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Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Feeding the Hummingbird: Structured Markup Isn't the Only Way to Talk to Google
In a recent poll, Moz asked nearly 300 marketers which Google updated affected their traffic the most. Penguin and Panda were first and second, followed by Hummingbird in a distant third.
Unsurprising, because unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird doesn't specifically combat webspam.
Ever wonder why Google named certain algorithms after black and white animals (i.e. black hat vs. white hat?) Hummingbird is a broader algorithm altogether, and Hummingbirds can be any color of the rainbow.
One aspect of Hummingbird is about better understanding of your content, not just specific SEO tactics.
Hummingbird also represents an evolutionary step in entity-based search that Google has worked on for years, and it will continue to evolve. In a way, optimizing for entity search is optimizing for search itself.
Many SEOs limit their understanding of entity search to vague concepts of structured data, Schema.org, and Freebase. They fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to participate in the entity SEO revolution is to mark up your HTML with complex schema.org microdata.
Don't misunderstand; schema.org and structured data are awesome. If you can implement structured data on your website, you should. Structured data is precise, can lead to enhanced search snippets, and helps search engines to understand your content. But Schema.org and classic structured data vocabularies also have key shortcomings:
Schema types are limited. Structured data is great for people, products, places, and events, but these cover only a fraction of the entire content of the web. Many of us markup our content using Article schema, but this falls well short of describing the hundreds of possible entity associations within the text itself.
Markup is difficult. Realistically, in a world where it's sometimes difficult to get authors to write a title tag or get engineers to attach an alt attribute to an image, implementing proper structured data to source HTML can be a daunting task.
Adoption is low. A study last year of 2.4 billion web pages showed less than 25% contained structured data markup. A recent SearchMetrics study showed even less adoption, with only 0.3% of websites out of over 50 million domains using Schema.org.
This presents a challenge for search engines, which want to understand entity relationships across the entire web - not simply the parts we choose to mark up.
In reality, search engines have worked over 10 years - since the early days of Google - at extracting entities from our content without the use of complex markup.