Richard Masters                                                  

business advice for  SME's

advice | consultancy | presentations

strategy | marketing | sales | IT

universal-blog-icon contact me Social-Media-World-1024x1024

Please share


Welcome to my personal blog.


In this blog I give my personal views on some of the key business issues facing SME's.


I take the general view that small business is poorly served in this area because it is dominated by people who ultimately have commercial self interest at heart.

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

If you found this useful you might like:

What Matt Cutts could do next?

Linked In: Connections are for show relationships are for Dough!

Any Business can now build its own Website

Is the BBC's new classification of social classes of use in marketing?

Or Contact me: Richard Masters

By richard masters, Aug 17 2013 07:19AM

Matt Cutts, head of Web Spam at Google, is one of my modern day heroes- as he has been resolute in initiating changes to the search algorithms to return the results listings that best match the users search intent. This crusade can probably be traced back to Christmas 2010 when JC Penny appeared to top the entire search listings within the NY area for just about any product. Enough was enough. A programme of algorithmic changes have followed since that date known collectively as the Penguin and then Panda updates which have progressively outlawed these dubious practices.

These changes, although often criticised at the detailed level, have been almost universally welcomed by everyone involved in Digital Marketing. With the penalising of “Black Hat” methods the emphasis has shifted to the importance to content and content marketing to get noticed in search. Marketers have thrown themselves enthusiastically onto this new altar and articles abound extolling the virtue of creating more and more content.


However, this has created a new problem- the sheer volume of low quality, boring, plagiarised content that is flooding the web, all competing for attention and Googles approval via prominent search ranking.

There is so much content nowadays that it is a full time job to even read the titles on some of the main curated lists circulated on a daily basis! This is before selection of appropriate material to read. Let alone finding the time to read and absorb and evaluate the content itself!

Recent research has confirmed that it is over posting and poor grammar are the two biggest turnoffs for consumers of this deluge of recent content

Now Googles own Quality Guidelines give us lots of clues as to what it regards as quality content but in reality this is just guidance and, in fairness, rooting out the obvious abuses is a herculean task in the short term.

It would be nice to think that user approval systems, such as Googles own +1 system, would be some help but in reality this is more a vote for the popularity of the source rather than the content, (rather like TV talent competitions!) with approval often being given without even reading, let alone evaluating, the content concerned!

So, what could Mr Cutts do address this veritable mud slide of mediocre material? Here are some suggestions based upon my particular pet hates...

1. Relegate content with numbered lists in the title.

I have reproduced, below, an extract from a curated list of articles from a well known source, this shows a whole section in which all of the articles started with some form of numbered list in the title (Three things you did not know about x etc.). Now this is an extreme example, but overall in the lists I analysed, over 40% used this device.

This format, to me, is a key indicator of potential low quality. I do not know who originally concluded that articles in this form are more successful, but it is now part of digital marketing folk law that is avidly adhered to as a winning formula. The reason it is popular, appears to me to be because it allows authors to sling together a series of partially (and usually borrowed) points and quickly produce some impressive looking content. These points have usually been assiduously culled over a period of time and inserted in a note system, or the like, under a ”content ideas” tab for later editing into a post or article.

Giving content that uses this device a lower quality score will no doubt catch a few gems but overall may well cause a significant increase in the overall quality of published content.

2. Downgrade anything with word “Awesome” somewhere in the title

Clearly to be effective, content should be well written and balanced. I find that the vast majority of pieces with “awesome” in the title are usually far from it and usually indicate either a lack of judgment by the author or indeed the desire to impart some importance to the subject matter that simply is not there.

The English language is rich and diverse with a wide choice of adjectives, indeed my battered and aging thesaurus lists awesome under “Wonderful” along with 52 other alternatives (twenty of the best ones are reproduced in the figure below)including such words as: Marvelous, Magical, Stupendous, Sensational, Extraordinary. Fantastic Unbelievable, Fabulous and even Thaumaturgic! All of these words have subtly different connotations and can only make content more informative and meaningful.

So come on Matt send content containing the word “awesome” to room 101 with a hefty quality penalty,

3. Penalize organisations which promote content publishing schedules.

I fully expect howls of outrage at this point! - but stay with me for a moment.

I am in fact a great fan of publishing schedules- but they are not right for everyone. If you are a large organisation with substantial teams of people responsible for producing content or organising content with multiple authorships then, clearly, a publishing schedule is a must for all sorts of good reasons.

Translate this into the situation of a small business or an individual (which are numerically huge compared with the former categories) and you get a recipe for poor content. The tyranny of a schedule allied to the mantra of quantity- you must publish x items daily or at least very regularly, is a formula for the proliferation of low quality dross.

I have over the years stopped subscribing from a number of blogs and the like, simply because although the authors at one time produced interesting and insightful pieces, the quality dropped off , and this was almost always was allied to an increase in the periodicity of publishing. The posts often became clearly formulaic, unoriginal, and often regularly featured the numbered list technique described above.

Unfortunately, the shibboleth that quantity is important is clearly in the best interests of those commercially involved in producing content and therefore will not be popular

4. Demote content from people who have expert, ninja or guru etc. in their description line.

I often wonder what people thing they gain by giving themselves a self appointed title which implies they know what they are talking about and therefore I should pay particular attention to their pearls of wisdom. To me it has the reverse effect.

The motives behind people who attempt to boost their credibility by adopting such titles have to be questioned and therefore, by implication, the veracity of the content they generate.

Now maybe the new authorship index will help this (certainly more than a Klout score!) but this may end up measuring popularity rather than quality- and then we are back into the quantity versus quality argument again.

Matt, in the interim, please mark them down!


This, somewhat light heated, consideration of the current trend towards the overproduction of current does throw up a number of more important considerations:

1. The importance of curation

Personally, most of the content I consume comes via curated lists of some form or another. The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of curation lists concentrate on the basic activities of aggregation and classification. The net result of this is that even scanning the lists to assess what to read in depth (or file away for later) is a herculean task in its own right. I would like to see curators come off the fence and take on the more advanced curation tasks of saying what is good and original and what is not(selecting and contextualising). Clearly this might reduce popularity- but sometimes you have to take risks to move forward.

2. Quality is always relative.

One of the dangers of advanced curation is that what is relevant to one person is not to another. Clearly the requirement of someone who is familiar with a topic is very different from that of a novice. For example, being a complete numpty at even the most basic of DIY tasks them I need really basic guides which a skilled tradesman would regards a complete waste of time and may well scoff with some of the simplistic advice given. In this situation I believe it should be the responsibility of the provider to indicate at what level context the information is being offered at. Some organisations, to their credit, do classify their content into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Wider adoption of this practice by more content creators and curators would help the consumer identify what content is relevant for them.

Well there you have It.- some off the wall ideas on how to stem the tidal wave of mediocre content and avoid having to throw the ‘baby’ of valuable content out will the bathwater of regurgitated dross..

Anybody else got any other ideas for Matt on how to achieve this?

Stop Press

After penning this piece, I note that Google have announced that they are indeed to produce listings of what they regard as in depth and quality pieces of content- wow that was quick Matt!

Richard Masters

If you enjoyed this you might like:

Linked In: Connections are for show relationships are for Dough!

Any Business can now build its own Website

Is the BBC's new classification of social classes of use in marketing?

Or Contact me: Richard Masters