Content Marketing 101

Google Hummingbird Friendly Content Marketing Tips

The Google Hummingbird algorithm rebuild has been a hot topic of late. There are literally hundreds of blog posts and articles analyzing exactly what Hummingbird is, why it was engineered in the first place, and how to adjust reporting and client expectations when keywords hold far less weight than they once did.

Rather than rehash the ideas of others or take more stabs in the dark at what Hummingbird is, this post aims to overview several types of content that are more likely to be Hummingbird-friendly. Realistically, if you have followed Google’s direction and focused on generating quality content, you are already ahead of the game.

Types of Content That Are Hummingbird Friendly

Not all quality content is created equally. If you are building outstanding materials but they only focus on you, your products/services, or some other self-serving objective, you are choosing to limit your exposure.

On the other hand, even some tried and true content types may fail to rank as well as they did previously. That said, if Google is truly starting to rank content based on user search intent and context of the content itself, several specific types of content stand out. Let’s take a look at what might work well in today’s SEO environment.

Evergreen content

“Evergreen” refers to content which does not have a shelf life or expiration date. Whereas breaking news is only of interest for a short period of time, evergreen content provides information that is relevant to online searchers well into the future.

The beauty of evergreen content is that it only grows stronger in authority, ranking, and traffic over time. You will know when you’ve crafted a great piece of evergreen content by the stats. If you have content that has grown legs of its own, keep it updated on the same URL or redirect to the updated version. This sort of material earns its own links, provides real value, and will get you the eyeballs you are seeking for your site.

Even more importantly, evergreen content provides a great way for Google to rank according to context. Something that has ranked well over time has been crawled repeatedly, and as algorithms are tweaked and improved, this same content has a golden opportunity to remain visible with the latest Hummingbird objectives.

Educational Content / How to’s

Since Hummingbird aims to rank more relevant content for natural questions and queries, the logical first place to turn is educational content, including “How to…” types of materials.

When building this content, be sure not to obfuscate the related query by using too much jargon or obscure titles. Consider the following two potential subject lines for a new blog post:

  • “Slingshots and Trajectory: Experiments in Distance”
  • “How to Build a Killer Slingshot Using Common Household Items”

These two subject lines could easily be titles for the exact same blog post… or two completely different posts. Now think about Hummingbird – which of the two is most likely to match to a question on the topic?

It doesn’t even take an advanced algorithm to figure out that “How do I build…” should match to “How to Build…” Sure, Google is getting good at figuring out the details, but that by no way means you shouldn’t spoon feed them an easy match, similarly to how you once spoon fed them keywords to rank.

Think about the educational content that makes the most sense for your business, website, or cause to provide, and build it. Then use the most obvious title for it, and your odds of Hummingbird friendly rankings will go up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Although there has been debate about the overall value of FAQ pages, there is value to be had by managing them properly. After all, the query most likely to match to the content is already overtly spelled out right on the page.

However, FAQ pages as they have traditionally been built are not optimal for semantic search and Hummingbird. Why is that?

  1. They tend to focus on company-specific questions
  2. They are typically all represented on a single page as a list of questions with answers
  3. FAQ pages are notoriously weak at earning natural links

In other words, a typical FAQ page is more likely to rank for “company name FAQ” than for the content in any of the questions. But there is a way around that challenge.

When building your FAQ, generate a separate page or blog post that answers each of the questions. Then link directly to that page or post using the question itself as anchor text. Not only will this provide you with a dedicated page to rank for the query / question, but it will also allow you to deploy an internal link with rich anchor text.

If you are willing to refresh your idea of what an FAQ page is, there is unclaimed value to be had.

Problem / Solution

Another way to target semantic / intent based queries is to adopt a problem / solution format. In this case, the key is to spell out the problem in very clear language. This will build the context that Google needs to match open queries against the answer (solution) you spell out in the rest of the document.

In addition to the problem, the solution itself can prove helpful to semantic matching. If the solution talks about the benefits it provides and to whom, that can add additional levels of context for Google to take into account.

Case Studies

Case studies, while typically focused on a success story of some sort for a product or service, can serve a dual role. When crafting your case studies, be sure to use the standard format including the situation (i.e. problem), the solution, and the results or ROI.

Taking Hummingbird into account, you can go deeper into the overall scenario. For example, rather than showing a generic solution to Problem A, you can show how it helps specific vertical industries or end users. At the same time, you are answering the question of why the problem needs to be addressed in the first place, by way of the ROI or results information.

We already know that case studies play an important role in helping to close customers during the consideration phase. If crafted properly, we can reach up a bit earlier in the funnel, showing why they should put forth the time and effort to deal with the problem at all.

Social / Viral Materials

Although still a work in progress, it is very clear that Hummingbird is a step along the path to figuring out social SEO signals. This should come as no surprise if you’ve been following Google’s actions the past 2-3 years. They have clearly stated that they have to figure out a way to analyze social signals.

What does this mean? The social media-based response you get to any piece of content is poised to play a role in the context that Google assigns to that content. This can be measured by way of shares, comments on the posting of the content, likes / +1’s, and a list of other actions.

If you have fallen into lazy habits such as broadcasting marketing spam on social networks, start re-evaluating your behavior now. It could be months or over a year before Google figures out how to handle social signals. Don’t wait until they do so to clean up your act. It could be too late by then.

Top Tips

Top tips describes something we see with blog content all the time. A quick look at Twitter will reveal a litany of “Top 3 Ways to…” and “4 Marketing Tactics to Avoid” types of posts.

This format naturally lends itself to Q&A matching. Rather than just saying what to avoid, focus the title on the real reason(s) to adopt or avoid the suggested actions.

Instead of the example above, try something like “4 Marketing Tactics That Can Lose You Customers”. The reader can easily surmise that it is best to avoid those tactics, and you are again calling out the context clearly and overtly.

In-depth Analysis

With the introduction of in-depth articles as a focus for Google earlier this year, they have made it clear that in-depth analysis is highly valued. I see the same thing with my own blog posts and other content – research and detailed analyses do very well for SEO purposes.

Data has always been a good way to get eyeballs and natural links. That remains true today.

Research and data are poised to have continued success without missing a step. This type of content almost always answers a question, or at least draws an insightful conclusion. Regardless of which approach you prefer, the end result is the same – data and in depth analysis addresses unanswered questions.

You can conduct surveys, assimilate data from disparate sources, or provide information about tests you have fielded directly. All of these create new answers to existing problems. This is exactly the type of content that Hummingbird favors.

Summary

The bottom line on all of this is to keep creating quality content, and start thinking more about how you will provide context to help Google better rank it for open questions. Of course, as the social signals part evolves, we will see a whole new range of recommendations you can adopt.

For now, be sure all of your original content comes with Author Markup, and start taking social more seriously if are not already doing so. These two items, while not yet key pieces of the Google ranking algorithm, are poised to play a major role in the coming years.

 

IMAGE CREDIT: Mike Baird on Flickr. Used under creative commons attribution license.

 Google Hummingbird Friendly Content Marketing Tips
Tommy Landry has 20 years of experience, with a deep understanding of Social SEO and Online Demand Generation. Operating out of Austin, TX, he consults with clients of all sizes to improve their website performance and lead flow via his company, Return On Now. Find him on Twitter: @tommy_landry.
 Google Hummingbird Friendly Content Marketing Tips
 Google Hummingbird Friendly Content Marketing Tips

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15 thoughts on “Google Hummingbird Friendly Content Marketing Tips

  1. Hi Tommy,
    Just a quick comment: I don’t think keyword importance has changed at all, in fact, it’s probably now more important than ever. What has changed is the way that Google matches keywords or phrases against it’s cache. It no longer matched against form, but matches against meaning instead. That means keywords need to be examined in terms of their semantic relationship with other words. So it is with longer phrases too. In it’s most simplistic form, Google used to match a word like “business” against use of the word “local fruit business” on a website, prioritising exact matches, then near matches, then partial matches etc. Now, “local fruit business” matches against “I want to order apples for delivery”, because semantically, a search for “I want to order apples for delivery” by it’s very nature, is likely to be a search for a business’ products / produce, even though there is a 0% match for keywords. Understanding the reach of semantic sets is now the ‘key’-word strategy we should use.

    1. Hi Perry,

      Very valid and well-received point. The issue is that hyper-focusing on exact match keywords misses much more of the picture than it did in the past.

      When I was just learning SEO, I naturally assumed semantics were taken into account, until I realized it was based on strings of characters. Hummingbird was a natural adjustment back to my natural state of thinking, so I jumped on it without fear.

      It’s no longer right to track exact match keywords. Now semantic variations should be grouped into a hierarchy with head terms and derivatives to get the full picture of what we are driving with our SEO efforts. We look to have similar perspectives on the topic, based on your comment.

      Thanks for chiming in,
      Tommy

      1. Hi Tommy, Happy New Year!
        Yes indeed, I think we are on the same page. Like you, I always did SEO based on semantics, but mainly because I thought keyword matching alone was leading to low quality SERP results. I had also studied semantics to post-grad level back in 2006, so anything that Google has done in the last year or two hasn’t bothered or surprised me in the slightest. Now, I just use what I learned to the advantage of my clients, but it has become a lot more difficult to explain to them why I write certain things in their sites that don’t necessarily appear to use any of the keywords they think are important. Generally, I find that people are still hung up on their keyword sets that worked for them back in 2010, and getting them to think about it differently is hard work.

  2. Isn’t it true that more extensive FAQs and mobile friendly search strings are going to be on the forefront of google? As more people are searching Siri for the locations or desitantions they visit how can we better achieve organic content rankings to fit within the refines of Siri, Mobile and Hummingbird?

  3. Hi John,
    By ‘mobile friendly search strings’, do you mean spoken searches that don’t need to be typed? This will by their nature be longer than the average typed search phrase I guess, but I’ve also found spoken search to be a bit fickle when it comes to a longer string, and find myself having to ‘adjust’ what I say when using this feature on my mobile, rather than the other way around, which to me suggests that we are still relatively limited. There is a difference though, between performing a spoken search, vs a mobile search. The former will require more advanced search interpretation capability, not matter what platform it’s from, while the latter will render a bias of sites that are mobile compatible. As I see it, Hummingbird only comes into this on the former, not the latter, which I think is a little less dependent on algorithm – i.e. it will be more of a base feature of all current and future algorithms independent of which iteration it may be.

  4. “How to” content are evergreen, as it solves the problem of your targeted audience and also builds your authority in the market. And if you can create one with useful insights then certainly you can outrank your competitors. Quality of content matters a lot, I mean you just can’t expect to rank the SERP by sharing the same information which your competitors have already shared. You need to offer something more useful and additional which has been missed by your competitors.

    1. That’s the hard part about content marketing as a whole – no one cares about “me too” content. It has to be very engaging or unique, be built/written with the highest of quality, and ideally it will cover new ground. That’s a lot of variables to balance for a simple blog post or routine piece of content. Luckily, in-depth and other formats allows for a more strategic approach to content. Thanks for reading!

  5. Good advice thanks, although I’m not even sure if Hummingbird is running in the UK yet. It seems to be an American thing (sorry, thaaaang) right now, as with Facebook’s Graph Search. We’re always a bit behind the times out here. Still, this is good preparation for everything ahead. Happy New Year, everyone!

    1. Very interesting commentary, but I believe they are most likely live already in the UK. This was a change to the algorithm itself, not an update. I’d wager they rolled this one out across the globe, as it took literally weeks to get rolled out to all their servers.

      If you find any commentary about whether I am right or not, I’d love to see it. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Nice on e Tommy. With the introduction of the in-depth article schema, I think evergreen content is a must for any content marketer’s editorial plans, A user guide, whitepaper, how-to article or in-depth analysis with provide a rich source of content for users and search engines alike,

  7. Great article Tommy! Very well written and you made some great points here… On the other hand, I think traditional SEO is dead and the only form of white hat SEO now-a-days is to provide solid, user-useful content with properly written metadata. That’s it! After Hummingbird, the old tricks just don’t work. (I started doing SEO professionally in 2005)

    No back links, no Google Plus, no Facebook, no Twitter, no nothing except good, user-useful content with properly written metadata. Traffic plays no role either.

    Example: Google Keyword: landscape company seo <—– Very, very, little SEO was done on the post Landscape Company SEO | Writing Title Tags which is currently number 1 on Google. However, it contains "Educational Content / How to’s" on writing title tags and was therefore ranked highly. I couldn't agree with this article more. Good stuff!

    1. To me, if you apply the tried and true (not spammy / Blackhat) SEO techniques to very well planned and built content, you will be fine with or without Hummingbird. Google has been saying they want us to act this way for years, and now they can enforce it if we want to show up in the SERPs.

      While all this is going on, I’ve found great value not just for SEO but also for referral traffic in G+, links, social, etc. When we build the sites for readers, traffic will come from multiple sources, not just SEO. Thanks for chiming in!

  8. I have always believed that creating high quality content was the answer for search engine optimization. I do a lot of education and my clients and readers appreciate it. Thanks for update.

  9. Thanks a big bunch for a cool cohesive summary. I will certainly utilize it when negotiating with my employer’s Compliance department.