In a previous post, we discussed Google’s recent transition to fully encrypted organic search. While this change has marketers and business owners reassessing their SEM and SEO game plans, it won’t immediately affect your site’s inbound traffic volumes. Review our discussion of this topic for ideas on how to adjust your marketing efforts to Google’s new encrypted search standards.
However, Google recently made another change that could have a more direct and immediate impact on your inbound traffic. Heralded as the most extensive algorithm change since 2010′s “Caffeine” update and potentially the most meaningful since the early 2000s, the Hummingbird shift could have fundamental implications for your page rank, traffic, long tail matches and more.
Google stresses that this will make the search process more intuitive and user-friendly, and that’s probably true. The company has provided some examples that illustrate how its results have become more relevant. Per Search Engine Land and the Guardian, a search for “acid reflux prescription” that previously gave coveted first-page rankings to drug manufacturers now returns results that provide more useful information about acid reflux and its treatments. In theory, this helps a broader audience that might not be interested in getting a Prilosec prescription. Likewise, a search for “calories per slice Pizza Hut” returns relevant, numeric answers from authoritative sources like Pizza Hut itself.
There’s a common theme here. Hummingbird’s aim is to capture the “intent” of search queries in a way that’s never been done before. This industry term for this is semantic search. Hummingbird is much better at interpreting long-tail queries like “Where can I get my puppy neutered?” or “How do I change the oil in an ’84 Trans Am?” than any other search algorithm. By combining location-specific data and information from Google’s Knowledge Graph, Hummingbird aims to guess at the intent behind specific users’ queries rather than generic keyword strings.
Although the general answer to the first question never varies — it’s “a licensed veterinarian,” folks — the actual database of professionals that the query returns will vary by location. If you live in Jersey, Google knows you’re not going to care about vets in Palm Beach. Likewise, Hummingbird’s semantic answer to the second query will assume that you’re looking to change your own oil. Whereas a less sophisticated algorithm might simply return a list of local mechanics, this new-and-improved version might highlight do-it-yourself videos or procedural texts on authoritative automotive websites.
What does this mean for your content marketing strategy? If Google’s Penguin and Panda updates of a few years ago reduced the cost-effectiveness of salesy, barely coherent content that relies on keyword repetition, Hummingbird slammed the door shut on this “quantity-over-quality” strategy’s viability. Going forward, marketers who fail to use relevant, engaging content to establish themselves as authorities risk perennially poor search rankings and slumping inbound traffic figures.
Since Hummingbird puts a premium on semantics and “intent,” it’s more important than ever to understand your target audience and buyer personas. Instead of focusing on how to close sales with first-time visitors, focus on answering the questions that have led them to your site. Use multimedia content — landing pages centered around instructional videos, for instance, or infographics that hit on common consumer pain points — to draw, inform and entertain viewers. Although no one has yet conducted a thorough investigation, you can bet that sites that do well with Hummingbird boast enviable time-on-site and repeat-visitor metrics. It’s all connected: Informative, engaging content begets visitor loyalty, and loyal visitors are more likely to become loyal customers.
Let’s be clear: Hummingbird was phased in during late August and early September of 2013. If your analytics reports haven’t uncovered any worrying drops in traffic or anomalous results, your current content marketing strategy is probably compatible with the changes. Of course, Google’s algorithms are in constant flux, and any sound inbound marketing plan demands regular infusions of useful, up-to-date content that engages, informs and ultimately converts viewers. If you can leverage the right mix of authoritative, relevant content, Hummingbird may well create opportunities that you never thought possible.