Google released the latest iteration of its algorithm, Hummingbird, in late Summer. Most people focused on the deprecation of keywords and key phrases in the report, lamenting the rise of (not provided) data as a percentage of visitors to their site. Savvy marketers know that this has been a long time coming, as Google pushes its focus to a more semantic and mobile web. In fact, even non-savvy web users have known it was coming, as Google has done an ever-better job fine tuning search results and tracking search terms. There is even a trend emerging where people use Google’s search box auto-fill showing the most popular searches to make videos about sociological changes or issues in society. How does a content marketer excel in the new age of Hummingbird? How does Hummingbird change SEO tactics?
Interest and Relevance Matters
One of the more interesting changes for marketers and SEOs is the move to encrypted search. This is the trigger that Google pulled that made blogs suddenly see (not provided) as anywhere from 60 – 90% of the analytics for their site. By doing this, Google is forcing marketers to stop using keywords as a quick metrics for proof of success to the C-suite, as well as causing them to dig deeper to show actual tie-ins between content, social, sales, leads, downloads and other actions and conversions. It’s also increasing the relevance of the “stickiness metrics”: time on site, return visits, remarketing data, device data, and conversion drop point data. By creating compelling content and improving the metrics you are tracking, the shift away from keywords will improve your content and overall site quality and your conversion rates.
Encrypted search is not new, by any means. Google has been experimenting with this in various degrees since 2010. It’s worth noting that not every user’s search data is encrypted. You’ll still be able to get light keyword data – just not the extensive keyword lists people have grown used to. There is a way to get around this (somewhat) if you are a Google Webtools and Google Analytics power user. For the work around you’ll need to create two reports in your browser, while logged in to your Google account(s), then utilize a tool like VLOOKUP or GA DataGrabber tool to glean useful information from the reports. Search Engine Watch has a great step by step with screenshots that will help you set this up.
All of these changes mean that your content is going to have to compete on quality, not quantity. Providing a wide variety of useful, interesting content in many formats will help keep you relevant. Authorship is as important as quality content now, as well, so making sure all of your blog authors have a strong, linked social presence (especially on Google) will help build that foundation. In fact, the more links to valid publications your authors have, and the longer their web history, the more it will help your search results.
Long Tail Content
Why did Google make such a sweeping change to keywords and search data? There are several reasons. Some are speculative, such as the desire to push people into using Google Plus, and some are concrete, such as the changes in the way people search. It is less and less common for people to search simple keywords or key phrases (“high heeled shoes” or “red pumps”) and much more common for people to search the same way they talk (“Where can I get red heels in New York?”). The search engine has become a “trusted friend”, especially since the rise of Siri and Google’s voice activated tools like Google Glass.
The best content creators out there can anticipate what questions their potential customers will ask, then create content that will remain relevant to answering those questions, standing the test of time. Gone are the days of the SEO content farm with robotic, shallow content. Now people are looking for deeper content, content that anticipates and answers their needs, content that entertains in a meaningful way. Content marketers need to create content that can be expanded over time, and used in a variety of platforms and media types.
Hummingbird also gives more weight to mobile content. It used to be enough to make a scaled down, less feature rich version of your website for viewing on mobile phones. Now customers are more interested in a fully responsive web site that is scaled up and feature rich, that automatically recognizes their device and adapts the design accordingly without sacrificing features. Google Hummingbird is designed to encourage that behavior, giving sites with a combination of great content and a great mobile site precedence over sites that falter in mobile.
Mobile site access is also a great reason to offer balanced content for a variety of audiences. Longer, more in depth pieces are essential for both SERPs and thought leadership, however; shorter content designed with mobile readers in mind is ideal for added mobile reach. Interest pieces and visual content are fantastic for addressing the needs of your mobile readership.
SEO as we knew it is effectively over, thanks to Hummingbird. There are some tried and true tactics that will stay in place, but this is the first big push away from SEO and into more semantic web results that include not just keywords, but sentiment and grammatical patterns, as well as a push to be mobile friendly.
In fact, you can achieve two goals – getting more people to your content via mobile devices and increasing your mobile SEO – simply by combining short and long form content. By creating image-based, easily consumable short form content as a mobile gateway to your longer, more in depth pieces you can increase conversion from click to engagement on mobile, and increase the traction of your site content.
Google Hummingbird is a dramatic change, but not a fatal one. The smart, agile company that is focused on a multi-faceted content strategy including deep content, snackable content, visual content and mobile will succeed in this new SEO landscape.
(Einstein image made with the fun Einstein Image Generator)