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Why Brands Should Optimize for Google Hummingbird

optimize for google hummingbird

Google has done it again.

You might remember a blog post I wrote titled “The 4 SEO Trends Every Marketer Needs to Know.” That list isn’t outdated, but there are some important new updates you should know about since Google just released its Hummingbird update — and it’s a big deal.

It’s so big in fact, that Google reports that it has affected 90% of all searches worldwide. To put that in perspective, Panda affected less than 10%.

Basically, the purpose of Hummingbird is to evolve how Google understands the context around a query and how it serves information based on that query. Google is banking on the fact that in the near future most searches will be done on mobile devices, and a lot of those will be done by voice instead of by text.

A user “asking” Google a question will look different than typing it. You might search for a location by voice asking Google, “Where is the White House.” The result isn’t a link to a website with that information. Google now tells you the address and provides a map without having to click once.

Google knowledge graph

This is a great experience for the user. Information is easy to get and easy to consume. For website owners, however, there is potential for this update to decrease referral rates because users won’t always need to click through to a website providing that information.

Google is scraping information and displaying it on their website. An example is found in Google displaying sports data. Instead of having to click over to, I can see the Atlanta Braves 2013 record right in the search results:

hummingbird knowledge graph

The Knowledge Graph

Hummingbird is an investment in what Google calls the Knowledge Graph, the ability to map the relationships between words and even previous searches to understand the context of a query. It helps Google understand pronouns and articles in searches.

For example, if you searched “Who is Chipper Jones” you would receive basic information about him in the results. And eventually, although it isn’t working for me now, you’ll be able to search “when did he retire” and Google will understand that “he” refers to Chipper Jones.

For marketers, the knowledge graph is probably the update’s biggest change. Since the Penguin and Panda updates, Google has been slowly evolving its algorithm to prioritize the user over the search bot. Rather than stuffing a webpage full of keywords or a website full of random content, Google wants content creators to publish content that benefits the user.

With Hummingbird, keyword stuffing is dead. Now that the algorithm understands context, content producers have to focus on providing valuable content.

With Panda, the emphasis was put on creating unique content. With Hummingbird, it’s all about creating unique, useful, and authoritative content.

Answer questions with your content (provide value) and find a way to position your authors as authorities on your topic.

Author Rank

In addition to the knowledge graph, Hummingbird puts a lot of emphasis on the author. Author Rank is a way for Google to identify experts according to the volume of content produced by that person and how widely it is shared. Most importantly here is its direct tie to Google+. Although Google denies the correlation of +1s on Google+ and page rank, a strong presence on Google+ has been shown to dramatically increase the discoverability of your content.

To start building expertise in your category, there are a couple things you should do immediately:

  1. Create a profile on Google+ and start engaging with people there.
  2. Link your Google+ profile to your author profile on the website that publishes your content. This will generate a thumbnail in search results that should get your more clicks in the short term and starts to build your authority around that topic for the long term.
  3. Make sure the primary website where you are publishing content is optimized for mobile.

Final Thoughts

When Hummingbird was released there was a lot of fear in the marketing community that it would undercut content marketing efforts, especially in regards to keyword research. Google is encrypting individual keywords so that site owners will no longer be able to see what keywords are referring traffic to their sites. That isn’t a big deal because keywords are less important now than they were a year ago.

With that said, keyword research to understand how people search in a category and who is competing for those same users is still very important. We just won’t have access to individual data going forward.

Now more than ever, it’s time to invest in understanding the needs and behaviors of the consumers you are trying to reach if you want your content to be discoverable in search. If you understand what consumers need, how they talk, and how they find information, your content will continue to rank well.

What do you think? Let me know in the comment section.

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Strategic Marketing: We’re All Data Points

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Strategic Marketing: We’re All Data Points

Data Collection

About a year and a half ago, I came home to an unexpected package on my doorstep. Inside the box were a free container of infant formula and some coupons for baby stuff.

There was one problem, I didn’t have any children and my wife wasn’t pregnant. I checked the package to make sure it was supposed to be for me and after I confirmed that it was, I just wrote it off as a poorly targeted marketing effort.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized how brilliant it was. My wife and I had just started talking about having a baby when we received the package, but how could any company know that? I’m not exactly sure how, but Target does.

In fact, the company is famously able to predict major life changes (especially pregnancy) earlier than anyone else because they have invested so heavily in predictive modeling through big data.  The theory is that consumers loyalty resets around major life changes, so if it can get a family to start purchasing baby products at Target, they will move their grocery shopping there too.

This experience spawned an interest in what large companies are doing with big data, and because I work in marketing, how they do it.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was standing in line at Target listening to a sales pitch from a cashier to the customer in line in front of me. She was pushing a loyalty card that promised a 5% discount on every purchase. The catch? Use the card as a debit card, linking it to your bank account.

Immediately I realized what Target was doing. Their new REDcard gives consumers a small savings in exchange for massive amounts of data that it would otherwise have to purchase from third-party data collectors. Now, Target can see each of your purchases, even those outside of the store, and plot trends in your spending in order to predict major life changes.

I’m undecided whether or not I think this level of data collection is creepy or cool. As a consumer, I’m skeptical about any entity having this much of my personal information. But as a marketer, I think it will ultimately benefit consumers. It will create personalized shopping experiences that generate loyalty leading to fiercer competition among companies.

What will be interesting to watch over the next few years is where consumers draw the line.

How much is too much data? Is there even a line to draw?


How to Utilize the YouTube Partner Program

YouTube Partner Program

If you’ve been following my series on YouTube, you’ve already heard me harp on the importance of creating content specifically for the YouTube community rather than just re-purposing ads created for TV. With Google’s announcement at Cannes Lions that it’s expanding its partner program to include advertisers, it is reinforcing that imperative.

The YouTube Partner Program has been for quite some time a way for content creators to improve production value, reach more people, and monetize their content on a huge platform. So, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to allow advertisers in unless Google is trying to encourage the production of higher quality, YouTube-centric content.

Anthony Ha at TechCrunch writes:

“…Google seems to be encouraging businesses to create advertising that’s designed specifically for the video site, rather than just repackaging existing TV ads and video content. Those kinds of custom campaigns could potentially be more lucrative for YouTube and its content partners.”

So, what exactly does this YouTube-centric content look like? Let’s take a look at a few great examples:

Display Ads Can Be Entertaining

First (and probably one of my favorites despite its age), is the Desperados Experience: Breakthrough. Although it isn’t live anymore, you can see how deeply interactive the ad was, inviting the user to participate directly in the ad.

What is interesting about this ad is that it is really just a flash ad like any other banner ad you find around the Web. But it is more interesting because it was made for a specific channel and gave users an entertaining way to interact with the brand instead of simply pushing its message on users.

Invest in Useful Content

Another great use of YouTube is, a company that sells grills and other outdoor products. On its YouTube channel, the company provides quick tips for grilling success, content that apparently thousands of people find useful. Here’s just one example:

This is an example of a company that is investing in content as its primary marketing strategy. It provides useful information for its target audience and puts that content where it knows they will be searching.

Understand Consumer Culture

We all know that when ads resonate with consumers, they do well. Typically that means understanding what is going on with them culturally. Last summer, AARP created a response video to the season’s number 1 hit, “Call Me Maybe.”

Not only was this a smart play for AARP for gaining awareness because of the popularity of the song, it was also smart because music is a major driver of a large percentage of YouTube views. The video hit both popular culture and YouTube culture right where they meet.

Leverage Influencers

YouTube is full of regular people who have risen to stardom by creating entertaining videos. In fact, it has been reported that some of the top YouTube stars are making six-figure salaries just by posting videos each week.

As they amass huge followings, it makes sense that brands would partner with them to promote their products. Not only does this ensure that your product gets in front of their fans, it is received well by consumers because the brand is borrowing the influencer’s legitimacy to earn their trust.

Whew! You made it through that video. I’ll admit, it isn’t something I find entertaining (I stopped watching at 2 minutes), but it has been viewed over 7 million times. That’s great news for Kraft who recognized the enormous popularity of the SMOSH Brothers.

This is the third and final part of our series on YouTube advertising.

Check out the rest of the series here:

Why YouTube Should Matter to Brands in 2013

Before You Start: YouTube for Brands


Before You Start: YouTube for Brands

YouTube Marketing Tips

In my last blog post, I wrote about why brands should care about YouTube. So now that you’re on board and ready to dive in, here are some YouTube marketing tips you should know.

First: The scariest thing about YouTube is the trolls. They are everywhere, they are vicious, and they will show up in the comments section of each of your videos. But don’t let that dissuade you, and definitely don’t just turn off the comments to your video (we’ll get to that in a minute). Just be prepared, roll with the punches, and let them be trolls unless they have a (rare) legitimate complaint.

Second: YouTube is not a video hosting site. Sure, you can upload all of the video content you have that was created for other channels just to store it or for a quick way to embed them into your website. But this is a social network (pop quiz: with how many active people? Right, 1 billion!) so you’ve got to be social and you’ve got to create content specifically designed for YouTube.

What is content specifically designed for YouTube?

There is no single answer to that question, so all I can say is that you need to understand why your target consumers use it. Are they looking for instructions for how to do something around the house? If so, show them. Are they looking for a comparison between different brands in the same category? Show them an honest comparison. If you’re looking for some quick tips:

  • Be short – keep videos under 5 minutes.
  • Invest in quality.
  • Personality is important. Be creative and find someone interesting to be in the video.

Third: Google owns YouTube, and that makes it even more important. Treat your video content on YouTube like you would a blog post on your website in terms of SEO. Keywords matter. Discover-ability is paramount. And syndication will build your audience.

Your channel might not get a million subscribers, but in most cases that isn’t important. What is important is that when a consumer in your category starts searching for content, you are there to provide it.

And lastly: Video has the power to create an emotional bond between your brand and your consumer, more so than other content types.  Use that to your advantage by making content that reaches consumers regardless of where they are on the decision journey – whether just trying to figure out what product they need to evaluating which brand to choose from once they’ve made a decision to buy.

This is part 2 of an on-going series on YouTube advertising.

Check back next week for “How to Utilize YouTube’s Partner Program”

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 Why YouTube Should Matter to Brands in 2013

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Why YouTube Should Matter to Brands in 2013

YouTube Marketing Tips

Remember when Facebook hit 500 million active users and we all placed bets on whether or not a single website could ever reach 1 billion? And then last September when Facebook did it everyone in marketing called the game?

Facebook won. There are no more milestones to reach (except for maybe ALL the people, but that won’t happen – will it?).

Meanwhile, YouTube quietly (and I say quietly because for some reason marketers and Internet trend spotters alike failed to even classify it as a social networking site) reached the same unreachable milestone. And still marketers are allocating their social budgets mostly to Facebook and Twitter while ignoring YouTube.

So, why are marketers wrong about YouTube? There are 5 reasons that for many brands, YouTube is arguably the most strategic channel on the Web:

  1. It has 1 billion active users every month. 1 billion…with a “b.”
  2. The second largest search engine in the world to Google isn’t Bing or Yahoo; it’s YouTube.
  3. In the past year, video has become the content of choice for Internet users.
  4. The communities on YouTube are large and passionate. While on other social sites like Facebook, people’s networks are made up of other users that they know IRL, on YouTube communities of strangers are built that blossom into IRL relationships. And instead of organizing around common connections, they organize around passions like religion, gadgets, entertainers, political affiliation, etc.
  5. While the biggest brands are just starting to get on board, most of your competitors are probably not using YouTube effectively. This is a big one.

Alright, so now that you’re convinced that your brand should start thinking about how to play on YouTube, you want pointers on getting started. Bad news, you’re going to have to wait for my next blog post…or you could check YouTube.

This is part of an on-going series on YouTube advertising.

Check back next week for “Before You Start: YouTube for Brands”

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The 4 SEO Trends Every Marketer Needs to Know

Google SEO Updates

by Noah Echols

It seems like as soon as I wrap my head around Google’s latest algorithm update, there’s another release that changes the game.

While SEO experts should live in the weeds of these updates to understand the nuances in how Google ranks content, marketers should recognize a few high level SEO trends that drive successful content marketing initiatives.

1. SEO used to be an exercise in optimizing content for spiders. Today, SEO is about optimizing content for the user.

This is an important distinction that should drive every piece of content produced, from how you choose the topic to the words you use to express the idea. Search engines think like people, but for some reason most brands don’t speak like people. This is causing a disconnect between the brand and the consumer on every level – in relating to them obviously, but also in just being discoverable. No one searches in corporate speak.

So, how do you do this? Research.

A combination of both keyword research and social listening will show you what words and phrases consumers use. Once the content is written and optimized appropriately for search, the language used in social media should reflect the language used in the content.

The same keywords should be used in a similar tone since search engines are now considering social interactions in search ranking. You not only want to be shareable, you want the language used when sharing your content to be the language that will serve you best.

2. Links still matter, but the game has changed.

Without getting into the weeds, it is important to know that linking to quality websites and being linked to by quality websites is still important.

In fact, when a website links to your site and also links to another website of higher authority on the same page, your site will benefit from the authority of the other linked site.

Another important factor in outbound links is, just as above, the language you use. The anchor text should clearly indicate what you’re linking to and the text around the link should be carefully considered too.

3. The power is in the long tail.

This isn’t news, but it is so important that it should be emphasized.

There are 500 million active domains competing for the attention of consumers. Unless you have a huge budget, you aren’t going win big, broad buzzwords.

Optimize your content for the long tail keywords that niche audiences are looking for and publish often. Not only will you rank higher for less competitive topics, but Google will assign you higher authority for publishing regularly.

4. Traditional marketing tactics will boost digital marketing initiatives.

Google likes to tell us that if we build a quality website and publish quality content, users will come. While that might be true to some extent, it is important that marketers realize that traditional tactics can actually help boost content efforts.

Press releases, for example, provide branded mentions and links that will increase the authority of your website while also increasing exposure. Despite what some might say, email is still extremely effective in creating opportunities for awareness and sharing.

Penguin 2.0 was just released and everyone is in a frenzy to figure out the next button to push to get out ahead of the competition. That is important and every serious brand should have someone doing that for them.

But it is equally important that everyone involved in digital marketing understands basic SEO trends in order to ensure content is being produced in a way that will drive success.

Use this list as criteria to check off on each time content is added to your website:

  1. Am I using the language of my target consumer?
  2. Am I linking to authoritative websites?
  3. Am I optimizing this content for a specific user by targeting a few long tail keywords?
  4. Am I promoting this content using more traditional marketing tactics?

What do you think? Tell me in the comment section below.

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Ditch The Likes for Loyalty


You’ve heard of mobile-first organizations, those that launch first on mobile devices prior to web. That can be a good idea for some, but being a consumer-first organization is a universal necessity.

Gone are the days of relying on clever messaging aimed at grabbing the attention of distracted consumers. Awareness is easy, right? You can even buy awareness in digital and convince your boss that it’s edgy just because it’s digital. But being a sales-first organization that prioritizes short-term bumps in numbers should not be your goal. Building an army of dedicated, loyal followers should. Today, consumer-first brands are winning consumer loyalty and, as a result, their money.

The music industry is a great example. For decades, the music industry succeeded by making consumers pay for records, tapes, or CDs of pre-packaged music. But as soon as the tools were invented that allowed them to collect just the songs they wanted, the music industry suffered. The blame was placed on cheap consumers who just wanted everything for free. But we’ve learned that that isn’t true. Consumers, and music fans especially, WANT to pay for the things they love. In fact, artists have given away their music, allowing fans to make donations and received millions of dollars.

Amanda Palmer was a street performer turned professional musician who grew a large following and eventually received a record deal. After selling 25,000 copies of her debut album, her label considered it a failure and they parted ways. Determined to prove them wrong, she started giving away her music to her fans with the simple request that they help her out financially. She received almost $1.2 million from an ironic 25,000 donations.

I think there is a story here bigger than the music industry, which, as we all know, has seen the light (if you will) and is again experiencing growth. We’re seeing a dramatic shift in consumers’ expectations that is literally decimating entire industries. In marketing we like to talk about how social media is changing everything. It isn’t. It is simply enabling consumers to be as social as they’ve always been but now with the tools to ask for more personalized service. And that should frighten any company that is ignoring not just social, but more broadly, campaigns that genuinely connect with consumers.

Let me be clear, if your model is dependent on pulling in consumers rather than providing easy ways for them to get your product naturally, you will ultimately fail. Companies that do it right, the ones that connect with consumers and build the tools that make it easy for them to pay for the things they want, will survive. That is the difference between making consumers pay for your product and letting them.

Don’t be that brand. Don’t use social as a channel for more awareness and push messaging. Build loyalty. And then build or leverage tools to help those consumers pay you.