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Should Hummingbird Change Your Content Strategy?

Posted by on October 30, 2013

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Google has delivered some big updates over the past several years. In 2011, Panda tried to lower the rank of sites with low quality or duplicate content. Penguin came along in 2012 and interrupted spamdexing, or the purposeful manipulation of search engine indexing. Google’s goal with both updates was to simply display sites with quality content and better user experience at the top of the Google search engine results page (SERP).

The most recent addition to the Google landscape is the Hummingbird update. And for being the smallest beast of the bunch, it appears to pack the biggest punch. Jeremy Hull of Wired wrote, “it represents the biggest change to Google search since 2001. It’s not just a tweak to the search functionality–Hummingbird is a completely new search algorithm that affects 90 percent of all searches.”

So what does Hummingbird do? If you’re like me, you may have noticed some slight changes to Google SERPs over the past two months. But the real question is: What’s going on behind the scenes if Hummingbird is affecting 9 out of 10 searches? Hummingbird places increased emphasis on the meaning of a query rather than the words of a query. Now, more than ever, manufacturers developing e-commerce product content need to focus on the context of the content, rather than the keywords of the content.

Hummingbird hovers at word flower. Illustration by Breanne Boland.For example, if you searched for “minty toothpaste for sensitive teeth no fluoride” pre-Hummingbird, Google’s algorithm would analyze each word individually. You might end up with a host of articles about why fluoride is bad or good for your teeth. Or articles about causes and cures for sensitive teeth. Or maybe a link to an Amazon page with “minty toothpaste” products (some with fluoride, some without).

With Hummingbird, Google aims to better understand what you’re really seeking out–mint-flavored toothpaste for sensitive teeth that does not contain fluoride. It hopes the conversational algorithm will help deliver better search results for all types of queries.

At the baseline, Hummingbird indicates that there is a decreasing emphasis on the importance of keywords. Decreasing, not zero, emphasis. Keywords are still important for search, especially search done through retail website search engines. However, once Google sets a trend it quickly becomes the norm.

Content26 has been a cheerleader for a multichannel product content strategy since well before the dawn of Panda. Smart content development strategies build on the important marketing content that helps brands and products stick in consumers’ minds and drives consumers to product-detail pages. Our approach to content development secures the final step in this process by providing a content experience that converts traffic to sales.

As Hummingbird overwhelmingly confirms, redundant product content that emphasizes and repeats market speak will completely miss the mark. It might even land you on page 14 of the SERPs (or get you delisted altogether).

We’ve been preaching this process since before Panda or Penguin. Panda validated our intuition that providing unique content attractive to search algorithms on the most highly trafficked sites would not only deliver the best consumer experience, but would also help bring more eyeballs to the product-detail page. Penguin helped to further legitimize improved user experience through high-quality content. Both updates highlighted the importance and value of a smart e-commerce content strategy.

The Takeaway

Although Hummingbird may feel like one more beast to tame, the Google guidance on content creation has remained steady through all its updates: have original, high-quality content and you’ll succeed.

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