Google quietly began using an updated algorithm in mid-August. Just recently, it was publicly announced that this new algorithm, Hummingbird, is Google's new approach to search queries. Whether it be friend or foe is always subject to one's perspective and the capability of your teams. However, in my humble opinion, Hummingbird presents an opportunity for an SEO team to constantly improve how they reach customers.
First, some perspective from the marketing executive's point of view. If no one had told you Hummingbird had been released, you probably wouldn't have noticed. I liken it to the automobile industry and the release of the new models each year. In the majority of cases, the outward appearance doesn't change much; there may be a slight aerodynamic or interior alteration, but nothing big. Under the hood, however, technology has taken over and the car is simply different. MPG or horsepower may be improved, but you get in the new model and drive it and all seems the same. So it is with Google Hummingbird. It does everything it did before and all of the historical SEO success factors are still in place.
What's different now? When it comes to search queries, it's a matter of the difference between content and context. Content, in old SEO speak, was the key factor search engines used to match keywords queried with results returned. Each query was treated independently, not related to queries that came after it.
Under Hummingbird, the process has changed with the search engine now solving for context as well. Specifically, Google's using their Knowledge Graph more to qualify the relationship between concepts, rather than simply matching keywords in documents. This allows them to provide answers to queries that don't necessarily have simple answers.
In addition, they're treating related queries as connected, ie.: "pictures of the Washington Monument" followed by "how tall is it?" would return the height of the Washington Monument. In essence, Hummingbird performs semantic or conversational analysis of the customer query and indexes against related concepts and related queries to improve results.
This algorithm change also improves Voice Search support. In the past, if you asked, "Where to buy iPhone close to my home?" Google would have picked up on "buy" and "iPhone" and returned results based on that. Now, along with that, it will also recognize "my home" in the context of your search query (if you shared your location in your Google account). Thus, the results will be based on your home location through the use of advanced analytics, making the results much more relevant.
Ok, so what's the impact to a marketing manager?
1. Let the Data Tell the Story
Google Hummingbird has been active since August. Analytics reports from the past few months may show notable search volume or search query trends. Use this as feedback on the quality of content you have out on the web.
2. Ensure Your Search Marketing Teams are Using Schema.org and Google Authorship Markup
Schema is the accepted coding for structuring data on websites. It's also one of the sources that populates Google's Knowledge Graph. Google Authorship is, among other things, a trusted source for identifying concepts related to each other.
3. Continue to Focus on Mobile Adoption
Amit Singhal, Google SVP/Fellow and the head of Google's ranking team recently said, "The change needed to be done, because people have become so reliant on Google that they now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics."
Longer queries are coming from one place, by voice, and from mobile phones. So as Google tunes their algorithm more for mobile use, you must do so for your website. In addition...
4. Have Your Team Revisit Available "How-To" Content & Long-Tail Queries
This update shows Google's focus on answering all queries, especially now those that are longer or related. The change for your teams: ensure your SEO & content teams are in touch with your support & customer service organizations, where how-to content typically resides.
Google's said "content is king" from the beginning and that remains true. Worst case, Hummingbird is a foe and your teams need to revisit their SEO practices and how they're aligned and integrated with the overall content strategy.
However, as long as your teams have SEO & content best practices built in to their operational process, Hummingbird is an opportunity to improve competitive advantage and changes to your team's strategy will be minimal.
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Dave Lloyd is Senior Manager of Global Search Marketing at Adobe Systems where he leads a global team delivering organic and site search strategy and aligns closely with all other digital and media channels. As part of the Global Demand Generation organization, his team uses the Adobe Marketing Cloud to deliver on KPI-driven results including worldwide subscriptions, trials, sales leads, and revenue-based metrics. In his prior role at Cisco, he oversaw global SEO strategy for all products. He is Google-certified, with 14 years in digital marketing, and a Business degree from U.C. Davis. He's spoken at AdTech, SMX, Adobe Summit, BrightEdge Share, and DMA events.
March 19, 2014