By richard masters, Oct 22 2013 09:08AM
The simple answer to this is: it depends!
If search is not an important part of your marketing strategy or you rely on PPC advertising then it will probably be of no significance at all.
•If you currently get at least some business through ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ search (i.e. not paid for)or,
•If you would like to take advantage search but have been put off by the expense or by the level of competition from the big players.
Then you should be aware of the implications and read on!
The recent Google changes: Hummingbird
You may not have noticed, but the marketing world has been alight with comments and opinions on Google recent update to its search algorithm (rules or recipe by which it decides what web pages to return for any particular search enquiry) codenamed “Hummingbird”. I found over 100 articles or blogs posted over the 2 weeks alone since the announcement of September 23rd!
This has been described as the most significant evolution in the entire 15 years of search history and comes on the heels of three previous significant updates codenamed caffeine, panda and penguin respectively which introduced pretty significant changes in their own right.
The Hummingbird update has two components:
1. The search terms that users specify in their enquiries are now regarded as private by Google and they will not be made available for analysis. These terms, often referred to as keywords, have been the basis for the keyword strategies prominent in most SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) strategies adopted by marketers.
2. Longer search queries often expressed as sentences are now recognised by Google. This is referred to as ‘semantic search’. The main driver for this is the rapid and inexorable rise of mobile and verbal searches, where users ask questions as whole sentences rather as discrete staccato keywords. These sentences provide context for the search intent and allows Google to better understand what users actually want and return the most relevant pages accordingly.
Taken together these two components have introduced a large discontinuity into the search market and questioned the ongoing success of existing keyword based strategies.
So what are the implications for SME’s
If you have invested in keyword research and have a successful search strategy based on this approach you should not need to worry in the short term. Google will still return results against these terms.
• In the medium term you need to diversify away from a purely keyword based strategy towards tactics that are likely to be more successful in the post hummingbird world.
• If you have been put off search, in the past, by the resources required to construct a keyword based strategy, then now is the time to consider whether you now benefit from organic search with a much lesser investment of resources.
I have seen this in practice already. Several websites I am involved with, are already beginning to rank on the first pages of phrase based searches. Previously they have not got a look in with compared to the big organisations in the market space who dominated the rankings.
The next question is, of course, so what should SME’s do to exploit this opportunity?
What to do next?
This is of course the million dollar question and, unsurprisingly, the literature is less forthcoming on this issue. However I have managed to glean the following list from the collective wisdom expressed in the recent literature:
1. Customer centric content. Review all of your web pages and other marketing material from an 180 degree perspective i.e. from your customers perspective. Are you actually describing your products and services in your terms rather than answering your customers problems and addressing their concerns? Are you writing in their language or yours? If you are, great, you should get listed, but if not, you need to think about rewriting it.
2. Original and quality content. Google now searches all content and it is looking for original and quality content. Is your content original and addresses real customer concerns? Turning top FAQ’s into “How to” guides or a blog posts is a very good way of quickly and easily developing content that is not only customer centric but also addresses clear concerns which users may well search for.
3. Long form content. Google is now looking for in depth not short superficial content. Do you use long form content to explain the value you can add to your customers? If Google does not find this type of content, irrespective of how visually attractive and keyword laden it might be, it will not get listed.
4. Fresh content, Google likes to see recent content and content produced on a regular basis. Clearly a blog is the classic way to achieve this but also the refreshing of evergreen content, constantly updated FAQ’s, and integration of social feeds and news feeds for your particular area on interest are other ways of achieving this. Clearly, if you have an inflexible website or one that is expensive to update then this is problematic and you need to look at employing things such as CMS systems ( for example Wordpress) or Website Builders (e.g. Wix, Weebly, Moonfruit etc.)
5. Integration of other media types. Google likes the adoption of other media types in addition to straight text. Examples being: Podcasts, Video, Infographics, Slideshows etc. The adoption of so called ‘rich media’ types of content has already started by the larger companies and brands and this is likely to accelerate in the future. Turning “how to” guides into videos is an easy way to start as intrinsically some things are better shown than explained in words.
These are just some of the tactics that could bring search success in the post Hummingbird world. This plays to the strengths of SME’s because, by their very nature, they are very close to their customers and their ever changing needs in a way that large organisations find it difficult. One thing that is certain is that static web pages and marketing materials which depend on keywords will rapidly cease to be successful.
The bottom line.
For SME’s the bottom line is that Google has not exactly leveled the playing field but it has now at least made the whole playing field visible in a way it wasn’t before:
• It ultimately allows SME’s to compete with big companies and brands with huge budgets. Don’t expect it to be easy as these organisations are full of very smart people with large budgets and expect them to dive into content marketing even more than they currently are with rich media content and attempt to dominate the revised organic search results just like they have with social media. A large percentage of search result “real estate” is already given over to’ paid for’ results and expect this to increase as ultimately this is how Google makes its money. Small businesses have one major advantage: they understand and are intimate with their customers in a way that big companies and brands cannot be. Therefore, developing content that specifically addresses their wants, needs, concerns and problems, offers a much better chance for smaller businesses to feature at the top of search results than in the past.
• Whilst big budgets are helpful an awful lot can be achieved by repurposing content you already have or writing down knowledge you already have by way of doing your business. If you do this and produce really useful customer focused content you will get found.
If you have any ideas of what SME’s
could do to exploit this opportunity then please share them in the comments for other people to see.
I have created a list of the articles I have found the most useful in compiling this post; these can be found in the Hummingbird curation at the end of this link.
Richard Masters, 18/10/13
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