With every Google algorithm update, the goal is the same: to provide search engine users the most relevant and useful results possible. The latest “update,” referred to as Google Hummingbird, isn’t really an update at all. Unlike the Penguin and Panda updates that affected certain aspects of search engine rankings, Hummingbird is a complete overhaul of the entire search algorithm, as it has changed the way data is pulled for search engine results.

With 90 percent of search inquiries affected, Hummingbird is seemingly a big deal. However, Hummingbird was released more than three months ago, though not publicly announced until the end of September. Most people didn’t notice a difference. Google said Hummingbird in large part focuses on “conversational search,” which means paying more attention to a search string as a whole, rather than certain words or phrases. Additionally, Google will provide results as if you were having a conversation with the search engine, picking up on context of searches — especially when it comes to voice search.

So, what does this mean for you, your business and, more importantly, your content strategy? With past algorithm updates, marketers focused largely on creating quality content that is of use to their audiences, which begs the question, “Should I change my content strategy in light of Google Hummingbird?” The answer: It depends, contingent on your current content strategy.

1. Create useful content

Creating content that’s useful has always been an important factor in content marketing. With Google Hummingbird, the usefulness of content becomes even more significant. The number of people searching in the form of questions is constantly increasing. As a result, creating content that answers those questions is more likely to appear higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Creating content that answers questions isn’t a new concept (or it shouldn’t be, anyway). But with Google focusing more on the context of the searcher’s question rather than bits and pieces of the search string, creating content that is a match for a specific question may outperform content that doesn’t.

That also goes for content that isn’t phrased in the form of a question. Creating content that focuses on something very specific (long-tail) and matches the user’s search intent could be presented higher in search results than content that matches only a few words. For example, if someone searches “best iPhone 5s cases for water protection,” Google wants to find a page about iPhone 5s cases for water protection, not just 5s cases in general. To take advantage of this, look for opportunities to create content that is more specific and speaks to search intent — when it makes sense to do so.

2. Understand how much mobile matters

With 46 percent of searchers using mobile exclusively to research, creating content optimized for mobile is becoming increasingly essential. With Hummingbird in place, Google can now provide even better results for mobile searchers. Think about it: People utilizing mobile search are on the go. They are asking questions they need the answers to, which results in more conversational searches — exactly what Hummingbird focuses on.

Because of this, having a mobile optimized site is not an option; it’s a necessity. The best and easiest way to achieve an enjoyable mobile experience for users is by embracing responsive design.

Responsive web design uses media queries to find out what resolution a device is, and then serves the appropriate version of the site for that resolution. Basically, responsive design enables businesses to create websites that work just as well as the desktop version on any device. As Hummingbird enables mobile searchers to receive the most relevant and useful results wherever they are searching, if you do not have a mobile optimized website, now is the time to remedy that.

3. Don’t ignore social

For years it has been debated whether or not Google uses social signals as a ranking factor. With Hummingbird, Google is able to better process social signals, which means social media shouldn’t be ignored.

Links were the most important factor in search rankings for a long time. When someone linked to a site, it was as if they were giving the site a “vote” of approval— they thought the site was useful enough to share with their website visitors. However, as more and more people gamed the system, links were discounted in importance. However, with the rise of social media, now not only website owners can “vote” for the content they find useful and interesting, anyone can share content on their social profiles with one click. But that’s just it: The vote requires very little effort — much less than creating a link on a website. But many social votes together could mean something for search engine rankings — it’s just not clear what yet.

Additionally, social media votes are tied back to accounts that have their own authority, just like links are tied back to websites with authority. For example, some users on Twitter with high follower counts have more reach than those with low follower counts, so their social vote may be weighted differently.

Though it’s not certain if or how exactly social signals will impact search engine rankings now that Hummingbird is in effect, social media should definitely become a key part of your content marketing strategy, if it isn’t already. Building a positive reputation for your business across multiple platforms is an integral part of online marketing — and not just for the potential search engine rankings factor. Building your brand’s recognition as an expert in your industry is still the main goal, and social media can help you achieve that.

In summary

With Google Hummingbird in place, whether or not you need to change your content strategy depends on how you have been practicing online marketing to date. If you have been paying attention to past updates (Penguin and Panda) and providing your audience with high quality content, Hummingbird should not affect you very much. However, if you have noticed a decrease in traffic and haven’t been focusing on useful content, now is the time to change your ways.

With Google’s emphasis on conversational search becoming apparent, providing your audience with useful content that answers users’ questions is key. Additionally, optimizing that content for mobile users is more important than ever, as mobile searches tend to be more conversational in nature. Finally, though the effect of social signals on search engine rankings isn’t entirely clear, social media should still be a part of your content marketing strategy to build your online brand.

How has Google Hummingbird affected your business? Share your experience in the comment section below.

For more tips on using search and other tools to help distinguish your business, read Joe Pulizzi’s book, “Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, & Win More Customers by Marketing Less.”

Cover image via Bigstock

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