Why Brands Should Optimize for Google Hummingbird

Google has done it again.

You might remember a blog post I wrote titled “The 4 SEO Trends Every Marketer Needs to Know.” That list isn’t outdated, but there are some important new updates you should know about since Google just released its Hummingbird update — and it’s a big deal.

It’s so big in fact, that Google reports that it has affected 90% of all searches worldwide. To put that in perspective, Panda affected less than 10%.

Basically, the purpose of Hummingbird is to evolve how Google understands the context around a query and how it serves information based on that query. Google is banking on the fact that in the near future most searches will be done on mobile devices, and a lot of those will be done by voice instead of by text.

A user “asking” Google a question will look different than typing it. You might search for a location by voice asking Google, “Where is the White House.” The result isn’t a link to a website with that information. Google now tells you the address and provides a map without having to click once.

This is a great experience for the user. Information is easy to get and easy to consume. For website owners, however, there is potential for this update to decrease referral rates because users won’t always need to click through to a website providing that information.

Google is scraping information and displaying it on their website. An example is found in Google displaying sports data. Instead of having to click over to mlb.com, I can see the Atlanta Braves 2013 record right in the search results:

The Knowledge Graph

Hummingbird is an investment in what Google calls the Knowledge Graph, the ability to map the relationships between words and even previous searches to understand the context of a query. It helps Google understand pronouns and articles in searches.

For example, if you searched “Who is Chipper Jones” you would receive basic information about him in the results. And eventually, although it isn’t working for me now, you’ll be able to search “when did he retire” and Google will understand that “he” refers to Chipper Jones.

For marketers, the knowledge graph is probably the update’s biggest change. Since the Penguin and Panda updates, Google has been slowly evolving its algorithm to prioritize the user over the search bot. Rather than stuffing a webpage full of keywords or a website full of random content, Google wants content creators to publish content that benefits the user.

With Hummingbird, keyword stuffing is dead. Now that the algorithm understands context, content producers have to focus on providing valuable content.

With Panda, the emphasis was put on creating unique content. With Hummingbird, it’s all about creating unique, useful, and authoritative content.

Answer questions with your content (provide value) and find a way to position your authors as authorities on your topic.

Author Rank

In addition to the knowledge graph, Hummingbird puts a lot of emphasis on the author. Author Rank is a way for Google to identify experts according to the volume of content produced by that person and how widely it is shared. Most importantly here is its direct tie to Google+. Although Google denies the correlation of +1s on Google+ and page rank, a strong presence on Google+ has been shown to dramatically increase the discoverability of your content.

To start building expertise in your category, there are a couple things you should do immediately:

  1. Create a profile on Google+ and start engaging with people there.
  2. Link your Google+ profile to your author profile on the website that publishes your content. This will generate a thumbnail in search results that should get your more clicks in the short term and starts to build your authority around that topic for the long term.
  3. Make sure the primary website where you are publishing content is optimized for mobile.

Final Thoughts

When Hummingbird was released there was a lot of fear in the marketing community that it would undercut content marketing efforts, especially in regards to keyword research. Google is encrypting individual keywords so that site owners will no longer be able to see what keywords are referring traffic to their sites. That isn’t a big deal because keywords are less important now than they were a year ago.

With that said, keyword research to understand how people search in a category and who is competing for those same users is still very important. We just won’t have access to individual data going forward.

Now more than ever, it’s time to invest in understanding the needs and behaviors of the consumers you are trying to reach if you want your content to be discoverable in search. If you understand what consumers need, how they talk, and how they find information, your content will continue to rank well.

What do you think? Let me know in the comment section.

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