October 2, 2013

Google Hummingbird and Inbound Marketing

Published: 2 October 2013 



So Google have rolled out another animal themed algorithm change, the lightly named "Hummingbird." Digital marketers and SEOs the world over held their breaths with anticipation when news came out that Google had started rolling out another change. What is it? What would it do? How would it affect me?

What Is It?

Hummingbird is a response to the change in behaviour that searchers have undergone with the advent of mobile technology. The days of search behaviour being systemic and predictable are disappearing with high intent coming to the forefront. "Long tail" keywords are searched more and more, especially with people in need of quick solutions and the ability to find them while "on the go" with their mobile tech. Morgan Stanley research predicts that mobile usage will surpass desktop usage by as soon as 2015 and the on the ground reports mirror these studies, with most of our clients traffic from mobile devices increasing over the past 12 months in line with the general figures. Voice activated search in particular has seen recent growth as the technology begins to be rolled out with increasing capacity, and so Google needed to step up it's game lest be flanked by boutique search engines that have been preparing for such an occasion. Earlier this year I experienced what I thought at the time to be the testing of an update that predicted your search and placed you in a data center accordingly but it seems that Google has gone even further and rewrote their entire algorithm.

What Does It Do?

Hummingbird takes into account the intent of the phrase by isolating and examining keywords that in the past would have been seen as less than important. Subtle thing to indicate where you are, why you are searching and then presents different results to if you were simply searching keywords looking for a result. It will track your search device (desktop, mobile tech etc.), location at time of search, subtle wording differences, and I even believed things such as time of day to identify why you are making a search and supply you with results accordingly. The reason I feel like time of day will be an "intent factor" is pretty obvious. I raised this exact point in an email I sent to a client who had got in touch to question our practices moving forward with the latest raft of changes to search data. I use this example.

"...when a person searches off their mobile from Sandgate by using the phrase "need accommodation in Sandgate," Google will identify that the intent is to get accommodation as soon as possible and you are probably going to want to just walk into the hotel and organise it rather than book online. So Google will provide a result based on intent and in this case it'd be likely a list of the nearest basic accommodation providers to them. However when someone searches from their laptop at 11pm from Sydney the phrase "accommodation in Sandgate," Google will identify that person as someone who is planning a trip to the area and will be looking for websites that provide a "shop" type experience."

In this example, the time of day and device combination is pretty indicative of the fact that they aren't in a hurry, most likely are in the comfort of their home, but the search for Sandgate rather than Brisbane is still an intent factor. Sandgate being a specific suburb of Brisbane, and not one that has a particularly large tourism industry, indicates that they're probably looking for something in proximity to a destination x. This is all guessing, but I can't see this index evolving in any other direction.

SEOs have been waiting for the day that Google made a strong move towards "semantic search" and it looks to have arrived. This is the first time since 2001 that a Google algorithm has been rewritten to such an extent and unlike the penguin and panda algorithm changes, this isn't an update, but rather an entirely new algorithm, albeit using much of the same calculations.

In an article from September 30 by Amy Gesenhues of searchengineland.com,she gauged the opinion of several highly influential SEO experts. David Amerland, author of Google Semantic Search, raised an interesting point, highlighting that "Google has increased its ability to deal with complex search queries which means that it also has got better at indexing entities in Web documents. Second, it has got a lot better at relationally linking search queries and Web documents which means that its Knowledge Graph must be considerably enriched."

He goes on to point out that "From a strategy point of view, this opens the horizon for companies and webmasters considerably. From a practical perspective, the need to identify the USP of each business and become authoritative within it is now a key criteria for continued SEO success. The comparison element that has been integrated suggests that semantic mark-up may begin to confer an advantage now when it comes to helping index information in products and services."

How Does It Affect Me?

This is a huge positive for those that have been pushing the concepts of inbound marketing as a replacement for classic SEO, increasing the relevance of the informative approaches that form the foundation of the "content marketing" strategies associated with inbound.

In effect, a lot of real estate has just opened up in the index, allowing your website to target a much more refined type of traffic. Those that utilise inbound practices will find their conversion rates raising as their traffic becomes more qualified at the search level. The focus will become even more localised and those that have been leveraging local SEO will begin to reap the rewards as those that have ignored the impending changes fall by the wayside.

The effect this will have in terms of traffic gains is pretty simple. If there is another factor to consider when Google presents you, it's results. Then there is more opportunity for small players to gain traffic back from those that don't cater to the intent that is generating the result. Here is another excerpt from the email I quoted earlier.

"This means that in both cases, the giants of the industry [those who dominate this niche], will have less dominance because they don't cater to the intent of the user every time. Of course in arbitrary situations, Google will for the time being still revert to it's general index and the majority of the time display the index in the way we're used to seeing it. But increasingly and with the more data this new algorithm change gathers, you will see the intelligence of it switch and the indexes change more and more based on the intent of the user."

Businesses that aim to succeed in the new Google will need to adapt as the knowledge graph grows or be replaced by those that did. The ability to position yourself as not just a provider of service but a provider of solution and information, indeed becoming an influencer, is now being embraced by Google and promoted as such. By identifying the intent behind how a potential customer becomes one you will find avenues to get new business that weren't there before. This is the housewarming for inbound marketing. Now would be a good time to reconsider your approach and get in on the ground floor of the new Google.

Ben Maden

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