Google Overhauls its Search Algorithm, and Communicators Look to Adapt



Google late last week overhauled of its algorithm in a move that will reportedly affect 90% of the search results it serves.

Called Hummingbird, the new algorithm is designed to make search results more relevant and useful, especially when users ask more complex questions. (Google launched Hummingbird about a month ago, but announced the change last week.)

According to, Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning of words when people are searching for information via Google. For example, the algorithm might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. Hummingbird is also designed to pay attention to each specific word in a query.

As search gets more sophisticated, PR execs may have to modify and/or reevaluate their search-engine strategies. They’ll need to think more holistically about how search engine campaigns and keywords can be wed to other communication channels.

With that in mind, here are some fundamental tips on how to enhance your SEO strategy, from Kathleen McFadden, an account executive at Buchanan Public Relations, and co-chair of the PR Committee for the Public Relations Global Network.

> Build strong links. When another website links to your own site, Google awards you with “SEO points” for being a place that someone else found interesting, helpful or relevant. The more popular the site that links to you, the better. So how can you aim to get more link-backs? Look at what you’re probably already doing a lot of: Pitching the media and blogging. News outlets naturally draw high traffic online.

> Avoid common mistakes when measuring search rank. PR is all about measuring the before-and-after of a campaign. As an SEO consultant, record where your clients rank in their respective industries before you start a project, and continue to monitor how they climb in search results for those same keywords as your recommendations are implemented.

> Keep the Google bots happy. It’s tempting to include every keyword you (or your client) would ever want to rank for, but Google will punish you for it. “Keyword stuffing”—the overuse or repetition of keywords and phrases—can cause Google to flag your site as spam, resulting in a lower search ranking that’s harder to escape. To avoid being the PR pro who placed your client on Google’s blacklist, do what you do best: Write like a human, not an SEO machine. Don’t force keywords if they don’t fit naturally in the text.

Learn more about SEO best practices at PR News’ “SEO Workshop: SEO Tactics to Increase the Visibility and Shareability of Your PR Content,” which takes place at New York’s Grand Hyatt on Oct. 15.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1

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About Matthew Schwartz

Group Editor, PR News: Matthew Schwartz is group editor of PR News, the leading source of trends, how-to content and best practices for PR professionals. Matthew leads the editorial strategy for PR News’ premium content products—including its weekly newsletter—and for its digital presence. Matthew was editor of PR News from 2003-2005. Prior to returning to PR News, Matthew was a reporter for Crain’s BtoB and Media Business magazines, where he covered business marketers and media companies. He was also editor of BMA Buzz, a biweekly email newsletter covering B2B marketing, advertising and social media, and contributing writer to Advertising Age Custom. Matthew has helped to launch blogs on behalf of ZoomInfo and direct marketing agency The Kern Organization. He also spent a few years in cable-news precincts, working as a writer/producer at CNN and Fox News Channel.

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  • ronellsmith

    Great advice, Matthew. Thanks, too, for not ringing the bell of alarm.


  • Mrs. Hill

    Makes me wonder…this new conceptual meaning algorithm…how long will it take before not only keywords, but the content is also read in this way affecting and/or penalizing your website’s SERP?