PTPN Insights

The latest Google update: What therapy practice owners need to know about Google Hummingbird.

November 26th, 2013 |

The latest Google update: What therapy practice owners need to know about Google Hummingbird.Have you heard about Google Hummingbird? It’s the latest update to Google’s search function, and understanding its impact is crucial to your practice’s online presence.

As you may know, Google updates its algorithm regularly. What makes Hummingbird different is its size and scope — it’s reportedly the largest algorithm update since 2001, and it’s affecting 9 out of 10 online searches. The major change is an emphasis on conversational or context searching, rather than traditional keyword searching. The new algorithm aims to respond to the way web users are searching today, which is less and less by one or two keywords and more and more by longer phrases or complete questions.

For example, years ago a user may have searched on the single term “iPhone,” but now he is more likely to search using a question like, “Where can I find the best prices on iPhone 5s?” This is particularly true with voice-powered searching on smartphones and other mobile devices. The Hummingbird update provides results based on this conversational method of searching.

So what does this mean for you as a practice owner? Here are a few of the most important ramifications:

  1. Make sure your content provides answers.

As keyword searching becomes less important, the ability of your online content to answer users’ questions becomes more important. While good website content has always been a prerequisite for a successful online presence, you must now re-evaluate and refresh your content. “It’s becoming increasingly important to position yourself as the provider of answers that people are seeking,” says one expert. Another adds, “Content for the sake of ‘words on a page’ doesn’t have the base value it once had. Now, your content really has to answer something.”

Start by thinking about the kinds of questions your customers (or patients) are likely to have, then make sure your website and social media news feeds have in-depth information (like how-to articles) that address them. Think about it as a conversation with your online audience.

For example, instead of relying on keywords like “tennis elbow” or “epicondylitis,” develop website content that answers questions like, “What kind of treatments help reduce elbow and wrist pain?” In fact, use questions like that in your content — title a blog post, “How physical therapy helps reduce elbow and wrist pain for tennis players.”

(PTPN members can get a head start on content development by using our Physiquality blog content as their own. For details, visit the PTPN Social Media Toolkit by logging on at

  1. Think about the meaning of your content.

Under Hummingbird, keywords still have some weight, but even more important is using synonyms — using multiple words with the same meaning will trigger Hummingbird’s algorithm for better search results. To research synonyms, search for a term on Google and see what other words are highlighted in the search results. For example, take a look at the results for a search of “What is physical therapy?”

What is physical therapy?

This search shows that entering “physical therapy” will not only result in information on PT, but also physical therapists, degrees for PTs and PTAs, types of and uses for physical therapy, etc. Use these types of synonyms in your website content for better results.

  1. Update your content regularly.

The “freshness factor” of your online content is more important with Hummingbird, which means newer content improves your search engine ranking and older content can drag you down. Be sure your practice website includes a blog page, a latest news section, and other areas where you regularly add new content and delete old information. You can kill two birds with one stone in this area by linking your website updates with your social media updates: a new Facebook post can also be a new blog entry on your website.

  1. Be active in social media.

The relationship between social and search is strengthened under Hummingbird, so more than ever, your practice’s social media success will affect your search engine ranking. Websites get higher rankings when they are highly engaged with customers via social media and therefore have strong “social signals” such as Facebook likes, Google+ shares, Twitter retweets and blog comments. PTPN members can get ideas on how to build an active social media presence, or boost engagement with followers, with help from the resources in the PTPN Social Media Toolkit. This webinar for PTPN members from PTPN Preferred Vendor is another good resource for increasing social engagement online. Also, be sure you’ve made it easy for your website audience to share and comment on your content, by using, for example, social media sharing buttons.

Printable version.

For further information:

Krush, Alesia. How to thrill Google Hummingbird: The SEO’s guide [INFOGRAPHIC]. Search Engine Journal, November 22, 2013.

Yu, Jim. Google Hummingbird and the keyword: What you need to know to stay ahead., November 5, 2013.

Angeles, Sara. What Google’s Hummingbird update means for small business. Business News Daily, October 8, 2013.

The Google “Hummingbird” algorithm, a more semantic approach. Schraff Design, October 7, 2013.

Sullivan, Danny. FAQ: All about the new Google “Hummingbird” algorithm., September 26, 2013.

Janssen, Cory. Freshness factor. Technopedia.

Wright, Charles. SEO: Get on top of Google and stay there. The Sydney Morning Herald, August 15, 2013.

Vaughn, Pamela. The ultimate cheat sheet for creating social media buttons., July 12, 2013.

PTPN. How to dominate page 1 of Google and generate more referrals. Vimeo, July 25, 2013.

Awosolu, Samuel. 5 tips to drive traffic to your physical therapy website. PT Marketing Unleashed, March 2012.

And check out these other PTPN Insights posts for more tips on how to maximize your digital marketing: