Google is consistently updating and tweaking their algorithms to show us the best possible searches possible. Now, more than ever, it is important to keep up to date with the newest update, Hummingbird, so you can understand how to adjust your search engine optimization and content marketing strategies appropriately or see where you are already doing the right thing. In fact, it’s not even really an algorithm – it’s a whole new way that search works. I sat down with two industry experts, Jenny Halasz and Eric Enge, to discuss the change and how it will effect you moving forward.
Arnie: Hi I’m Arnie Kuenn, and I’m with Vertical Measures. Welcome to another monthly edition of our hangout series. Today, we’ve got Jenny and Eric joining us; we’re going to talk about the new Hummingbird rollout from Google. I thought what I’d do is give Eric and Jen a chance to introduce themselves.
Eric: Hi. I’m Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, I guess, Lead Co-Author of ‘The Art of SEO’, and host of The Digital Marketing Excellence Show’, which is a weekly hangout on-air broadcast every Thursday. That’s me.
Arnie: Awesome. Jenny?
Jenny: Thanks for having me on the show, Arnie. My name’s Jenny Halasz, I am President of Archology. We are a SEO, PPC, and web development shop located in Raleigh, North Carolina. I write for Search Engine Land and blog pretty frequently on there. I also will be speaking at Internet Summit next week, if you’d like to come down to Raleigh and catch me there.
Arnie: Great. I will see you there.
Arnie: I thought what I’d do is start with Eric and see . . . you’ve done some writings and some interviews with Danny Sullivan and some others I’ve been following here in the last few weeks, and thought maybe it’d be good if you could just maybe give the audience the description or a summary of what Hummingbird really is all about then we’ll dive into the discussion.
Eric: Sure, happy to do that. There’s a few things going on with Hummingbird, which Google announced at their 15th birthday party a little while back. There’s a couple of things that people are very aware of, and then there’s at least one major thing that they’re not aware of, generally speaking.
First of all it’s a platform, so you’ve got to separate it out from how you think about Panda or Penguin, which are individual algorithms. In fact, fundamentally what Google did with this is that they rewrote the whole search engine algorithm, by which I mean the part that’s responsible for figuring out how to pull data out of their index. That’s a big deal. Even though Google said 90% of inquiries were impacted with this release and hardly anybody noticed, that’s natural at this point.
The real impact of Hummingbird is in our future, and it’s going to be a big impact. Two things I want to mention about it though, to get specific. First is the part that everybody is familiar with, which is that Hummingbird has enabled Google to do a better job of handling natural language search queries. That means users can type in questions like, ‘Give me pictures of Tom Brady,’ and it will show you those, and then who’s his wife, who’s his children, who’s he playing this Sunday. Google can respond to all those queries and actually maintain the context of that conversation. Everybody is focused on this piece.
Another part that I want to bring out for you Arnie and Jenny, which people are missing, is because Hummingbird was a platform, a new rewrite of the fundamentals of the search engine, some other very important things went on. They also added within the context of Hummingbird a different methodology for processing different signals. What do I mean by signals? We’re all used to links being the big signal that drives SEO and being a big factor in all that. We’ve had raging debates in the industry about social media signals, but in fact, what Google said to Danny Sullivan when he was there, which was in the hangout on-air that I did with Danny last Thursday, is that they have now with this new platform enabled themselves to do a better job of leveraging social signals. This, I think, is a huge deal that I think most people have missed.
Arnie: I agree. You and I were in a panel, I forget where it was, and we were going back and forth on the value of the social signals. I’ve heard Duane Forrester at Microsoft say that it’s just too much data, that they can’t sort the good from the bad, basically; too much noise. It’s interesting to hear that as a part of Hummingbird, Google feels like it’s getting prepped to make that leap. That’s interesting.
Jenny, do you have any comments? I don’t know if I’m going to pigeonhole you by talking about content, but you and I ran a content panel a while back. Do you have any questions coming from your clients or users about, ‘What should we do with content now, going forward because of Hummingbird?’ and based on what Eric just said
Jenny: Plenty of questions about that, Arnie. I think that’s always the question, ‘How do I create good-quality content that people are actually going to want to read and share?” It’s become more and more important that that be content that’s focused on what the user is actually looking for. One thing that I wanted to mention in terms of what we’re noticing with Hummingbird is that schema and social data within the construct of schema, and the . . . are you familiar with the concept of triples? For your audience if they’re not familiar with the concept of triples, it’s basically the idea that entities are connected and that everything has a subject, a predicate, and an object. What we are noticing with Hummingbird, and we’ve been doing some testing that I’m really excited about, is that the new algorithm is doing such a better job of identifying those triples and not getting confused by things, for example verbs that are used as nouns and nouns that are getting used as verbs. They’re not getting confused by that and they’re still producing a very quality result that’s based on content that’s been written on that subject.
Arnie: Awesome. Either one of you could probably answer this, but I’ve seen the debate about ‘This is going to really affect long tail. Now it’s all about short tail.’ I know where I stand on that one, but I don’t know if each of you could chime in from an optimization standpoint, I guess, or from a classic SEO standpoint, how do you feel about that.
Jenny: I totally disagree with that. I think that long tail or short tail, it’s not going to matter. People who are caught up in these ideas of ‘does the keyword have 3 words or does it have 7 words?’ are going to get lost in the shuffle. Because it’s not about the number of words that are being used to do the search, it’s about the entity that’s being proclaimed in the search. What is it that they’re really looking for? Google’s doing such a good job of this natural language processing now to determine where’s the subject, the predicate, the object in the query? What do they need? How am I going to find that solution for them specifically?
Arnie: Great. Eric?
Eric: From my perspective, I also disagree; not with Jenny but with the premise. At the end of the day if you were to think of Hummingbird as transforming queries, and I’m not sure that’s the right way to think about it, but if you were to think that way, sometimes understanding a users intent would cause you to make a query more complicated not less so, and vice versa. The point is it’s actually . . . to Jenny’s point, you’re coming in from the wrong perspective when you start thinking about long tail versus short tail, and you really need to be coming at it from the perspective of, what’s the intent of the query? That’s a big deal in this. It’s a different way of thinking about things, and it really maps to what Jenny said about content a few moments ago. Are you addressing different intents in your content?
Arnie: Yeah. I’m pretty big for it within Vertical Measures and everywhere I speak about creating content that people are actually searching for. I think by this point, hopefully people that also used . . . think that they’re a context marketing expert totally understand all the stuff has to be about your user not about the business’ websites; way back when we’re brochures for your business. I think they’ve certainly evolved, but we still see lots and lots of websites that it’s all about them. When I’m out preaching about content marketing, it’s generally saying, “What is it that . . . how are you going to help your client? As Jay Baer says, “Are you creating useful content?” Usually, useful content is something that’s all about me as the consumer or the business that wants to do business with you. I don’t really necessarily care about you and how many employees you have, it’s all about me. I also think Hummingbird plays right into that actually.
Eric: You get hints of this actually, from even back in the early Panda days, there were hints about them really caring about whether you were actually producing useful context. Panda is just an individual algorithm. I’m just saying that this notion of them getting focused on that has been around for a long time.
Arnie: Right. Jenny?
Jenny: When you think about the predictive modeling we’re adding too, traditionally, long tail searches have been the searches that add additional information to the query, not necessarily . . . it’s not necessarily a longer query, they’re just saying, “I want dog collars in Sacramento, California.” They’re looking for that longer positional-type of information that the search engines can now capture and have been able for some time to capture in the persons actual personalization metrics; the things that you already know about the searcher.
Arnie: I’m going to switch back to Eric. I didn’t think this was really going to be . . . we’d spent too much time on this. Maybe one of the final things you could talk about wrapped around Hummingbird, unless each of you have a comment you’d like to add, but it’s around the social media side of it. I have so far not been a huge believer or proponent of ‘Oh, my gosh. It’s all about social media to show up in Google search results.’ Obviously Eric, you feel based on one of your early-on statements about the future of Hummingbird, that that might actually become a significant factor. You want to address that?
Eric: Sure. I do think it will become a factor. First of all in terms of the history, I also did publish that study 6 weeks ago which basically we attempted to measure whether if Google+ shared links created ranking changes. The conclusion we drew was not that we could detect. The thing that really got people going on all this is that a shared link in Google+, particularly when you use the little link button which is down at the bottom of a Share box; those pass page rank. Google has sculpted this and they’ve done that for a reason.
I think our destiny is that social signals are going to matter. Now the questions is, how will they use them? I’m actually just about to publish an article on Search Engine Land about this. My next column on Search Engine Land will cover this. I don’t think it’s going to be we take the link algorithm here and the social algorithm here, and you add them together and they act like the same vote. I don’t think it can work that way. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is that the energy that it takes and the commitment behind doing a social share or hitting a +1 button is entirely different than what’s involved in putting up a link on a website. The behavior pattern, and I’ve heard this from people at both Bing and Google; people who do these things are fundamentally different. It’s more of a social context. It’s not that it doesn’t have value, but I think it has to have value based on definitely somewhat more complicated thought process about, ‘Someone shares a piece of context. How many people re-shared that, comment on it, and +1’d on it? Who were they? What do the ripples look like? Is that also supported by incoming links, real world links?’
Maybe those social signals . . . and I’m totally in speculation mode here, are acting as a scaler to real world things rather than a standalone signal. Or it might be that social signals impact certain ranking that links don’t impact and vice versa. I don’t think we know yet, but I’m really confident that it won’t just be links plus social signals driving the same point in the Google algorithm. That’s my quick take.
Arnie: Plus . . . go ahead Jenny.
Jenny: I just want to add to that, that since the beginning, people have talked about Google+ as not as much a social network as it is. Hold on.
Arnie: Did you want to call them back?
Jenny: Sorry about that. This is exactly what I’m talking about, is that Google has been using it not as a social network but as an identity verification network. They’re verifying identities of people through profiles, companies, and entities through pages. To me, that makes absolutely perfect sense that they would continue to pass page rank through these verified identities. I think where it’s going to get really complicated is where they start to add in all these other networks that we have, beyond just Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; into all these little niche-y networks that are focused on a particular industry or particular vertical where there’s a lot of verification happening; something like Real Self, for example, for physicians. There are these networks that indicate a lot of validity and verification that Google I’m sure wants to be able to use when they’re determining what value to associate with a content writer.
Arnie: I think it gets really complicated. I agree with both of you and I’m on the side that I think it’s just so complicated, it’s going to take a while. For example, there are just many pieces of content that any of use might consume that we’re not going to share no matter what. It could be that you’re looking for a DUI attorney. There’s just industries in . . . the doctors; you might not want to necessarily share anything that came from the doctor.
Eric: Excuse me, Arnie. I just want to +1 this hemorrhoid site. Hang on.
Arnie: Exactly. That’s my point in 5 words.
Jenny: There was the whole debacle recently. I believe it was, and I’m going to say the wrong brand so I’m not going to say the brand. There was a brand that put out on Twitter, ‘Oddest Place to Have to go to the Bathroom.’ It’s a total fail. It comes to customer engagement. There are going to be some things where you’re going to have to look to a different source of verification.
Arnie: We’re going to head towards wrapping this up. I think normally what I like to do at the end of these is if each of you can think of, or just give one piece of advice to the people who would be watching this; obviously, this would be lots of marketing-oriented people that might be wondering, ‘How do I address Google in the next year or two?’ If you just have maybe one, hopefully succinct piece of advice, what would that be?
Eric: From my perspective, I think the thing is to not get so wrapped into the exact details of how Google’s algorithm works. Even if you knew it perfectly today, it’s going to be different enough in 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and 8 weeks; pick your time interval. You know what’s good for building the reputation and visibility of your business, Google has committed itself to figuring out the people who do that well. Obviously, don’t be stupid about SEO, but don’t let it rule your life. Produce some really good stuff, get it noticed. You’ll get the links, you’ll get the social measures, which of each they’re counting isn’t going to be so important. You’ll do just fine in Google.
Arnie: Super. Jenny, we’ll let you close it out.
Jenny: Stop focusing on what was the latest algorithm change. This was a big change; it really is with Hummingbird. Focus less on how Google’s changing what they’re delivering to users and more on what you’re delivering to users. If you really focus on . . . and I’m going to quote Eric here, brand-building, then you will be doing the right thing for your business and for your customers.
Arnie: Super. I want to thank you both. I think it was a great conversation; hopefully some really, really good advice for our viewers. Until next month’s hangout, this is Arnie Kuenn, signing off from Vertical Measures. Thank you both.
Eric: Thank you.
Jenny: Thank you.
Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, and has more than 30 years experience in the high technology market. His career began as a software engineer, but he has focused on the field of search engine optimization (SEO) since 2002. Mr. Enge is a frequent speaker at industry conferences about SEO and Social Media. He also publishes articles frequently on both topics, including Search Engine Land where is a regular columnist. He also publishes a well known blog that interviews industry leaders.
Jenny Halasz is President of Archology, an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She’s been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition.
A well known speaker and blogger, Jenny has produced dozens of articles and has spoken at SMX, SES, Conversion Conference, Internet Summit and other industry and non-industry conferences.