24th May 2017
Why do customers visit your website?
I’m not asking what they are looking for. I’m asking why they are looking for it.
Behind the why, there’s a problem the customer will be trying to solve. There’s a purpose driving their need or want. The difference between what customers want and why they want it is at the heart of the new Hummingbird organic search algorithm unveiled by Google on its 15th anniversary last week.
Since the late 1990s, search engines have delivered ranked results by matching keywords typed in a search bar to keywords on webpages. Simple from a user’s perspective, devilishly clever in its mathematics and engineering.
But words can have different meanings.
Back in May 2012, Google’s Senior Vice President for engineering, Amit Singhal, gave the example of a search for “Taj Mahal”.
Was the search about the monument in India, the musician, or a local curry house? What was the intent behind the search? At that point, Google had already started to map alternative meanings by charting what other searches typically followed an initial query. The result is semantic search: an engine that attempts to understand how people are using language, the varied meanings of words or phrases and the different context in which those words are used.
Look back over the last two years and Google has been on a consistent path. The Panda algorithm update penalised “thin” content: webpages stuffed with keywords but little else of value to the user. Last week, Google revealed that it would no longer provide webmasters with data about which keywords drive traffic from search results to their websites: the move to 100% (not provided). The message has been clear. Success in search is more than a matter of keywords. Indeed, this summer, Google was explicit in its advice to webmasters about how to rank well in search results:
“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”
The key to ranking success is engaging on-site content. The essential ingredient that Hummingbird adds is relevance. If the Googlebot is now trying to understand search intent and the meaning and context of words, relevance is all.
Hummingbird and content strategy
“How about a clip of you twerking, boss? We got a heap of likes when the office did the Harlem Shake. Not as many as when we all did Gangnam Style. But if you twerk it, it’ll go viral.”
Take a pop culture trend. Take it out of context. Film it. Share it. Sit back and wait for the social likes. Some call it trendjacking. Others that it’s just hopping on the proverbial band wagon. Sometimes it works. More often it’s lame. But it’s not a content strategy. It’s also unlikely to help your search rankings in the era of a Googlebot that is interested in user intent.
Sure, good content can surprise and delight, even shock. But it can also educate and persuade. Good content can address problems and answer questions… and I’m not talking about an FAQ page.
Finally, good content is not noise that gets in the way of a sale. Good content complements the sales effort. To do that, the content has to be relevant to the product/service. That’s not just what your customers want. It’s what the Hummingbird wants too.