Did Hummingbird Kill the Big Bad Wolves of SEO?

As technically complex a narrative that the fifteen years of documented Google algorithm updates have been–from Boston, the first named update in 2000, to Hummingbird, the most recent–it strikes me as funny that the moral to that narrative is as simple as the one found in one of the most widely read children’s folk tales on the planet.

“Don’t stray from the path,” warns Little Red Riding Hood’s mother. “Go straight to Grandma’s house with this basket of cakes. She is sick and this will make her feel better.”

If the emerging consensus about Google’s Hummingbird update holds true–if today’s Google really is all about connecting relevant, high-quality content directly to the people who need it–then Brothers Grimm truly provided a fairy-tale ending to the hundreds of millions of dollars and years of algorithm updates that have capriciously turned many undeserving “content kings” into paupers. And we content producers and marketers should all be rejoicing.

Think about it.

Don’t stray from the path. Go straight to Grandma’s house with this basket of cakes.

A mantra for everyone in the business of content: stay true to the path that connects you directly to your consumer, and fill your basket just with the content they need.

For the past 15 years, however, we’ve sat helplessly as the big, bad (geeky, snake-oil-selling) wolves of SEO populated our woods and seduced our Little Reds far off their paths. By the time poor Red eventually reached her ailing grandma, either a look-a-like had already knocked on her door and swallowed her whole or Little Red’s basket had been crammed with stuff Grandma couldn’t make sense of: irrelevant keywords, outbound links, back links, long-tail phrases, short-tail phrases, and other snippets of useless content that no one should ever be forced to consume.

There have always been wolves of one sort or another trying to block the path between content and consumers: censors, incompetent editors, obtrusive marketing departments, and P/L-driven publishers are just a few that come to mind.

What has been so frustrating is that with the onset of the Internet, for the first time in human history we had what seemed to be a form of distribution that could bypass those wolves and connect us directly to our readers, only to watch the technology simply spawn a new species of wolf.

But thanks to all those engineers over the years who worked deep into the night and got richer than King Midas rolling out Boston, Cassandra, Dominic, Esmerelda, Fritz, Florida, Austin, Brandy, Allegra, Bourbon, Gilligan, Jagger, Big Daddy, Buffy, Dewey, Vince, Caffeine, May Day, Panda/Farmer, Venice, Penguin, Phantom, Payday Loan, and Hummingbird, as well as the thousands of small anonymous updates, we can feel confident once again that good content producers and copy editors have a bit of job security and that help is on the way for Grandma.

(In a future post, perhaps I’ll resurrect the ghost of George Orwell to discuss the technology that has allowed Google to keep Little Red on the straight and narrow.)

Mark White is president and a founding member of content26. Continue this conversation with him on Twitter @mwhitec26.

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