Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm gets a lot of press for B2C sectors like travel and retail but it is every bit as relevant (and critical) in the B2B arena. It can be summed up, in a phrase, with the term “semantic search,” but of course that doesn’t help much if marketers aren’t familiar with the term.
In a nutshell, semantic search – and semantic search optimisation – is related to the meaning of content. It is all about thinking in terms of things, rather than strings. In this context “strings” are all the old-fashioned keyword and key phrase lists we’re all so familiar with. But (contrary to what some old-fashioned search marketers will tell you) businesses can’t really be defined by lists of words.
If someone asks what your company does, do you reply with a big long list of keywords? Of course not – you’d say something like “we work in property” or “we’re in financial services” and then go on to explain it to the person who asked you. This is in essence what Hummingbird wants you to do, but in terms of your website content.
What Is Hummingbird?
Before we get any further it is worth noting that Hummingbird is an entirely new search algorithm sitting at the core of Google. It isn’t an addon or a tweak or adjustment like the infamous Panda and Penguin. The best analogy I’ve heard is to think of Google like a car – sooner or later even if you’ve replaced the wing mirrors and doors and wheels you can’t improve the car any further without changing the engine. That’s what Hummingbird is, the “engine” that drives Google search, and it incorporates the existing rules of Panda and Penguin – not the other way around.
This means, critically, that all the rules that good (and up to date) search marketers and brands have become accustomed to still apply. Good quality sites. Good quality backlink profiles. No spam. What is new is to throw out your old lists of keywords and start producing content focused around general topics related to your business. Think about conversations to get you started. What do your potential customers ask? Where do they ask it? What do they talk about when they’re “in the mood” to talk about what you’re offering? Those are your cues to reach out to them – and incidentally to Google – with your website content.
The time to focus on keywords and individual search phrases is past. Talk around the idea of your business – if you sell a particular type of accounting software, don’t just talk about that software itself. Talk about the benefits of its different features as opposed to, say, a big leather bound book. Talk about how you developed it. Talk about current events in business or tax which affect accounting. Offer your own staff’s expert opinions on new legislation. Compare tax benefits for different income brackets. Join discussions about corporate tax in LinkedIn groups or on Quora. Make your entire web presence themed to the broad topic or idea that underpins your business and search engines will see more and more how relevant you are to searches associated with that core topic – and push you higher when people are searching around it.
Think of your website as a cake – this may sound entirely loopy but bear with me. How does a menu in a café list a cake? Fancy haute cuisine aside, usually the name of the cake depends on its flavour – that is, the proportionality of its ingredients. If your cake is largely a chocolate cake with a couple of cherries in it then it will probably be listed as “chocolate cake.” Add more cherries to an even split of flavour and you’ll be ordering a “chocolate and cherry cake.” Make the cake almost completely cherry-flavoured with a sprinkle of chocolate and it’ll become “cherry cake” instead.
Now take a step further – if the cake is your website, then search engines are the café menu. Suddenly the idea of “flavouring” your website to certain topics and themes, to make sure it appears on the menu under the right sorts of names (or search terms) starts to make sense.
Make your website – and your entire online presence – themed and “flavoured” in the right proportions that reflect the activities making up your business and you’re already on a safe road to a good search presence in the Hummingbird world.
What To Do Now?
The simple answer is “start producing content themed around your business” but of course nobody should just dive into such an enterprise without a proper strategy behind it – when are search peaks for particular topics (that’s right, the old keyword planner isn’t out of a job yet – just use it to find ideas rather than as a definitive article list), what direction would you like to position your brand in, when do you need or want to promote or push specific products or services?
Get a company blog or knowledgebase set up – it doesn’t matter really what you call it, as long as it is user-friendly, cleanly coded and a part of your main website rather than relegated to a subdomain or some separate URL entirely. Write around your business topics rather than just about them in a “sales” sense. Go multimedia to keep interest up but remember that cheap, cheerful and bulk is not the way to go – this needs to be high quality editorial content.
In the immediate term make sure all your content is optimised in a more traditional sense around the topic you want it to focus on, and interlink it on sensible anchor text with the lead generating pages on your website. You can still pick up benefits and visibility improvements from a good internal linking strategy and user-friendly contextual anchor links are fine if done in moderation so there’s no reason not to take advantage of this.
Distribute your great content on social channels and get involved in co-creating content through good digital PR in order to gain exposure (you might pick up some nice backlinks as well but that is not the aim of the exercise so don’t get hung up over linked-back credit for your contributions). Don’t ignore the consumer channels either – there’s more to B2B social media than LinkedIn, so do some research to see where your prospects are talking and make sure you join in their conversations wherever they’re having them, tailoring the content you produce to what they want to know.
Stuck for ideas? Leverage your in-house expertise – B2B firms are always loaded down with this but so rarely take advantage of it for digital marketing purposes. Keep an eye on industry news relevant to your vertical – any professional services firm worth its salt will be doing this anyway – and offer commentary or insight pieces around the latest hot topics from your in-house experts. Listen to your clients – current and potential – and your staff on social media, at pitch meetings, coffee dates, chats around the watercooler. What do people talk about? What do they want you to talk about?
There are other things you can do from a boring technical point of view – semantic markup, clean coding, responsive design for unified device search and so on, but those things won’t have a world-changing effect on your visibility without the content proportionality to back them up. Google were recently granted a patent for “search query results based on topic” so the future is all about content – topical, relevant, conversational and tailored for your audience. Write content which is based around conversations that your target audience is having, rather than around what you think search engines want, and good search performance will naturally follow. “Gaming the system” for SEO is a thing of the past – and there’s no stopping the content train now it has officially left the platform!
- Don’t throw out your keywords but start thinking about concepts/topics, not lists
- Hummingbird is new but old friends like Panda & Penguin still apply
- Think about conversations around your industry and your site’s content “flavour”
- Produce multimedia content – commentary, knowledge sharing and expert views
- For content topics look to conversations in your industry relevant to you
- Interlink to “money pages” onsite and distribute on social channels to grow
- Clean up your code and look at semantic markup for search crawlers
- Act now and build a sustainable content strategy to stay ahead of the curve