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What Google Hummingbird Really Means and What Marketers Can Do About It

Posted on Feb 5th, 2014
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    Google Hummingbird

    Note from Lee: You know the phrase, kill two birds with one stone? That’s what we’re doing with this post format and the topic of Hummingbird.  Our team at TopRank is known for liveblogging conferences, but this co-created blog format is something new. At the same time, we’re covering a topic (Google Hummingbird) and search + social media that I think warrants some clarity and practical advice. In this post, you’ll see insights our team members took from the SMBMSP event followed by “TopRank Tips” from Eliza and myself.

    In the digital marketing world, change is inevitable. At some point in life we are all forced to adapt, change paths, learn new skills or face something we definitely weren’t expecting.

    As marketers with strong search marketing skills, adapting to change is something we do all the time at TopRank Online Marketing. With Google’s 665 algorithm updates in 2012 alone, we have to!

    Along with the changes in other aspects of professional life, we sometimes get hung up on distractions or efforts to make something more important or scary than it is. The problem is, those distractions can be costly. But sometimes, these changes in the industry really are worth your time and attention. The trick is to figure out what to pay attention to and what to ignore as noise.  A lot of the commentary on Google’s Hummingbird update fits this situation perfectly

    At a recent MSP Social Media Breakfast, Google’s Hummingbird update (plus Panda and Penguin) were covered by local search marketing pros Josh Bratten and Jeff Sauer. They shared their perspectives into what Google’s curiously named updates mean and how social media plays into SEO.

    As holistic online marketers that consider all means of inbound and organic marketing, our team paid close attention to the insights shared by Josh and Jeff on the trend towards natural language search, the impact of social media on search and other changes coming up. Here’s a roundup of insights shared and follow up tips from the TopRank Marketing team members in attendance:

    Brooke Furry

    Brooke Furry – @writerbrooke

    Insight:  Google’s hundreds of algorithmic updates over the years have focused on filtering out low quality content, warding off black hat SEO, and improving overall search experience for users. So although the recent Hummingbird update is a big deal, it’s a logical progression of Google’s goals: to give users valuable, contextually relevant answers.

    TopRank Tip:   When it comes to adapting your online marketing in reaction to Google algorithm changes, don’t focus as much on the update itself, but focus on what the update is trying to achieve. Hummingbird has a focus on queries formed as questions since that is the trend in user behavior.  Understand your own customers’ behavior when it comes to their use of search and adapt your content and optimization accordingly. Be strategic in how you develop processes to provide content and conversations that achieve customer goals, not Google’s, as your top priority.

    Insight:  Through Hummingbird’s sophistication of understanding related concepts, Google strives to anticipate not only your next search, but searches in the future that as typical consumer journeys. This is a huge evolution in search! Going forward, if you want to succeed in search, it will be helpful to map personas, concepts, and entities to discover “what is someone going to ask next?” because Google wants to stay one step ahead.

    TopRank Tip:  Think about what your customers are searching for, but also think about understanding why.  Think of the questions they’re trying to answer with search prior to landing on your page, and how you can provide content that makes your site the next logical place to go.

    Insight:  Today, brands have no excuse to be flimsy or thin with content online. If your company wants to succeed in today’s digital world, you have to succeed overall – build a valuable brand on and offline. With SEO, it doesn’t make sense to focus on finding holes or working the system, because Google’s closing those opportunities.

    TopRank Tip:   Be dedicated to building your brand’s online presence. Don’t be the company that doesn’t respond on Twitter, hasn’t blogged since 2012 and auto-posts the same curated news to Facebook and LinkedIn . Become the best answer for your customers, community and the media for the things they care about and that your brand wants to be known for. Implementing this kind of plan requires robust content that will benefit customers as well as search engines.

    Emily Bachellor

    Emily Bachellor – @EmilyBacheller

    Insight:  Google is moving away from keywords and putting more emphasis on context. This means that companies not only need to create a strong brand, but they must also publish content that reflects their brand values and speaks to the interests of their customers.

    TopRank Tip:   Understand why your customers are searching using certain keywords and where they may be during the sales cycle. Find out what matters to them, and how their values sync up with the values your brand is promoting. Then, use that understanding of your customers to develop your content strategy.

    Insight:  Since Google is likely taking reviews and social sentiment into account when determining the positioning of content, be sure that you’re keeping your customers happy and responding to their concerns as quickly as possible. Their negative online reviews and comments can affect how your brand is found (or not) as well as your sales.

    TopRank Tip:  Make sure you have a social team ready to respond to negative, and positive experiences. A negative experience can either become the context for future customers, or be leveraged as an opportunity to demonstrate your exceptional service! We recommend the latter. The age of customer service as marketing is here, don’t miss out on a prime opportunity to keep customers and search engines happy.

    Insight:  Google wants to know more about the context of your brand. This means that you need to share information about your location(s), specialties and what your company is authoritative for.

    TopRank Tip:   As common sense as it seems, make sure all relevant information about your brand is accessible online. Make your location and phone number easy to find and make sure your site is represented on local listing opportunities. Also, communicate the specific areas of focus for your company on the web site, blog, social networks and in the media. Work to attract industry recognition for that specialization from other authoritative sources. How do you want to be known? Decide and then make it incredibly easy for your target audience, the industry and search engines to agree – you are the best answer for your specialty.

    Ben Brausen

    Ben Brausen – @BenBrausen

    Insight:  While Google’s Matt Cutts recently explained that Google doesn’t rank pages from social media sites differently as they can’t guarantee access to this information, we still have to be aware of the other signals we send surrounding social.  Signals pointing towards social from sites that Google can crawl will still indicate relevant content.  If people are linking to social posts such as breaking news, humorous, or a great story, those signals will still be picked up and weighed by search.

    TopRank Tip:  While Google says Twitter and Facebook are not used for rankings, Google Plus was not mentioned in that disclaimer. Whatever signals your brand can provide amongst social networks to support your company’s areas of expertise can indirectly affect engagement. Social discovery of content and ideas can drive search. Brand social content off your website can rank in search.  Focus on social for engagement and be aware of the potential impact for search, but don’t let search be the sole driver for your social media activities.

    Insight:  The changes made in Hummingbird mean that along with the content of a page, other signals like reviews, Google+ chatter, locational relevance and much more matter too.

    TopRank Tip:   The best approach to Google on a go forward is to be a marketer that optimizes search marketing performance, not optimizing just for search engines. Be customer focused in content marketing, social networking and marketing, online publicity and promotions. By looking at 360 degrees of how your brand is known amongst a target audience that is actively looking for solutions, you align all the necessary tactics to support being the best answer for customers and for Google.

    Insight:  Google now takes things like previous searches and location into account when users are searching.  You should too.  Think: What other topics have customers been searching for when they’re looking for the solutions your company offers?  Where are they (geographically) when they’re looking for your content?

    TopRank Tip:   Understand how your product or service fulfills your customer’s needs, and what else they’ll search for while making their decision. Use analytics to know what devices they’re using, and if they tend to search from larger cities or rural areas. Then tailor your content to appeal to the behaviors and preferences of those data points.

    Nick Ehrenberg

    Nick Ehrenberg – @NickEhrenberg

    Insight:  Schema is even more important in Hummingbird, and article authorship is one of the strongest signals for the new search algorithm. Using the rel=author tag to link a Google+ profile to a blog post makes that listing stand out in SERPs.

    TopRank Tip:   Encourage others in your company (and yourself) to build out Google+ profiles—complete with biographic information, avatars, cover photos, and regular posting—then link them to the content you publish on the web. Encourage off-site authorship amongst key thought leaders and subject matter experts within your company. Also encourage content sharing and engagement within Google Plus.

    Insight:  Competitive research involves a thorough analysis of content strengths and weaknesses. If their content is already epic, that means your content must be just a little more epic. If there are gaps, than the opportunities are (slightly) easier.

    TopRank Tip:   Look into things like social shares, keywords driving traffic, and the type of content your competitors are creating. Although we never recommend mimicking, it’s important to understand the arena in which you’re playing. Then you’ll know what it takes to stand out.

    Michael Bak

    Michael Bak – @Bak57006

    Insight:  While the bulk of Hummingbirds algorithm is moving towards content and a global view, it has no affect on AdWords which will function per usual.

    TopRank Tip:   Use AdWords for a consistent message, and to help build traffic to your site in addition to focusing on the changes in search.

    Insight:  A resounding theme in the digital marketing space lately has been, “Answer their questions” and being a voice of authority in your industry. This presents an interesting opportunity for Landing Page testing, shifting from BUY to need fulfillment . . . or soft sell.

    TopRank Tip:   Test different versions of landing pages, and add a strategic layer to their design, content, and how you link to them. Then monitor your analytics closely to determine what’s working and what isn’t. It’s important to remember to constantly evolve and innovate.

    Insight:  As individual keywords become less of a focus for organic search with Hummingbird, it is important to start utilizing Content Groups and tracking performance to those groups.

    TopRank Tip:   Instead of organizing content by search phrase, think of the actual questions customers have about the problem they need solved. Formulate clusters of questions according to topic (keyword phrase) and use as inspiration for content.

    Eliza Steely

    Eliza Steely – @elizalynnsteely

    Insight:  Google is constantly evolving and updating so we can get more relevant information, more often in more ways. The more you search, the more personalized your results can and will become.

    TopRank Tip:  Focus on what the updates are trying to achieve. It’s impossible to keep up with 500+ changes that aren’t always explicitly obvious. Strive to create content that helps your audience in ways they’re likely to find it.

    Insight:  Assisted conversions (which show when a person comes to your site, leaves, then comes back and converts) are great to track. They can help indicate the success of your social messaging and other tactics.

    TopRank Tip:   Make sure you’re monitoring things other than just pageviews and bounce rates. Build a fundamental understanding of why people are coming to your site from Twitter and not from Facebook, or how certain keywords are driving traffic. Then you’ll be able to begin tailoring messaging based on channel, location, and device in ways that are more relevant and likely to succeed.

    The Bottom Line on Google Hummingbird and How Social Media Affects SEO:

    It appears that the underlying theme of Google updates has been to create more relevant search results that are able to provide the answers searches are looking for. Google is essentially, an “answer engine” and literally handles 1 billion questions per day. How ironic is it that the “answering questions” approach is exactly what drives our content marketing efforts at TopRank!

    The mechanics of understanding context for these questions means Google is increasingly leveraging things like location, device, social presence, and messaging to filter out things we are likely to bypass and prioritize content we are likely to trust, take into account, and act on.

    As our team discussed the topics shared at the Social Media Breakfast, we pondered one significant question: If Google personalizes every search experience at the individual level, how can you implement search engine optimization for an infinite number of possibilities?

    The answer is simple: You don’t.

    Instead of getting hung up on optimizing for Google, maybe companies (and especially SEOs) could start thinking about optimizing for customers and context first. Be the best answer for your customers by providing the information they want, in the way they prefer. Get to know your customers and how the find, consume and react to content. Then optimize the performance of that content in search and wherever the customer might look for it on the web.

    This is want good marketers do. They adapt and they prioritize what’s important for their business and their customers. That way, when Google rolls out the “Do Do Bird” update, it really won’t matter as much because your marketing is already focused on customers first.

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