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  • Posted on 15 October 2013

SEO Industry Update for September 2013

Marking its 15th birthday, Google announced its new ‘Hummingbird’ search algorithm on the 26th September. It’s probably the biggest change to the inner workings of Google since 2001 when Amit Singhal joined the company and affects over 90% of searches worldwide.


Google reportedly told Danny Sullivan that the name came from being “precise and fast”, with improvements to “Conversational search” being one of the main examples highlighted by Google. People, when speaking search commands, should now find it easier and more natural to have a conversation with Google.

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query is taken into account rather than just particular words.

Although announced on 26th September, Google say that Hummingbird actually went live about a month earlier. Moz.com reportedly saw a disruption between 20-22nd of August so a step change in organic traffic around this period could potentially have been caused by the update.

Guidance remains the same however, with Google reiterating the need to focus on original, high-quality content. Ultimately Hummingbird appears to be about delivering faster, more accurate results that also improves the integration of knowledge graph entities. It’s no coincidence that Google announced on the same day that they had enhanced their knowledge graph results with the addition of filters and a way to compare two Knowledge Graph items side-by-side.

Google also announced a new card based design for tablets and phones, richer direct answers with comparison, a new song exploration feature and notifications of Google Now information for iOS 7.

Google’s Move Towards 100% ‘Not Provided’ Referrals

Google have made a significant change in terms of the information they pass on from search activity. This change means no more keyword data will be passed to site owners.

Although Google have yet to make an official announcement, they have switched all searches over to encrypted searches using HTTPS for users regardless of whether they are signed into a Google account.

Google essentially retains the referrer, but strips out the q= parameter which holds the keyword. This means we will still see that the visit came from organic search but we will not have specific keyphrase information that has traditionally allowed us to report on user behaviour (i.e. brand and non brand searches). All keyphrase referrals will now appear as (not provided) within analytics platforms such as Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst.

We have seen rapid growth of not provided referrals over the last two years. When encrypted search initially launched in May 2010, Google initially had encrypted search on a separate URL. A year later, in late 2011, Google started redirecting all U.S. users who were signed into their Google Accounts to the encrypted version at https://google.com.

Just last month, BrightEdge released a study finding the percentage of “(not provided)” data was over 50% for some industries. The site Not Provided Count now reports an average of nearly 81% of keywords not provided. Whilst there will be some residual keyphrase data still coming through we anticipate that this will reduce dramatically over the coming weeks.

Although this does represent a challenge, Google still provide granular keyword data in the form of its top search queries report in webmaster tools which provides impressions, clicks, average position and CTR. This can also be linked to Adwords where the data can be viewed in the paid and organic report.

NetBooster UK has already evolved its reporting to include this top search query data in addition to ranking visibility and page level metrics so that clients continue to get the right level of insight from their search campaigns. We are also working with industry leading reporting platforms to find alternative ways of reporting on brand and non brand performance. 

Google Announce Penguin 2.1

Google also launched Penguin 2.1 on October 4th. This was announced by Matt Cutts via Twitter in which he said it impacted about 1% of search queries.

Following a YouTube hangout with John Mueller we established that the update was focused on including more data into the main Penguin algorithm rather than it being changed in any way. This is likely to have been sourced from feedback via Google’s disavow tool and is likely to affect publishers that are using more manipulative link building tactics.


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