October 15, 2013

Hotelier’s Action Plan to Benefit from Google’s New “Hummingbird” Algorithm

by Sue Wiker & Asher Fusco

What is the situation?

In September of this year Google introduced a new, dramatically different search algorithm – dubbed “Hummingbird,” meant to gather better, more intuitive results for users via conversational search. The Hummingbird rollout is more than just an adjustment to the search engine’s formula (like the many prior iterations of Panda and Penguin algorithm updates issued over the past several years). Instead, it is a complete retooling of the Google search algorithm with wide-reaching effects.

To quote search engine optimization expert Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com, “Hummingbird is a brand new engine, though it continues to use some of the same parts of the old.” In fact, Amit Singhal, Google Search Chief, told Sullivan that Hummingbird is the company’s largest search algorithm change since 2001 – a staggering period of time in the ever-evolving world of SEO.

Hummingbird’s main intent is to deliver more accurate answers to conversational search queries. In short, the search engine’s results will better answer questions like the following: “What is the best hotel rooftop bar nearby?” Using your current location, Google will deliver the most relevant results for the query in a more precise manner than it did pre-Hummingbird. These geo-targeted, conversational, query-specific results are meant to help users find the results most relevant to them.

In a more general sense, this algorithm change reinforces Google’s continuing shift toward rewarding quality content instead of keyword-centric content. As noted in a recent HeBS Digital blog post – “The End of an Era: Google Says Goodbye to Keyword-Centric SEO” – the content-focused age is upon us. Low-quality, keyword-stuffed content is prone to punishment at the hands of Google, while high-quality, helpful, engaging and relevant content is rewarded with high search engine results page placement.


What does this mean for hoteliers?

As a rule of thumb, hotel websites have always benefited from more focused, long-tail keyword terms such as “Chicago hotel with rooftop bar” as opposed to the broader keywords such as “Chicago hotels,” which are often dominated by the OTAs and big hotel brand websites.

The new “Hummingbird” algorithm has made a more measurable impact on these complex long-tail keywords – which are of greater importance to hotel websites – and a lesser impact on broad keyword terms. For example, a search for “Chicago hotels” might hardly be affected while a search for “Chicago hotel with free airport shuttle” will see significant changes in the search engine results. We will also see Hummingbird alter results for searches that use modifiers such as “best,” “cheapest,” and “closest.”

Those hoteliers who reacted proactively to previous Google search algorithm updates such as Panda and Penguin are one step ahead. Sites focused on quality and depth of content will succeed in the post-Hummingbird landscape, while those beset by thin content will struggle to swim against the current of Google’s emphasis on quality content.


What do HeBS Digital’s marketing experts recommend?

Hoteliers should continue to produce high-quality content that engages users. With each update to its algorithm, Google further emphasizes the importance of deep, relevant, unique and engaging content. The Hummingbird change is the most robust update of the past decade, meaning hoteliers should be spurred out of complacency and into action.

  • If your site currently has fewer than 35-50 pages of deep, editorial-level content, consider revamping your content strategy to make your site into a quality editorial replication of your hotel and its amenities.
  • Cover relevant and timely topics that keep users engaged, interested and engaged with the site.
  • If your site’s content and structure has not been refreshed in more than 18 months, consider re-designing the site to take advantage of the latest innovation in content management system (CMS) technologies, as well as enhancing the quality and depth of the current website content to catch up with Google’s updates.
  • Start a blog to post local events, top ten lists, brand announcements, area news, and more.
  • Generate an XML site map to guide Google in the correct direction when it indexes your site’s pages.
  • Use a professional copywriting and SEO team to create content that targets traffic-driving long-tail keywords.

Each of the aforementioned steps is a piece of a 360-degree strategic plan to capitalize on the traits the Google Hummingbird algorithm rewards – in-depth, high-quality content – and move away from practices encouraged by the old cottage industry of SEO “experts” that are no longer a part of the natural search equation: keyword stuffing, mindless meta search optimizations, and weak editorial content.



In its current iteration, the Google Hummingbird algorithm simply underscores the practices we have utilized for many years here at HeBS Digital – generating high-quality content that engages and informs users. Make it a priority to overhaul your current website by adopting the latest CMS technology and by creating quality content that accurately represents your property and its destination, and Google will reward you.


About the Authors and HeBS Digital

Sue Wiker is Manager and Asher Fusco is Senior Copy + SEO Specialist within HeBS Digital’s Copy & SEO Department. HeBS Digital is the hospitality industry’s leading full-service digital technology and marketing firm (www.HeBSDigital.com).

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hospitality digital technology and marketing, and direct online channel best practices and strategies. The firm has won more than 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, and others.

A diverse client portfolio of hospitality clients: from restaurants to major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel chains, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital’s direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital’s consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com.

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Editorial Contact:

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