With the rollout of Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm in September 2013, B2B marketers no longer receive keyword search data in their Google Analytics reports. Some refer to it as the “[not provided]” problem, as that it the message they get in place of the data. While the change was in the works for two years, it still has some marketers scrambling to find alternative ways to direct online traffic to their web sites.
Progressive marketers are responding to this change by making original, high-quality content the cornerstone of their search marketing efforts. Many are also optimizing their sites for the conversational, question-type queries that Hummingbird is designed to recognize.
Additionally, many marketers are digging deeper into page-specific data, looking at visits and the number of URLs receiving organic traffic, while others are investing more in paid search and site surveys for keyword research to fill in the data gaps.
“The common trait that we find in our campaigns that are really successful is that the clients, or our own efforts, are highly focused on producing the most valuable content possible,” said Brian Larson, Account Manager of Strategic Accounts at TopRank Online Marketing.
In the wake of this SEO shakeup, marketers are looking for new ways to get their content — including E-books, white papers, articles and blog posts, infographics, videos, photos, product listings and slideshows — “found” and ranked by search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.
“There is no specific content format that performs best across the board,” said Aaron Aders, Market Research Director and Co-founder of digitalrelevance. “Introducing an infographic to a long sales cycle B2B audience would stand very little chance of driving ROI. Similarly, marketing an in-depth white paper to a CPG audience would be equally devastating. A well-planned research process is the most effective way to determine the best content for your organization’s unique campaign.”
The importance of content creation has encouraged more companies to get their SEO, social and creative teams more involved in content strategy, according to Seth Dotterer, VP of Marketing and Product at Conductor. These content strategy teams not only serve to improve a company’s content marketing efforts, but also enable more departments in the company to ensure their business is search-friendly.
“We have a lot of our clients whose titles are actually changing from SEO Manager to Content Strategist,” Dotterer said. “Search engine optimization sounds like you’re doing something to the engines themselves, but what you’re really doing is optimizing online content. You optimize it by changing the content you’ve already created to better fit the voice of the consumer. You also optimize by finding the gaps in the content so we can create more.”
Promoting Content Through Social, PR
While creating great content can boost SEO, Nicholas Herinckx, CEO of B2B marketing agency Obility Consulting, explained that marketers also need to develop strategies and tools for content promotion. He noted that user-generated content can certainly leverage Hummingbird, which was specifically designed to recognize longer search queries.
“If you build it they won’t come,” Herinckx said. “There are many ways to promote that content, including a good public relations focus. Another way is by building up in terms of social media. If you establish a large following, that’s an immediate, very quick way to distribute new content, which then can get you links and increase your ranking.”
With social media being the obvious online sharing vehicle of choice for many users, Google+ has shown to be a top search driver for SEO. This is not surprising, experts noted, since Google remains the top search engine. In a 2013 survey conducted by Moz (formerly known as SEOmoz), it was revealed that Google +1s are more highly correlated with search rankings than any other social factor, including Facebook likes/shares and Tweets.
“You don’t use Google+ in order to get in front of your prospects or your customers,” Herinckx said. “[Customers] are still using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn because Google+ is so small. From an SEO standpoint, and from a paid search standpoint as well, Google will pull in information from Google+ into the search results, which helps your search result stand out.”
Google+ also enables marketers and writers to link content to their Google+ profile via its Authorship feature. Once the content is linked, the profile picture will appear next to the link in search results, which in turn, can help gather more page clicks and a higher search ranking.
Social media can also be useful in tracking brand influencers to see who specifically takes the steps to share business and product content. Brand influencers are three times more likely to convert to a sale than non-influencers, according to Bill Connard, VP of Local Search Solutions at Rio SEO, a provider of local search tools. “When [brand influencers] reach their sharing threshold, you can activate them with an advertisement, a coupon, bonus content or media that really moves the needle when it comes to loyal customers.”
Adapting To The New Algorithm
Google began its shift to encrypted search as a means of user privacy, first implementing the system in 2010. According to Dotterer of Conductor, Google systematically removed keyword analytics at a rate of approximately 3% per month before fully implementing the change. This two-year phase-out gave marketers and SEO professionals time to adapt to the new organic search system and learn how to leverage other search tools.
“[With Webmaster Tools], Google still gives you a way to look at your web site and evaluate how effective you are at generating impressions or getting eyeballs on your content for specific terms,” Larson said. “Impressions and clicks still give that visibility to answer the question: ‘are we being a more effective web site at getting penetration for returns and getting people to click on us?”
Google still leads the way in search engine market share at nearly 67%,compared to 18% for Bing and just over 11% for Yahoo, so SEO professionals should prioritize it accordingly. Until other search engines prove to catch up in terms of usage/visits, experts have every reason to center many of their efforts on Google’s changing landscape.
“SEO will continue to look more and more like ‘real marketing’ rather than tags, code and tactics that many still associate with our industry,” Aders said. “Organic search is still the most lucrative traffic segment for most businesses, so it isn’t going anywhere. The latest moves by search engines like Google are rewarding organizations that add genuine value and authority in their industries through the process of developing and distributing great content.”
We are sad to report that Brian Larson has passed away since this story was compiled. Our thoughts go out to his family and his colleagues at TopRank Online Marketing. Visit this blog to learn more about Brian.