There were two cataclysmic events in the SEO world last week; one we all saw coming (eventually) but the other arrived unannounced and set the search world alight with speculation and discussion. The first was the total encryption of keyword referral data from organic traffic to Google Analytics, something that many marketers and brands relied on for feedback regarding rankings and visitor traffic for certain key phrases. The second was the introduction of a brand new search algorithm from Google, Hummingbird, which makes the search engine more capable than ever of handling complex queries. Google wants to understand the user's intent behind a particular topic search rather than just literally interpreting the keywords used in that search. It's huge and it's going to change almost everything about Google search as we know it. Let's take a look at the new features and what they mean for video marketing.
Hummingbird: User Intent vs. Actual Keyword Phrase Used
On September 26th, Google announced the release of their new algorithm, Hummingbird. The fact that they choose to do so from the the garage where the company started 15 years ago should have been a clue to the importance to them of this update. Hummingbird isn't just an algorithm update, it's a completely brand new algo, built on the feedback gathered from previous updates and Google estimates that it will affect about 90% of search queries worldwide. So what's changed? Essentially, the emphasis is now on ‘answers’ rather than ‘results’, with Hummingbird paying particular focus to conversational search. Conversational search, or semantic search, takes into account they way users phrase their queries while actually talking to each other (or to Google) as opposed to the way we phrase a question while typing.
Earlier this year Google introduced the 'conversational search' feature to Chrome, allowing users to search Google by asking it a question rather than typing it. It's a safe bet to assume that the feedback gathered from this new feature all went towards shaping the new algorithm.
Google wants to change the way that you interact with it and it wants to change the way it interacts with you. More and more of us are turning to software like Siri to do our dirty search work for us and our reliance on mobile devices means that Google as a search engine needs to adapt to us, the end user, if it wants us to continue to use its services. Users on mobiles will often ask a question in a different way from the one they might ask if they were sat in front of their PC.
Also, Google themselves confirm that 15% of the billion searches a day have never been seen before - I would suggest that this figure is made up entirely of long tail key phrases, something that the search engine has never been that great at returning results for. With a change in user behaviour regarding search queries plus the need to understand the long tail better, the goal of Hummingbird is to not only supply you with the best information you requested, but also the best information you didn't request but which enhances your experience.
There are some key elements to the new algorithm which need to be understood if you want your content to be served to the people who are searching for your products, your services or any other information you provide.
Content Needs to Completely Satisfy The User's Intent
In the past few years, Google's algorithms have adapted to serve the user with the best content they think you are searching for. If they consistently served up bad or irrelevant results than you are going to go elsewhere, somewhere like Bing for instance, and Google will suffer (as will their Adwords revenue). The Caffeine, Panda and Penguin updates all had this goal in mind but Hummingbird drills down even further at the first query by effectively personalising the results based on location, context, Knowledge Graph data, device, local factors and platform. Suddenly, user intent has become far more important than the actual keyword phrase used.
For example, if I search "how do I clean a silver necklace?", Google should return a set of results that understands that I'm looking for information or a way of doing something NOT a sales pitch. Whereas in the past the words "silver necklace" would have been the triggers, Hummingbird is now taking into account "How do I" and "clean". We know that video results have always tended to do well on informational searches but now, more than ever, creators need to think about just how they can answer a user question with video content so that they have a chance of ranking well in the blended results. Hummingbird will anticipate the user's intent and so must you.
Video SEO Takeway: Think about what question are you answering with your video. If you're not answering a question then what exactly are you offering the user?
Content Needs to Be Rich and Multi Faceted
In order to survive the long night of the knives and make it through to the first couple of pages of Google, content (all types) has to be the most relevant for that user at that given time. Websites that offer true value - as opposed to pages and pages of thin content - will be at a distinct advantage. An easily navigable site that is rich in all types of optimised, fresh, useful content should do well from the new algo (as long as they haven't been caught up in the Panda/Penguin horror show that has affected so many).
Video SEO Takeway: Understand how your on site video content works for the user. Is it easily found? Do you have unique video landing pages? Are your videos in context? Are they surrounded by relevant, informative text? Are they linked to from other pages? Do they link out to other similar pages? No? Then, you'll need our handy guide to creating the best video landing page more than ever.
Schema Mark Up Is Going To Become Increasingly Important
Schema/Rich Snippets/Structured Data are all terms for informational about information that sends a very clear message to the search engines about the focus of your content. The more info the search engines have, the more inclined they will be to return your content to the user.
Video SEO Takeway: Users are searching for video content so mark up your individual video landing pages and submit video sitemaps maps via Webmaster Tools.
Keywords (not provided): The End Of SEO?
In the good all days (pre September 2013), you were able to gather data on the organic visitors to your site and to confirm the keywords they used to find you. This was extraordinarily useful for two reasons: #1) it was an easy metric to measure whether your rankings in Google were driving traffic on certain key terms and #2) it gave you clues as to the other search terms that people were finding you on which you could choose to optimize further if it suited your marketing goals.
In October 2011, Google announced that they were "encrypting searches" made by users logged into to the Google network (inc. YouTube, Docs and Gmail) to make those searches more "secure". This meant that this information would never reach Google Analytics and the site owner would be served the (not provided) phrase instead. At first, this averaged anywhere between 5-15% of non paid searches, depending on the site, but slowly the percentage increased until Google announced last week that it was making 100% of these referral terms private. Yippee!
There's a way around it of course, pay Google to push you onto the front page via an Adwords campaign and receive as much keyword referral data as you like. This feature is still available in AdWords and looks like it will be for the foreseeable future but you are going to have to spend some of those hard earned advertising dollars to access it. Arguably, PPC has always had the edge when it comes to hard ROI and now it holds absolute power when it comes to giving you the facts and figures about your own keyword data. However, Google is a business and for all its altruistic mutterings it exists to be financially viable. Pushing budgets towards paid advertising to get the data that was once free makes total business sense and I'm surprised they gave it away for free for so long.
Video SEO Takeway: Don't optimize solely for key phrases. Optimise for the whole user experience. Think about your target market and in what context they may search for you and create content around that.
Is SEO dead? Nope, I'd argue that it's far from it but it did just get a whole lot more complicated. Keyword rankings as a metric may be devalued but search engine optimisation, as a discipline, is needed now more than ever. As users and search engines get more sophisticated, marketers need to work harder to understand what it is going to take to get their content visible. Optimising for video means the creator and the publisher need to understand what the user is looking for. It's no longer the case that you can produce a video and people will come and take a look. Post-Hummingbird, creators and brands needs to seek out the questions that are being asked and answer them with relevant, informative, quality videos. The landscape has just changed and we need to change with it.