Just over a week ago Google announced "Hummingbird", a new algorithm rather than an update or a refresh that is likely to affect around 90% of all searches. Whilst no one knows the full details of the algorithm, there are clear implications for the future of SEO and content marketing. The direction of travel is well articulated by Google and it has to be addressed by marketers in their future strategies.
1. The Future Is MobileThis will come as no surprise as Smartphone penetration and usage continues to grow. Recent research from Telemetrics shows that 50% of people start their search on a mobile device and an increasing number of people use mobile exclusively for search. For certain type of searches such as restaurants the search figures are much higher, Yelp report 59% of all their searches are on mobile.
Google referenced mobile extensively when announcing Hummingbird, sentences started with "You can pull up your phone and..." They focused on improvements to their mobile search: "It’s cleaner and simpler, optimized for touch" and "results (are) clustered on cards so you can focus on the answers you're looking for".
Google clearly understands the importance of mobile and it will shape future SEO and content marketing strategies. At a minimum all content absolutely has to be optimized for mobile.
2. Mobile Will Lead To Greater Voice SearchApple bought Siri as they understood the future of search on mobiles would increasingly be voice. Siri is currently the most-used medium for mobile voice-based search. Google also acknowledges that people want more intuitive and simple to use interfaces such as voice search. Speech input is already the primary interface on Google Glass. Earlier this year Topeka Capital Markets analyst Victor Anthony said voice search was the next stage of long-term growth for Google. He commented: "We believe voice search will aggressively expand Google's influence beyond the confines of the desktop and into virtually every function of human lives".
3. More Natural Language and Complex QueriesSearch queries using voice are more likely to use natural language than text searches. This will mean longer, more complex queries. Google recognizes this and the Hummingbird Algorithm is designed to deliver better results for mobile users asking a question out loud. Google also recognizes that people are not searching for a keyword but something more complex such as an answer to a question. Content marketers equally need to understand the intent behind a user's search in order to ensure their content addresses this need.
4. Semantic Search To Deliver Accurate ResultsGoogle's semantic search approach is seeking to provide more accurate search results by both understanding intent and refining results based on context such as location and other data they know about the searcher. Thus with Hummingbird Google is trying to understand the whole query and not the keywords. Amit Singhal, Google VP of Search says: "With more complex queries, the algorithm can better understand concepts vs. words as well as relationships between concepts". Thus this Natural Language Processing will benefit long tail content rather than keywords.
David Almerand calls this an important transition from "strings to things", where search engines understand concepts rather than just words. For marketers semantic analysis and providing in-depth content will be more important than a keyword strategy, more so since Google has stopped reporting keywords in Google Analytics.
5. Content Must Be HelpfulThrough Hummingbird, Google is seeking to provide more accurate answers to queries. It is aiming to understand the intent of a query and provide accurate answers. Thus for marketers you need to understand what questions your customers have and be developing solutions across your platforms including your website, Google Plus and relevant communities, YouTube etc. If you are addressing the needs of your audience you are more likely to rank according to Hummingbird.
This is again not something new but a confirmed direction of travel. Jay Baer has talked extensively of Youtility and the importance of content marketing being helpful. I personally like the concept that you need to create content marketing so helpful people would pay you for it. By understanding and addressing the questions of users your content will perform better.
6. Content Must Have AuthorityGoogle is increasingly concerned to find content that is relevant and trusted, in essence content with authority.
There are many ways to gauge authority which will continue to include links and references from reputable sites and social signals. An important step in this direction is Google's Authorship markup. In essence a way to link content to your Google Plus profile, which for Google is increasingly the hub of your personal online identity. Once your authorship is established you will gain goodwill from your content articles as they are linked to from reputable sources and shared online by people with authority. This will grow your reputation and increase trust in your authority in relevant subject areas.
There is no direct evidence of Google using an author rank yet or that authorship will improve your content ranking but Mark Traphagen, an authority in this area, says there are definite benefits to authorship that can have a positive impact on search traffic and rankings.
Google have also introduced in-depth articles where the authors are established, where the publications or sites are reputable and the articles are long and in-depth.
There is no question that authors that are respected and that produce relevant and original content will continue to have an advantage in the new world. Marketers have to address their authority and longer form content.
7. The SMO of SEOThere has beeen a lot of talk recently about the social media optimisation of SEO. Social media is concerned with recommendations by users, the sharing of content and the credibility of writers. There is evidence that search engines increasingly look to these social signals to help find relevant content. Some argue that social signals give a better indication of what is valuable on the web. It is very likely that Hummingbird will add a social layer to the search algorithm given its objectives.
For marketers this means a need to focus on social engagement, reputation, authority and social proof through the sharing of content by people with authority, not simply numbers of shares or likes.
8. Prediction And Knowledge BuildingThe advances in search means that queries are not only understood but used to build knowledge which is retained and can be used to answer future queries. This is a move from understanding user intent to actually predicting user intent. This can be seen most obviously with Google Now.
Being able to answer queries in this way via Google's Knowedge Graph also means users are kept on Google longer and they may not even need to visit other sites for standard queries. For example, typing in Shard vs Gherkin, two recent tall buildings in London, brings up a lot of information on the two buildings that Google predicts I may be after (such as height, date opened, architects etc.) and places this immediately above the other search results.
9. Links Can Actually Be Negative In A Social WorldIn the new social world, more links to your content are not necessarily better and in some cases may actually reduce your ranking.
If you post a link and lots of people interact with it and share it then we can assume that this will have a positive impact. However, if you post a lot of links on Google Plus or other forums and people do not interact with these posts you may create a negative impact.
It is possible that an algorithm will see a lot of links but also see few people actually interacting or sharing the posts. The algorithm may come to the conclusion that people do not value the content and give it a negative rating. Thus people who drop lots of links in many places and communities, risk receiving less interaction each time and actually risk getting negative ranking feedback as a consequence.
10. Google Plus Is The FutureIt has been said before but Google reiterated at Social Media Week in September that "Google Plus is the social spine that improves the user experience across Google".
Whilst Google have argued that plus ones do not influence search results it does seem likely that Google Plus is increasingly helping Google SEO to produce more accurate results.
For marketers Google Plus is the future. If you do not have a Google Plus profile or page or you are not active on the platform or you haven't set up your Google authorship, now is time to get going. Being active in Google Plus communities, helping answer queries, curating helpful content and producing fresh, original, in-depth content will increase your Google reputation.