A Review of Google’s Hummingbird Update for SEOs and Content Marketers

by Marcus Sheridan

hummingbird algorithm googleFirst it was Penguin.

Then it was Panda.

Now it’s Hummingbird.

All 3 were Google updates. All 3 scared most SEOs to death.

But for the best content marketers, Hummingbird didn’t—or shouldn’t— make them blink.

Before we go into that though, here are the main bullets you need to know about Google’s newest animal:

1. Unlike Penguin and Panda, it’s not just an update. It’s an overhaul of the algorithm— “New and improved” if you will.

2. It’s primary focus will be to better meet the demands of today’s internet searcher—folks like you and me who continue to become more and more refined, skilled, and specific in the way we all search online (be it verbally or textually).

The Marriage Between Hummingbird and Content Marketing

Over the past year or so one of the things weighing heaviest on my mind when it comes to this industry has to do with the way we use phrases (like content marketing) that can mislead the rest of the world (those that don’t use our jargon) into not fully understanding what it is we’re talking about.

If one breaks down content marketing to its core, the principles of success are utterly clear:

1. Listen to what your potential customers are thinking, feeling, and saying.

2. Produce content and useful tools to address and answer what these customers are thinking, feeling, and saying.

In other words—Listen, Teach, Listen, Teach, Listen, Teach…and be Useful.

This is what the best marketers understand better than anyone else in the digital age. They never ignore questions, they embrace them—good or bad—and they do it as specifically as possible.

This brings me back to Hummingbird, and Google’s enhanced goal to show search results that specifically answer specific questions.

The content marketers (bloggers, social media peeps, web copywriters, etc.) that have been doing this job well will likely dance in the streets when they see such updates like this one taking place.

On the other hand, many antiquated and clueless SEO companies still living in 2005 continue to freak out about the reality that search manipulation is getting more and more difficult as slapping targeted words on a page will no longer do.

5 Trends that will Occur as a Result of Hummingbird

That being said, I personally see 5 main trends occurring as a result of this new update:

1. Many traditional SEO companies will claim to offer “content marketing” as a service. (Note** If your SEO company isn’t offering content marketing in conjunction with their SEO efforts [ideally they’re hand-in-hand] then there is a good chance you should fire them.)

2. Many SEO companies will close their doors because they simply don’t know how to adjust.

3. 100% 0utsourcing of blog/web content will become more and more difficult due to the need for the content to be so specific, grounded, etc.

4. Insourcing (leveraging employees, especially those in sales) will keep becoming the golden standard of the best digital marketing companies.

5. Those that are quickest to do this—and do it well— will win the hill…as they always do.

I don’t think any of those predictions are revolutionary, nor are they mind-blowing.

Frankly, if we’re being honest with ourselves I think we all sense these things internally. We know what we like to find when we search online. We, ourselves, reward specificity. We reward those companies that know our thoughts and answer our questions.

This is the essence of content marketing, and Hummingbird is just another step in this evolution of making such content a constant reality for the online searcher.

Your Turn

So what are your thoughts on Google’s newest algorithm change? Where do you see this going as search continues to progress? And what do you expect businesses to do as a result?

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron Novak October 1, 2013 at

Reading this article just re-confirms the decision we made as an organization to invest heavily in our internal content marketing efforts. Creating a culture of teachers isn’t as hard as it sounds. Thanks Marcus!

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

It’s funny how some see it as “incredibly hard/nearly impossible” and others share you “just get it done, let’s not make it harder than it needs to be” approach Ron.

Props to you for being an outlier my brother.

Marcus

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Iain October 1, 2013 at

I think it will come down knowing and working with the people want to reach.

I mean really work with them not just keyword research.

As you mentioned, the front line people will become your greatest assets because they will know what people are asking and the problems they face.

It will definitely present an interesting challenge for some. Others will just keep stepping.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Exactly Iain. Some will push through, many will fall by the wayside.

They always do.

Thanks again,

Marcus

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Chad Pollitt October 1, 2013 at

Marcus:

Nice post – two birds of a feather. . .

I’ve been saying what you’ve laid out since the first Panda update and it rings truer today than it did then. For over a year I’ve helped convert Slingshot SEO into DigitalRelevance.

The conversion was tough, but we took a slightly different approach than what you’ve mentioned above. We went from an SEO firm to a Digital PR agency. Our focus is to earn media coverage from online press for our clients – in other words we’re TOFU content promoters. Our campaign KPI’s include referral traffic and conversions. Ultimately, it’s a great SEO strategy, too, but that’s not what we’re selling – it’s all about the media coverage.

Thanks for letting me share our story.

@ChadPollitt

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Chad, you rock my brother. Seriously, I mean that, because you make things happen—often times a lost art in our society.

Look forward to catching up again soon,

Marcus

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Brent Kelly October 1, 2013 at

Marcus, great summary. As a blogger who has been much more worried about writing to my audience vs. writing for SEO, I find this refreshing. I know this is what you have been preaching for a long time. Thanks.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

And thanks to you ask well Brent :-)

Keep up the great work,

Marcus

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Jason Diller October 1, 2013 at

Yeah, I’m really good at “SEO”…But I build brands, I don’t optimize crap. Who cares about SEO.

Marketers,
Stop worrying about Google’s algorithm… Start worrying about the prospects that don’t know you’re alive. Build greatness. Put in the work. If you trying to outsmart people that graduated from M.I.T and Stanford…well, um, good luck with that.

Love,
Jason

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David Sottimano October 2, 2013 at

A lot of people care about SEO. Search engines are probably the most important method of getting in front of the ‘prospects that don’t know you’re alive.’

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Jason Diller October 2, 2013 at

lol, I know… I was just cranky when I wrote that. My bad. I’m just tired of hearing people try to game the system. Build something that deserves traffic, and Google will figure out a way to get the right people onto your website…at some point.

Trust me, I love technical SEO, excel, building links, yada yada yada… but I’ve learned over the years to just create epic stuff and make sure the on-page SEO is tight…

I’ve been able to kill it for clients in tough industries, like plastic surgeons in NYC and personal injury lawyers in New Jersey…

At this point, I encourage Google to improve their algo… YES! start thinking like a human! Awesome! Cause thats who I build sites for.

But David, you’re right, SEO is important… It’s just that Google is trying to make it so that we don’t have to do “SEO” to get traffic…

Wil Reynolds kinda said it best “#RCS” ya know?

Peace, my brother

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David Sottimano October 2, 2013 at

I knew you knew, I looked you up. I understood what you were implying in the first comment, and I agree with you regarding focusing on marketing without having to worry about algorithms.

Just be cautious about Google’s intentions behind improving the algorithm. You might want to keep your credit card handy in the near future.

FYI – I landed on this article because I’m trying to guess what the next 3 years looks like. SEO really isn’t SEO anymore ;)

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

David, glad to see you’ve met Jason. He’s going to make waves in this industry, I really believe that.

And yes, SEO is-a-changing ;-)

Cheers,

Marcus

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

What about those that graduated from West Virginia University Jason?? ;-)

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Jeremy Abel October 1, 2013 at

Marcus,

Outstanding topic for discussion, and I fully agree with the position that pure, honest, well-written content that speaks to your audience’s needs is the most valuable path to getting your content to the top of search engines and- more importantly- getting your brand to the top of shoppers’ consideration set.

A little over a year ago I spoke to a consumer behavior class at a local university on the topics of SEO and inbound marketing. I told them that the goal of an SEO is to help businesses get their content in front of the right audience and attract those shoppers to the business’ website. “How do you do that?” By creating great content and staying cognizant of Google’s guidelines. But the more important question is this: How do you get ahead of Google? The answer is obvious- think like your customers so you can create content that answers their questions and guides them through the decision making process. Google’s goal (from what I can tell) is to create an intuitive search experience by delivering content that answers users’ questions. If businesses can create great content and properly optimize it (e.g. proper titles, meta descriptions, interlinking, etc.) for *their* audience, then the results can very much be influenced by their writing (teaching) skills.

I think businesses are starting to realize that the answers have been in front of them the whole time- content that is produced based on the needs of their target market and enhances the purchasing process (need recognition > search for information > comparison of alternatives > purchase > post-purchase evaluation) will result in more wins and significantly fewer losses (both in time, money, and customers).

Thanks, Marcus. Always appreciate you taking time to spark these discussion and share your insights!

Keep changing lives,

Jeremy

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Thanks so much for the kind words Jeremy, it’s always welcomed and appreciated.

I loved the phrase you mentioned here–”Intuitive experience”

Yes, that’s absolutely it, and the businesses that understand this, do BIG things online.

Marcus

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Dave October 2, 2013 at

Marcus, another great post! You can’t farm out your work. There are so many options in the travel industry to “get” content for your site! You’ve got it right in that we all need to search for real needs and then educate by taking the time to write and research.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Yep, I imagine we’re seeing the same thing Dave. People farm out their content, and it stinks…almost every single time.

Thanks again,

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley October 2, 2013 at

Marcus,

One thing you didn’t hit on here is Long-tail Keywords… In my humble opinion, Hummingbird reinforces the importance of long-tail keywords as Google will now be looking deeper into article titles or URLs to find solutions beyond just the keywords stuffed into the beginning of the article title.

We’ve both preach long-tail keywords for years now… Hummingbird is our reward for that effort.

Great stuff dude,

Hanley

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Jason Diller October 3, 2013 at

Well said Ryan.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Well said Hanley. You’re right, this really is just another stake in the heart of a sound long tail strategy—which is the ultimate “think like a consumer” approach to business, communication, and teaching.

Cheers brother….now go eat some brisket ;-)

Marcus

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Tony DeCarlo October 2, 2013 at

Great post Marcus! I like the way you distilled inbound into listen, teach and be useful. A very simple and pure explanation of inbound. Thank you.

Tony D.
@decarlostudios

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Simplicity is always the key Tony…so glad you enjoyed the post :-)

Best to you,

Marcus

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Steve Freeman October 2, 2013 at

Marcus, I read a post about the use of voice activated search. this was supposed to have been used in the new Hummingbird alogo. The thought behind this is that those on mobile devices are using more voice search and when doing so they have different search patterns.

I tried searching for topics using Google voice and it was hilarious.

Your post eases my concern about Hummingbird. It seemed as though Google is saying either you PPC or you become obsolete.

Thanks for clearing the air on this.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

I bet that was a fun experiment Steve. Maybe you should do a post on it?! ;-)

Best,

Marcus

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Steve Freeman October 3, 2013 at

Marcus,

It took a while to find but here is a video of two guys spoofing YouTube’s voice activated closed captions. It works just like Google Voice.

If you have work to do, don’t watch this…it’s pretty darn funny;
http://youtu.be/hVNrkXM3TTI

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Marnie Somers October 2, 2013 at

Marcus, thank you for this post. I have recently embraced the value of providing my readers with truly helpful information on my Marketing Tips Blog (giving them the content they would really want to know, opposed to what I thought they should want to know). Now my focus point has become exactly the opposite of what it was.

I am thrilled to hear that the new Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm is not going to cause us to veer from this course because to me, it truly makes the most sense.

Thank you for keeping us in the loop and for encouraging us to see the light!

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

LOVE the direction of your site Marnie, and props to you for making such a push in that direction.

Keep up the great work and thanks so much for stopping by,

Marcus

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Glenys October 2, 2013 at

I like the “Listen, Teach” concept. Tutorial style content can be a huge draw card and can keep interested visitors coming back time and time again to learn some more.

This new algorithm update will (hopefully) see people spending more time on their own website real estate instead of spreading themselves thinly across the web in search of possible links.

Thanks for the post Marcus.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Well said Glenys—the goal here, ultimately, is better quality of content. If anyone makes that their guiding light, they are clearly going in the right direction.

Thanks so much for stopping by,

Marcus

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Andrea T.H.W. October 3, 2013 at

I just hope it will help readers to find good content without always finding the same top dogs, mostly YouTube, as the first results. And hoping that theories about Google looking mostly at freshness of content with little respect to quality are wrong.

Clearly being Google just a business they will always push themselves first so their results will always be biased. After being continuously slapped by Panda for no reasons I’m seeing improvements with Hummingbird so there is a little hope for the future. :)

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

You bring up a great point Andrea. The way search engines currently work, the rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. This presents a huge problem for businesses going forward, especially the ones that have yet to step on the playing field.

(Hmmm, I’m thinking this would make for a really good post….)

Appreciate it my friend!

Marcus

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Bob Benhardt October 3, 2013 at

My skills are sided heavily in the construction and remodeling department. I do not intend to step on toes nor act like I know much about anything on the technical side of the web .

I do know this. There are two ways to get to where you want to be in life. Hard work and determination.

It’s that simple…period.

As one already mentioned here, gaming the system will not work.

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Marcus Sheridan October 3, 2013 at

Isn’t funny Bob how these attributes of success aren’t industry specific? ;-)

Appreciate you stopping by,

Marcus

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Aktar October 4, 2013 at

Marcus great share dude………….. Yes, it is very true that we always get worried after every update of Google. In this post you have explained nicely how this hummingbird works and what would be its effect………..Thanks dude.

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Eric Bridges October 4, 2013 at

Well, that adds a little bit of fire under my butt to keep pushing for more and better content.

When I first heard about the Hummingbird update, my gut reaction was pretty much exactly what you confirmed in this article – that Google is just getting better and better at understanding the meaning behind a search query, not just crunching numbers about keywords and backlinks. This is the future knocking on our doors, and (yet again) accurate and useful content seems to be the solution for more and better website traffic.

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Marcus Sheridan October 7, 2013 at

That’s exactly it Eric. Nothing new really, just what we all already know–great content, addressing a specific need, will have the best chance to get results.

Appreciate you stopping by,

Marcus

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Ilan Finer October 6, 2013 at

On one hand I really like where Google is going, on the other it becomes very hard to make money with SEO, but as long as the majority benefit who am I to say something…

And yes I agree, outsourcing content becomes harder and harder, and that makes you narrow your focus on a specific niche…

But who knows, maybe the next update will change the entire approach…

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Marcus Sheridan October 7, 2013 at

Ilan, appreciate your thoughts here. Yes, the next update could also be another curve ball, but I think if our ultimate is to think exactly like a consumer and address their thoughts, we’re going to be very successful.

Continued success,

Marcus

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Philos October 19, 2013 at

Love that part about insourcing – looking for answers (content) here and now before lifting the head telling someone you don’t even know what you want them to create for you.

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Allen Warren October 28, 2013 at

I think everyone is only kidding themselves thinking that great content will get Google to Love their site and get them the rankings they so deserve. How does Google understand an Industry and understand what is important and what is not? What represents Quality? Is it judged by stickiness and viewer times on a site? It has to be..How else can a computer understand quality. Are some words of higher value than others? No..It is all a game and a game of chance…Today your in and tomorrow your out…Just like fashion…Mark my words..:)

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