What Google Hummingbird Means for Your Content Strategy

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What Google Hummingbird Means for Your Content Strategy

Just when you’ve adapted to the idea that your company or clients needs a content marketing strategy to excel online, Google has changed the rules of the game. With the introduction of Google Hummingbird earlier this month, priorities shifted from a general marketing strategy to a mobile one. But executing a content marketing strategy that responds to mobile and the changes of Google Hummingbird in an intelligent way requires shifts in both mindset and technique.

The Fundamentals of a Good Content Strategy Still Apply

Many SEOs and business owners panicked upon hearing “mobile content strategy” for the first time. You’ve just got your content strategy in place, and now you’re being asked to revise it or even throw it out and start again?! Not quite. While Hummingbird means that simply having mobile as one “channel” of your content strategy is no longer sufficient, it doesn’t mean that you need to completely reboot.

Many of the fundamentals you’ve learned about building a good content strategy still apply. Steps like developing an editorial calendar, crafting messages that resonate with your audience, understanding your overall audience profile, and rigorously measuring outcomes are all still important. What’s changed is that you need to adapt your mindset: mobile is no longer just one consideration in a content strategy. It needs to be a central focus, and you need to ask tough questions about whether your site’s mobile experience is up to par in terms of design, content creation, and overall delivery.

Work with the Data

The mobile landscape is shifting rapidly. Recent statistics on mobile usage are mind-blowing and are no doubt driving Google’s algorithm updates. More than half of all Americans own smartphones, and one third of all Americans have a tablet. Mobile searches are through the roof, with one study finding that 46% of searchers used mobile exclusively.

Even more important than understanding the general context is taking a look at your own data. Do you know, for example, what percentage of your customers visit your website on mobile and what devices they’re using? All this information is contained within tools such as Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. This information can help you make important decisions about mobile priorities and investments.

Change your Design Mindset from Scaling Down to Scaling Up

A well-designed site sends powerful signals to search engines that you’re a legitimate business with a well-planned and effective site. Google’s manual reviewers certainly take design into consideration. With the release of Google Hummingbird, sites without a mobile responsive design are going to be at a disadvantage in search results. If not immediately, certainly in the long-run. If your site isn’t rendering well across a range of devices, then it’s important to make that your first design priority. All other mobile content decisions (and I would argue, even design and probably SEO) should take a backseat until you solve this glaring issue. For help with that, see this article: ”Responsive Design & Mobile SEO: Best Practices for 2013.”

So what makes a good mobile design? The old practice was to scale down for mobile. You developed a site that functioned well on a desktop, and then scaled it down to work on mobile devices. This might involve stripping out certain elements or limiting functionality. But consumers today are demanding full featured, effective mobile experiences – and Google is going to make sure they get it.

Great designers are now thinking about design challenges from a mobile-first perspective. Many think in terms of optimizing the organization, functionality and flow for a mobile environment. Once that’s been perfected, it’s easier to scale up to work well on a standard computer as well.  There are a number of design considerations that need to be taken into account for mobile users – font size, white space, the clickability of links, and more. But these formatting changes should occur within a broader framework of evaluating the effectiveness of mobile design.

Find Ways to Create Mobile-First Content

Mobile-first also impacts your content creation process and cycle. The old mindset around content was to look at long pieces of material created for SEO purposes, and find ways to break them down. Paragraphs were made shorter, design created more white space and used visuals sparingly. While making older content easier to consume is always a smart idea, it’s important to apply the same principles of “mobile first” to your content creation. Here are some key things to consider when you’re developing topics, writing content, and thinking about dissemination:

  • Length: as I’ll explore below, shorter tends to play better on mobile. Yet long posts are necessary for great SEO. Can you use introductions or targeted blog posts for your mobile readers?
  • Visual and Audio Content: Are you using visual content such as images, infographics, video, and micro-video to support your content efforts? Mobile users consume visual content much easier and faster than text-based content, so it’s important to think in these terms.
  • Socially Friendly: Is your content social media friendly and easy to share? Mobile users tend to have a high degree of social shares and this can be a great way to build your shares with minimal effort.
  • Topic Focus: Use tools such as Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to determine what people are doing on your site. Are they shopping? If so, product guides would be a great way to focus your content development. Are they looking for more product information, or for original pieces related to industry trends? When you have a better understanding of how your mobile audience is spending their time, you’ll be in an excellent position to develop topics of interest.

Make Peace with the Long vs. Short Debate

As most SEOs know, there’s a strong emphasis on in-depth, high quality content. Longer articles tend to rank well in the SERPs and are a great way to show your expertise in a meaningful way. But the challenge with long pieces is that users on mobile devices, especially smartphones with small screens, are less likely to read them. This is where your reformatting and other strategies become really important.

But I would argue that mobile sites make a compelling case for the relevancy of shorter content. Consider the fact that the de facto length of posts has increased from 550 words to 1000 words. This migration is for primarily SEO-driven reasons. In most cases, it’s not the actual readers that are begging for longer pieces (unless they’re well-written, insightful, and delivering a ton of the value).

Readers want  the exact information they need to answer a question or complete a task without having to wade through a lot of fluff. This supports the argument that there is a place for short, to the point pieces that focus on a specific issue. Considered within the mobile context, these pieces become even more valuable.

Another approach is to consider the role of short summaries or introductions. Longer pieces need some kind of intro to be digestible. It’s possible that you could offer long and short versions of each piece, and use the intro for your mobile site.

Assess your Distribution Channels

Thought leaders like Derek Halpern have suggested that writing your content is 20% of the battle, and disseminating it effectively is 80%. I agree, and a mobile content marketing strategy requires special considerations for how to effectively get your content to mobile users. Here are a few areas to bear in mind:

  • Are your site and blog optimized for mobile? If not, your most important channel just became inefficient.
  • Actively engage on your social media channels, and tailor your activities to when your mobile users are most active. Ensure that all your share plugins are compatible with a wide range of mobile devices.
  • Ensure that you’re using a mobile-compatible email marketing template for your newsletters and subscriber outreach. Focus on your headlines and keep them short (under 60 characters) to ensure they don’t get cut off. Develop a system of call to actions in your emails that’s both clear and easy to execute.


With the introduction of Google Hummingbird, the search engine giant insists that businesses focus on their mobile presence. By developing a mobile content marketing strategy, you’ll be setting your site up for better search rankings and increased revenue streams in the future. What steps are you taking with a mobile content strategy in the face on Hummingbird?

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or... Read Full Bio
Jayson DeMers
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  • My take on “How Google Hummingbird affects Digital Marketers”: http://www.ciol.com/ciol/features/198528/how-google-hummingbird-affects-digital-marketers

  • It’s hard to not scale down the content when you’re gearing a site towards mobile users. On the one hand, textual content is essential for getting those long-tail keywords. But on the other hand, I agree that most mobile users don’t want to read as much – they want to click and find what they’re looking for quickly because they’re on the go.

  • Yep – Hummingbird was definitely created to prepare for the increase in voice searchers. Before Hummingbird I was getting pretty irrelevant results by asking Google things in the way I speak. Now the results are much improved.

  • After release “Hummingbird” one of my site traffic is increasing day by day .. so to say content is king always. Its increase searcher satisfaction on searching by providing most relevant & actual data.

  • While majority of people are out there complaining that Google is just looking for ways to kill small business owners, favouring established websites and blogs…I totally disagree with their naïve postulations.

    My new blog is doing well, and well respected blogs/websites that I know are doing pretty well likewise.

    The key is to focus your strategy on mobile content needs/user satisfaction, make your content more community engaging.

    I love reading searchjournal articles, they are up to date and helpful

  • Jason, great post, thanks for pulling together.

    I wanted to share one observation / impact that I think Hummingbird and the other changes Google as made on one of the sites I own / manage – I’d love to get the SE Journal community to feedback on this as well as it has really surprised me, pleasantly.

    I set up my new biz 3 months ago supported by a new website / domain http://www.kamber.com.au

    Within 8 weeks, it ranked in the top 3 results for my target keywords in a very competitive space.

    I ticked off all the on-page stuff which are obviously mandatory, but I think the immediate results are down to Google authorship / author rank.

    I’ve been blogging for 6 years on my own blog and on some other popular sites (The Next Web, PRDaily and here) – I linked my authorship details up on my G+ profile and the blog details for the new site / blog.

    It is the only thing that makes sense to me in terms of this immediate impact on this very new site.

    Does that sound right / possible?

    If that is the primary factor, I LOVE IT as it rewards all the hard work I’ve done in that period.

    If anyone has had any similar experiences it’d be great to know.