they’re an interior designer or an architect or a practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. Whatever their profession, how good they actually are at it, has little or nothing to do with knowing how to market that skill to the world.
A Small Business Owner Has to Be a Jack of All Trades
Small business owners, by necessity, have to be a jack of all trades. But as the old saying goes, to be a jack of all trades is to be a master of none. And when it comes to succeeding in business, you need to work out very early on, what you can successfully do yourself (to save money), and what you need to outsource. With the rule of thumb being:
“If it isn’t core business or within your own personal skill-set: outsource it to an expert.”
Where to Invest Your Advertising Dollars for Maximum Returns
There are lots of ways to spend your hard earned money when it comes to marketing and advertising. And the traditional ones are discussed here in this article on Print Advertising versus Online Advertising. But ultimately the best place to spend your money, is wherever you can get the maximum return for the minimum spend. And in 2016, the vast majority of people search online via the Google search engine.
Hiring an Online Marketing Expert is an Investment NOT an Expense
I mentioned at the start of this article that marketing a small business is a matter of common sense. Because if 99% of all people looking for what you do and where you do it, search on the internet (and they do). And the vast majority of those search using Google. Then it isn’t rocket science to work out where the bulk of your marketing dollars should go. Or why. But just having a website and being online doesn’t cut it. You can spend a fortune getting your small business website design up and running. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be found in Google search. Far from it in fact. The competition in every industry vertical (that’s worth being in), is fierce. And given that 92% of people don’t go past the first page of their Google search, how to get your small business website on page one of Google becomes the single most important marketing question you’ll ever have to answer.
A Little Knowledge Can be a Dangerous Thing
Of course even if you are fortunate enough to be trained in marketing (and thus understand the fundamentals of how marketing works across multiple channels), that doesn’t mean you are equipped to run your own SEO campaign. With over 200 ranking signals and over 10,000 sub-ranking signals powering Google search, and 500-600 algorithmic updates every year; understanding how Google search functions is a full time job (and then some!).
Having a marketing background is a real leg-up when it comes to growing a successful small business because you’ll innately ‘get’ what needs doing and why. But having a working knowledge of how (for an analogy) your BMW’s engine works is one thing. But would you really expect to be the one to service the engine before you drive you family across the Nullarbor in the dead of winter? Or do you think you’d be better served leaving your car in the hands of a trained mechanic?
Hiring a trained SEO professional is much the same thing.
Partner With a SEO Company You Can Trust
If getting on the first page of Google is a necessity for growing your small business in 2016 (and it is), then the only question small business owners need to ask themselves is: ‘Who can I trust to get my website on the first page?’.
And that’s where a company like SEO North Sydney comes in. With a SEO Consultant with 16 years’ experience at it's helm, SEO North Sydney have an unparalleled understanding of the constantly evolving search landscape, we are the perfect online partner to grow your small business or SME. At SEO North Sydney we don’t sweat the small stuff. We sweat the outcomes. And given we guarantee those outcomes in the contract, you can rest assured that your business growth is in good hands.
Let's talk for a moment about gratitude. About how people sometimes do things for no reason beyond wanting to say, 'Thank you for a job well done'. As small business owners, gratitude is often the last thing on our minds. Overwhelmed as we are by our quotidian railing against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Taxes and wages and equipment costs and rent and insurance and accountants and bookkeepers and ever diminishing profit margins and, oh, did we mention taxes already? The enormity of the 'all hands to the pumps!' approach small business owners go through on a day to day basis makes thinking beyond the next task on our 'To Do List', nigh on impossible. This isn't a slight upon us as small business owners, or as human beings. It isn't that we don't care about other people. It's just that running a small business demands so much of our focus, so much of our time, that it's often hard to look beyond our own borders. Beyond what we need or what we want.
Consequently in business (and indeed in life), someone saying thank you for a job well done, is an all too rare occurrence. Just think about how many satisfied customers you've had down through the years with your small business. And then try to reconcile that with the tiny handful of positive reviews you've got on Google maps, or the minuscule amount of testimonials you've got from customers or clients on your website. Because I guarantee you the math will never come close to adding up.
In small business a customer says thank you by re-signing with you when the contract is up for renewal, or by returning to buy more products from you, etc. And maybe by recommending you to a friend, colleague or business associate. Beyond that, all bets are off.
But sometimes - just sometimes - the innate kindness of the human condition shines through when you least expect it. Today was such a day for me. It started when one of our clients, AutoActive Car Solutions, (a leading North Shore Mechanic) emailed me this wonderful testimonial out of the blue:
"Appointing Brian and Tony from SEO North Sydney to build our new website and do our SEO was one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made. Brian is creative, knowledgeable, focused and is fantastic to work with. His experience and expertise are unparalleled. We had no idea how SEO worked but Brian explained everything and made understanding the process particularly easy for us, and it has been a wonderful experience. Solid results were seen within a few short months, and now we have twice the Google first pages promised in the contract (with many at number 1). Thank you again Brian – we simply cannot thank you enough!"
- Leeman and Bruce – AutoActive Car Solutions
A Gift Basket!
As if receiving that wonderful and unexpected testimonial wasn't enough, we then received delivery of this amazing gift basket!
SEO Case Study
When Autoactive signed with SEO North Sydney several months ago, they needed a new website designed and built, they needed SEO for the new website, and they needed brilliantly written content to populate the new website. But more importantly they needed someone on the other end of the phone who not only understood what they go through each day as small business owners. But who actually gives a damn about whether their business grows or not. And that's where I like to think SEO North Sydney offers a real point of difference. We're a small business just like you. Our clients are small businesses and SMEs just like you. And so we understand - I mean really understand - what steps need to be taken in the digital domain to ensure your small business can compete on an equal footing with the big boys - WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK. Because when it comes to Google, the size of your business doesn't matter a hill of beans. What matters is the concerted ongoing execution of a comprehensive, tailored WHITE HAT SEO strategy, via Google Best Practice guidelines. Do that correctly (and ethically) and any company, no matter how modest it may be, can rank on the first page of Google.
So to Leeman and Bruce at Autoactive Car Solutions, let me go on record and say that it's our turn to say Thank YOU. Because your thoughtfulness and kindness totally made our day!
Website design has evolved a lot since internet pioneer, Tim Berners-Lee, published the World's 1st Website in August 1991. Back then, the internet didn't exist in the way you and I think about it today. So it's a pretty safe bet to assume that the words 'Design' and 'User Experience' were not exactly at the forefront of Tim's thinking when he was looking to publish this gorgeous piece of HTML wonderment:
Website Loading Speed - What Your Web Designers Won't Tell You
Similarly, if someone had mentioned the words 'Loading Speed' to Tim back in 1991, there's a better than even chance he'd have thought it was more likely the sequel to the 1990 movie 'Point Break', than something to do with that new fangled web page he'd just published on the 'internet'!
But, dear readers, let me tell you that loading speed and the user experience is where all the SEO action is in 2016...
Turn Your Website into a Lamborghini
As any competent webmaster, system admin or SEO guru will bear witness, making a website load faster can yield huge dividends, in multiple ways, on multiple levels for small business owners. When implemented correctly, it can significantly impact where your small business website appears in the Google search index.
Unfortunately for most small business owners, website loading speed is pretty much the last thing their web designers take into consideration when building a website for them. Consequently, though your small business website may look (to the untrained eye) like a Lamborghini on the net when its published. You'll be shocked to know that you're actually cruising around town with a 2 litre Ford Focus engine under the hood...
Why Your Website is Built the Wrong Way
Right about now you're probably pulling your hair out and gnashing your teeth when you think about how slow your website is running. Because chances are you've finally realised that this issue may not only be the root cause of your horrible rankings in Google search, but also largely responsible for the fact that you can't convert the measly amount of organic search traffic you actually do get, into sales. However I'm sorry to break this to you, but the fact that your website is unable to get out of second gear is more than likely YOUR fault, not your web design company.
Now wait up, wait up, before you accuse me of defending other people's sub-par web-building practices, let me explain what I mean!
There are three reasons why web designers build sites the wrong way:
To point 1: it's true that there are a large amount of website designers out there who learned to build websites in what might be termed, 'the old school of web design', and who are simply not cognisant of Google's many, many, many updates on the subject of how to build a website so it loads faster (or how important page load speed and mobile compatibility actually are).
To point 2: it's also true that there are a percentage of web designers out there who know how websites SHOULD be built so far as Google is concerned. But who really just don't care. Because - not to put too fine a point on in - you haven't paid them enough to give a damn. Which segues very nicely...
To point 3: remember when you were haggling with your web designer over price? And how you screwed him down a few thousand and felt good about it; safe in the knowledge that you were getting the exact same product, just for a much cheaper price? Well unfortunately for you, even though it may LOOK (from the front end) like you got the same product, I can assure you that is NOT the same product so far as Google is concerned. And therein lies the problem.
How to Build Websites Correctly
I don't want to turn this blog into a sales pitch, but I can't help feeling that it would be remiss of me not to point out that the very reason SEO North Sydney rock the Casbah when it comes to website design (and building kick-a*se websites generally), is that we are a SPECIALIST SEO COMPANY WHO ALSO BUILD WEBSITES; and not a web-design company who also do a bit of SEO on the side, but who in actuality have little or no knowledge of the 10,000 sub-ranking factors that go into getting a website onto the first page of a Google search.
Website Design Examples
To give you an idea of the sort of websites we build, I've listed a few of our recent web designs below:
Shipping Containers (#1 in Google search for 'Shipping Containers').
Private Investigator (#1 in Google search for 'Private Investigator Sydney').
North Shore Mechanic (#1 in Google search for 'Mechanic North Shore').
iLasik Surgery (#1 and #3 in Google search for 'iLasik Surgery Sydney).
Getting websites on the first page of Google is what we do. It's our bread and butter. So naturally we're industry leaders on how a website needs to be built to help it rank in Google, because we're the guys small business owners call on when their website isn't working properly, or else needs a complete overhaul. And because so many websites are built the wrong way, we are constantly called on to put out other people's fires. As iconic fire-fighter Red Adair is famously quoted as saying: "If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur".
Web Design - How to Seperate the Wheat from the Chaff
Ultimately your web designer's job is to build you a nice looking website that works. In other words, they get hired to build you a website that looks pretty and functions. Their remit is to build you a website, and that's it. End of story. The fact that it's build in a way that severely limits it's success in Google search, is irreverent to them. Because that's not what you paid them for. What you paid them for is to build you a website that looks nice and functions as it's supposed to. And that's exactly what they delivered. And all that they delivered.
And therein lies the problem, because this budget focused methodology is great for your web design company (as their coders bill less hours), but AWFUL for Google, due to the way the website is constructed and coded. With SEO North Sydney, we code the website in a way that adheres to Google Best Practice. This is a much more labour intensive process, but ensures that when the website is launched, it not only looks amazing, but it gains instant love from Google, due to the way the Googlebot is able to crawl and index the site.
SEO North Sydney's remit is to build small business owners and SME's websites that will automatically rank in Google, due to the code that underlies the website build itself. Where standard web design companies build web sites 'from the front to the back', SEO North Sydney build websites 'from the back to the front'. After all, our clients are paying us to get them on the first page of Google. So why would we design a website in a way that is going to significantly hinder our ability to deliver all the Google first pages we've guaranteed the small business owner in the contract?
We wouldn't. And we don't. When we take on a website build we do so safe in the knowledge that the finished product will not only look amazing and function brilliantly, but that it also ticks all the coding requirements that Google need to correctly index, catalogue and load the site quickly.
Which brings us rather neatly back to the issue of page load speed.
Higher Bounce Rate - Lower Conversions
Even if we think about this from a common web user's perspective, it would not be difficult to envisage why a faster loading website would be more beneficial. As a web user yourself, what would you normally do when a site is taking a long time to load? Would you hang around waiting for it to come up or would you just click-away?
In case you're not familiar with the term bounce rate – which happens to be a very important parameter related to the performance of a web site – it is commonly defined as the percentage of visitors who reach a website and then just leave (or 'bounce out'), without interacting with the site in any way.
The findings of a Kissmetrix study (citing gomez.com and akamai.com as sources) reveals that:
And a Strangeloop study brings the point home even more strongly:
Website Loading Speed – Why it's More Important Than Ever
As if losing visitors and revenue via their website is not harmful enough to small business owners, slow loading sites also get fewer visitors to begin with. This is because Google utilise loading speed and mobile compatibility as major search engine ranking factors. Thus, the slower a website is to load, the lower its SERP (Search Engine Ranking Position), and the smaller amount of organic search traffic it receives.
As any web marketer or SEO professional worth his salt would tell you, web traffic derived from organic search results is the best converting traffic a website can get. But with over 200 major ranking factors, and 10,000 sub-ranking factors deciding who goes where in Google's search engine results, it's become increasingly difficult for small business owners to get their websites on the first page of Google (where all the action is). Website loading speed however, is what we might call 'low hanging fruit' so far as SEO is concerned. And once the website's code is re-written to better mirror Google Best Practice specifications, a significant (and almost instantaneous) bump in your website's rankings in Google search, is common.
Which brings us to question of:
How to Measure the Loading Speed of a Website
There are three widely recognised online services that measure the many different parameters related to the loading speed of websites.
Probably the oldest of these services is the Pingdom Website Speed Test:
Pingdom Website Speed Test
Click the link below to check out the Pingdom Website Speed Test:
Google PageSpeed Insights Test
The second one is none other than Google itself, by way of a service called 'Google PageSpeed Insights:
Check out the Google PageSpeed Insights at the link below:
GMetrix Website Speed Test
The third and final one is a company called, GTmetrix:
Here is the link to the GTmertix website:
Websites: the Need for Speed
As you'll notice, all three sites show how quickly (or slowly!) your website loads, while also provide various guidelines in terms of what actually needs fixing. Implementing these fixes are obviously extremely technical in nature, and very easy to get wrong, so it is always recommended to leave the changes to the experts:
Why Your Hosting Can Make or Break Your Website
In addition to implementing the recommendations provided by the site speed measuring services above, one method that SEO North Sydney always look into, that often delivers excellent speed page loading improvements, is via upgrading the website's hosting account. Something that can be especially beneficial if a site is hosted in an inexpensive or shared hosting environment.
There are many options to implement this, but the best possible way to upgrade from a shared hosting environment is to go to what is known as a VPS (or Virtual Private Server). While a basic VPS account would typically cost a lot more than a shared account, the difference in speed is often significant, so it makes the extra monthly hosting cost, well worth your while.
If your site is already on a VPS (or on a superior host like a dedicated server), the loading speed can still be improved by tuning various server configuration parameters such as the MySQL configuration (if your site uses a MySQL database in the backend, as most sites do today), Operating System level caching etc. But again, this is delving into some serious tech, so best left to experts like SEO North Sydney.
Conclusion: Speed Up Your Website and Win!
As the owner or marketer of a small business website you are no doubt all too aware that slow websites lose and fast site win in the race to be #1 in Google. And with Google putting more and more relevance on how fast your website loads, and how well it works in the mobile environment, now is definitely the time to turbo-charge your website to win the race.
Click here for a whole heap of brilliant Web Design examples. And here for Search Engine Optimisation information to guarantee your website gets on the 1st page of Google.
Wouldn't getting your business website on the first page of Google be a whole lot easier if Google just told you what it was you needed to do to get it there? Of course it would.
Google doesn't work that way, unfortunately. And tends to hide how search really works from us mere mortals to keep us guessing. But occasionally, out of the mouths of babes and innocents, comes mana from Heaven (if I may indulge in a tag-team of Biblical idioms, writing this as I am over the Easter long weekend).
A couple of days ago was just such an occasion.
Google's Ranking Factors - Where Obfuscation is the State of the Nation
North of 200 ranking signals, and over 10,000 sub-ranking signals make getting your small businesses website on the first page of Google, insanely difficult. By their own admission, Google updates 500-600 algorithms per year. That's nearly 1.6 algorithmic updates per day, folks. Which means Google are constantly changing the rules of search and moving the goal-posts. What worked in search engine optimisation yesterday, might not work tomorrow. And worse, what worked in search yesterday and got your business website so many Google first pages, may actually get your website penalised tomorrow.
What we do know, and have known for many years, is that the list of what Google uses to rank websites is changing all the time, and expanding exponentially. So much so that even those of us who work in search full-time are constantly getting whip-lash from trying to keep up with the speed of the changes flying past us.
Not only is what Google values in a website changing all the time, but the order and priority of the ranking or 'trust' factors (as we understand them) often back-flips when you least expect it, making a change in SEO strategy a matter of urgency, rather than something to do when you happen to get around to it.
Google's Big 3 Ranking Signals - Cutting to the Chase
So back to that manna from Heaven I mentioned: in late October last year, Google dropped a bombshell (quite literally out of nowhere) that the third biggest ranking factor for getting on the first page of a Google search, was known as 'RankBrain'.
To which the SEO industry as a whole went, 'Huh? RankWhat?'
Google did this, as Google are want to do, in a totally off-the-cuff manner. Sergey Brin and Larry Page didn't call a press conference. The WebSpam team didn't thaw out Matt Cutts from his cryogenic slumber to tweet the news to the world. Nor did they so much as send out a press release. Rather, they introduced the world to RankBrain via a Bloomberg Business article titled: Google Turning Its Lucrative Web Search Over to AI Machines, published online on October 26, 2015.
RankBrain - What is it and Why Should I Care?
Before October 2015 there was no 'RankBrain'. At least none that the SEO community knew about (though it's believed to have been running for nearly a year behind the scenes). There was however, Hummingbird. And RankBrain, as it turns out, is actual a constituent component of the much larger, and all encompassing, Hummingbird algorithm.
Still Confused? Don't Be. RankBrain (or RankBrian as I just accidentally typed - now there's a parapraxis if ever there was one!) is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system used by Skynet (err, sorry, Google) to process and interpret complicated or previously misunderstood search queries into a mathematical form it can understand. These misunderstood or 'new' search queries apparently make up about 15% of all search, which is a staggering amount when you think about how many searches are done on Google every day, around the world.
Now, so far as we know, RankBrain is self-learning rather than self-aware. Which is probably for the best, given unleashing an A.I program on the internet can potentially have disastrous consequences...
You Said RankBrain Was Part of Hummingbird?
Yes. Hummingbird is a whole other discussion however, and covered in another SEO blog. But the long and the short of Hummingbird for those in the cheap-seats, is that it is an algorithm released in August 2013 that targets 'Long tail or 'Human' search'. In other words, Hummingbird is an algorithm that largely ignores keywords and instead concentrates on the inherent logic driving the search question. Want an example? Okay. Say someone typed 'Search Engine Optimisation Sydney' into Google (try it). That's a string of keywords followed by a location. It's easy for Google to work out what that particular searcher is looking for: they're looking for an SEO company in Sydney. But what if someone types: 'How do I get my small business website on the first page of Google?' In this instance the searcher hasn't typed the keywords 'Search Engine Optimisation' or 'Sydney'. So how then does Google work out what the searcher is looking for?
This is where the Hummingbird algorithm comes into play. Hummingbird reads 'between the lines' of the search and answers the questions, 'How do I get my small business website on the first page of Google', by musing, 'Okay, this searcher wants to rank their website on the first page of Google. Who provides that service? Oh, yes. Search Engine Optimisation companies do. So they're looking for an SEO company.' And because the searcher hasn't specified a location, Hummingbird will assume the searcher is looking for an SEO company close to where they are. And Google works that out by pinging the device the search was made on (desktop, tablet or smartphone) and going, 'Ah, you're sitting in a Gloria Jeans cafe in North Sydney searching on your iPhone 6s Plus, so you must be looking for an SEO company close to North Sydney'.
Hummingbird as it is understood by the SEO community, can now also be viewed as the over-arching name given to Google's core search technology. For years there was no over-arching name; and if anything Google search as a whole was incorrectly thought to be called PageRank. But in mid-2013 Google released Hummingbird. And at time of writing, it is the understanding of the SEO community that Hummingbird is both 'it's own algorithm' and the name given to Google search as a whole. For example, Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, Payday, EMD, Pirate, Mobile Friendly and Top Heavy are all uber important algorithms in their own right, but are all ultimately part of Hummingbird. RankBrain similarly falls into this category. It uses artificial intelligence (or A.I) to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities know as 'Vectors'. These vectors allow Google to interpret words or phrases it isn't familiar with, and extrapolate data-sets. Or in layman's terms, it allows Google to work out what the hell you're asking, even if you've typed the question into Google like a drunk intern at a PR company who's just returned home after attending Fashion Week for the first time and can't spell for toffee because you've drunk 2 bottles of wine and 7 shots of Tequila.
RankBrain - The Technical View
Of course, while RankBrain is primarily used by Google on the 15% of new-to-Google search queries, don't be fooled into thinking that is all it does. Because it is (to quote Google), "Not limited to any particular set of queries". In other words, the technology driving RankBrain also comes into play when trying to make sense of other long-tail searches. And post Hummingbird, long-tail Google searches make up over 40% (and growing) of all search queries. And as keyword driven search is dying (and it is) and question based and vocal search becomes more and more the norm, long-tail question driven search queries are more and more where the SEO gold is buried.
RankBrain is Not Self-Learning After All
Google's Gary Illyes was asked on Twitter to clarify whether the RankBrain algorithm continually re-programs itself and learns as it goes along (as was originally believed by the SEO community). But it turns out it doesn't. Rather, RankBrain is periodically 'Re-trained" by the boffins at Google, to do its job better, as and when new up-dates are released. In Illyes own words: "Its effects are expectable, not assumable".
IIlyes went on to say: “We’ll keep experimenting with and testing new models, and we’ll make updates as we come up with models that do a better job than the existing one. That could be about refreshing the data or developing new neural net architectures.”
Thought Vectors and the Word2vec Connection
Another ingredient in RankBrain is believed to be Google’s Word2Vec Project, which is based on the twin architectural models of CBOW (Continuous Bag of Words) and Skip-Gram. Both of which are, in nerd-speak, considered “shallow neural models”. In essence, CBOW tries its level best to predict the current word, based on the words around it (because words make more send when viewed in context with the words nearby). Whereas Skip-Gram cleverly predicts meaning from the sense of the words it finds.
Or to simplify it even further:
Whether RankBrain is actually using Word2vec (or a variation of the methodology) or not, is ultimately by-the-by. All we really need to know is that RankBrain is converting words and phrases into vectors, which it then uses to allow for a deeper understanding of the data it's reviewing. The implications of all this being that if Google is able to convert a typed question into vectors to better understand the inherent meaning behind the question, then Google will be able to significantly improve the search results it shows.
Another potential element under-pinning RankBrain (and until Google opens their Kimono to reveal all, this is just more guess work on our part, remember) is thought to be ‘Distributional Hypothesis’.
In linguistics, Distributional Hypothesis states that words used together in a sentence tend to infer similar meanings. This is a theory born from Statistical Semantics. The distributional hypothesis for this infers that the more semantically similar two words are, the more distributionally alike they’ll be, and the higher probability that they occupy similar linguistic contexts.
Or to simplify it even further:
Latent Semantic Indexing
Another element that could be at play in RankBrain, is known as 'Latent Semantic Indexing' (LSI). Which is a retrieval and indexing method that uses Singular Value Decomposition to identify patterns in the relationship between concepts and terms as viewed in written text.
Scalability in Vectors
Ultimately RankBrain will expand its remit from learning patterns within short strings of data, to learning patterns within entire documents. Because just as there is learning to be had in the former, there is surely deep learning to be had with the latter. And it's not too far of a stretch to think that the RankBrain algorithm of a few years down the track will be able to read an entire book and distill its meaning into a few short paragraphs.
Cliff Notes look out!
Professor Geoff Hinton and Artifical Neural Networks
Okay, so let's back track for a minute. RankBrain “Converts words and phrases into vectors," right? But what exactly does that mean? To better understand that, we need to look to Professor Geoff Hinton of the University of Toronto's work in 'Word2vec Connections'. Mr. Hinton is a gentleman and scholar (as the old saying goes) with much wisdom in the field of artificial neural networks. And who happened to have owned a company called DNNresearch Inc, which was acquired by Google in June 2013.
(Ah...the plot thickens...)
Neural Net reporter, Jack Clark of Bloomberg (who wrote the original Bloomberg Business article) attempted to get clarification on the whole Word2ve Connection issue:
"They wouldn’t explicitly confirm that it (RankBrain) is Word2vec, but everything we discussed indicated it’s likely doing something roughly equivalent to Word2vec, and is also doing similar conversions for sequences which is likely connected to Sequence to Sequence learning (PDF: http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5346-sequence-to-sequence-learni…).
It also links to Geoff Hinton’s stuff on Thought Vectors which implicitly involves word2vec."
When pushed on the subject, a Google spokesperson said “It’s related to Word2vec in that it uses ’embeddings’ — looking at phrases in high-dimensional space to learn how they’re related to one another.” Which is about as much clarification on the subject as we could rightfully expect to get.
For those with a mind to dig deeper into Rankbrain, there's a Patent Application by Googe pending, which includes this:
Further RankBrain Reading
The 1st and 2nd Most Important Ranking Factors in Google Search
Which segues us rather nicely back to the question of, 'Okay, so if RankBrain is the third most important factor in Google search, what are the first two?'.
This we didn't need last week's announcement to answer; because I, and many other SEO types, have known the answer to this question for years. The first most important thing (in the post Panda world) is QUALITY ORIGINAL CONTENT. The second most important thing (in the post Penguin world) is QUALITY LINKS.
You'll note I added the word 'Quality' to both those Google ranking factors? Good. Because if you think all you have to do to rank in Google is flood your website with cheap content (no doubt sourced out of Eastern Europe), and point thousands of low value links at it (no doubt sourced via an el-cheapo company in India), then you're probably the proud owner of a time machine*, and are kickin' it back in 2010 listening to Ke$ha's mega-hit, 'TiK ToK', or else queuing up with the kids to see Toy Story 3 at the cinema for the umpteenth time. I say this as nobody with half a brain in their head would run that strategy today. Because if they did, their website would have the living crap kicked out of it by both Panda and Penguin, and find itself buried on page 35 of their particular Google search. And given that 92% of people don't go past the first page of Google...good luck with getting the phone to ring from there.
*if you do own a time machine, might I suggest going back to 1997 and investing in Google when they were a start-up? As this is probably a safer bet than trying to con Google with low quality content and dodgy links in 2016...
So Who Announced the New Number #1 and #2 Ranking Factors?
The 'official' announcement on the first and second most important factors in ranking in Google search, was made on March 23, 2016, when Andrey Lipattsev, a 'Search Quality Senior Strategist' at Google, let the cat out of the bag in a video 'Q&A with Google'. Given that Google had already announced that RankBrain was the third most important signal in search today, Lipattsev was pushed on what the first two were. And here is his answer:
"I can tell you what they are. It's content. And it's links pointing at your site'.
Andrey Lipattsev - The New Voice of Google Search?
Now whether Google gave Lipattsev the go-ahead to reveal this information to the world, or whether he simple forgot himself mid-interview and let it slip, we'll never know. But when all's said and done, what Lipattsev revealed is nothing smart SEO minds didn't already know. If you want to rank your website on the first page of Google, you need to create original, engaging, brilliantly written content, that people will want to link to organically.
And there you were thinking this Google business was complicated!
Everyone who drives a car thinks they could successfully race a car around a track if required. Everyone with a blackbelt thinks they can win a fight if push came to shove. And everyone who knows how to string a few words together, thinks they know how to write. But just being able to drive without crashing into things, throw a few kicks if cornered, or write an email while at work, does not mean you are an expert at it. It just means you have a functional level of ability. Which is great to have, don't get me wrong. One might even say, essential. But if you want to really drive fast, you hire a formula 1 driver. If you want to protect yourself from a bully, you stand behind a UFC fighter. And if you want content for your business website that Google not only loves, but that human beings respond to...you hire an experienced SEO Copywriter.
Because time was pretty words were all it took to rank in Google. But with Google's Panda algorithm ruling the roost since 2012, an understanding of tone, voice, syntax, grammar et al, is now just the beginning. Write badly and you'll get penalised by Google. Write well and you'll get prioritised by Google.
'A picture is worth a thousand words' is an idiom we all know. But when it comes to ranking your website in Google search, give me a thousand words every time.
Brian M Logan is an on-line marketing, SEO and copywriting expert with over 15 years' experience in the web and over 20 years' experience with the written word.