Let’s Not Freak Out About Hummingbird and Not Provided

The past week in search marketing has given everyone a lot to talk about. 100% (not provided) for keywords. Hummingbird, the rewrite of the algorithm. It seems like it’s cool to talk about Hummingbird, Google’s latest name for their algorithm.

Here’s the unfortunate truth about Hummingbird and (not provided): none of us really know what is in Hummingbird, or what the motivations behind 100% secure search are. It could be to fight spam. It could be the NSA snooping on $GOOG’s data. It could be a seemingly evil (but smart) way to get people to buy more ads, which will probably work.

As Joel said in his post on the iAcquire blog this week, you can complain or you can get to work.

Allow me to input my perspective.

Hummingbird isn’t the end of SEO. Neither is secure search. Both of these change the game, but they don’t change what search marketers should be doing anyway – focusing on the channels that bring the most revenue to the business at the best cost.

Let’s not jump and scream about how Hummingbird will kill SEO. From my perspective, the effect is relatively small.

Hummingbird Affects Answer Sites

To start, let’s calm down for a minute and think about how people use the internet. They use it in many different ways –

  • To find basic information
  • To find real time information
  • To learn
  • To go indepth into a topic
  • To buy stuff

Hummingbird affects the first two. It means that sites like Yahoo Answers (already not a great resource), Wikihow and eHow (whatever traffic they have left), crappy sites like the cellphone number sites, and even Quora (which I once heard referenced as Yahoo Answers plus 50 IQ points) are going to see traffic drops.

When you think about it, though, this is an extremely small number of sites on the Internet. These sites, and a few others like ESPN (for real time scores) and weather.com (for weather) will have to come up with new ways to generate traffic and make their sites stickier and more useful to keep users coming back. This is a natural progression of business, and not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. The Internet gets more useful and google users are happier because they find their information faster.

(Not provided) Focuses Us On Pages

Let’s talk about secure search now. The marketing community has been all abuzz about this for the last week since someone noticed that Google is redirecting all search traffic through HTTPS, which means that organic search marketers now do not get any of the keywords driving traffic to their site through Google. Truth is, (not provided) has been spiking for weeks, since the Friday before Labor Day weekend. We’ve steadily been losing organic traffic and at a higher rate than usual in the past few weeks. Did people seriously not notice? I sure did.

Rand Fishkin, who I love and respect, did a wonderful emergency Whiteboard Tuesday on Moz with some awesome strategies for dealing with (not provided). I’ve embedded it below so you can watch for yourself:

I take issue with the view that has been espoused recently by the industry, though, that this is an existential crisis for SEO/marketing and that this will ultimately hurt SEO budgets.

I was an SEO consultant for almost three years, until last week actually. From my experience, the simplified version of how execs/CMOs/lead marketers think about SEO is flawed.

Most execs don’t care which keywords are driving traffic and converting best. They’re too busy to care about that. I know exactly one CEO of a company with > $10m in annual revenue who looks at individual keywords.

Most execs care about overall revenue coming from the organic, or any other, channel. They also care about their pet keywords, for better or for worse. Many of you reading this are probably very familiar with the frequent “Why are we not #1 for [keyword] yet?” question, even though that keyword may not drive great traffic or conversions.

We’ve lost keyword data. So how do we move forward? I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’m going back inhouse. Here is my current thinking about how I would report if I was still consulting, which is similar to how i would ideally report inhouse:

  • Pages driving conversions and the channel driving them, as opposed to individual keywords;
  • Buckets of pages driving traffic (ie category or product page) and that trended over time;
  • Efforts made and the direct effects of those actions (traffic and conversions, maybe even movements in specific rankings if that is needed for more buy in from above);
  • Biggest areas of potential to focus on next;
  • Plans for the future.

Not much has changed there. Marketers can still get data (which is the same data we’ve always had, albeit a source that we don’t really trust aka Google) we’ve always had upfront. Measuring it will be a bit harder, but now we can focus on the pages that traffic and come up with new ways to direct traffic there.

The Future is Bright

Hummingbird and secure search are here. There’s nothing to do about that. Google may give us organic keyword data back through GA premium, but I’m not holding my breath.

Hummingbird has bigger consequences than we know, that’s for sure. It incorporates the Knowledge Graph more than ever before and is starting to move search towards “things not strings” as many have said. Secure search hides important data, but we’re able to now report on other things that may even be better tied to business objectives than before.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Not Freak Out About Hummingbird and Not Provided

  1. net-net there’s nothing to freak out about it, it’s just requires a lot more work. especially related to analytics/reporting.

  2. In short, Hum. and the recent Penguin update have very much helped my site.

    My small site (~30 pages) got crushed by the rollout of Penguin last year. Since then… I dropped all the keyword rich anchors I was abusing, killed two pages I was promoting via keyword rich anchors, created only a few quality blog posts on my blog – one of which got ~10 links because it was so useful, renamed a few search engine friendly urls to more user friendly urls, started regularly posting vids on G +, and just baked on 350 degrees for the past year and a half.

    I knew I had allot of quality content and just needed to drop the spammy keyword rich approach that had been working so well before Penguin. I was willing to be patient, drastically clean my site once I knew was in Penguin’s grip, use Adwords, and do offline cold calls to build my business, while my site healed.

    It seems this strategy has worked, because my site is now ranking very well for many keywords that matter in my niche. After the two recent algo updates is when I really got a robust breakthrough, but things had been slowly improving before this past week.

    G has gotten better at looking at the totality of your online content, and determining what it is you do/sell for a living, and also if you’re a quality doer/seller or not. Spammy sites still squeak through for a good long while, but G eventually takes them down after a year or so.

    Thanks again to you John and Anthony Pensabene for the advice you gave me!!

    And as you (the reader) can see, I have no link to my website via this post. I don’t need or want it. I shoot for quality links now, and not every link I can get via commenting on diff websites.

    I hope sharing my experience can help someone cope with Hum., if they’ve been dinged.

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