The Google Hummingbird Update was announced on September 27th of this year. The funny thing was that Google said Hummingbird was implemented a month prior to the announcement and nobody had noticed. It is being claimed by various news sources to be the biggest change in Google search since it’s initial algorithm was created. In some ways that is probably true but I think it depends on your perspective. As a small business or content creator (sorry bands and filmmakers but that is the catch all term these days) you just want to know what it means for you and your efforts to promote your products.
Google uploaded a video to YouTube which is essentially the news conference that they hosted from the garage in which the company was was located in its early days. I think that might be the best source for readers to refer to in relation to the Hummingbird update. There are already loads of articles speculating on what Google Hummingbird will mean for SEO in the next year but they are just that, speculation. I would like to add my own observations geared to the small business, indie music and film communities.
Google Hummingbird Basics
The first rule of SEO should be “everything you do matters”. Every picture, every word, every link. All these things are taken into consideration by the search engines in the milliseconds that is spends coming up with answers to a specific query by a user.
For the purposes of this article we will assume that your website and social networks are SEO optimized. If they are not they should be or any subsequent efforts at optimizing content for placement in search engine results can only have limited success. This is especially true for small businesses and indie artists. Big corporations and well known artists have the advantage of being in possession of a well developed brand and because of that a lot of obvious SEO mistakes don’t carry as much weight as they do for small guys.
Believe it or not I could point out loads of SEO mistakes made every day on both corporate and top 40 music video pages that just don’t seem to matter because the force of such a large brand steamrolls on and on. Does this mean that these mistakes aren’t costing them free organic views or money when the mistakes happen within an ad campaign? No, of course it costs them but again, the brand carries the day and the ineptitude of their web people is not noticed.
According to the speakers in the above referenced video from Google the biggest change in the Google Hummingbird update is one of context. They pretty much leave it go at that but it does make sense. As technology has evolved it has had to adapt to being applied in new ways on different devices. So context has to include as many possibilities as it can based on variables such as content, location, products, data, etc. If someone asks where they can purchase a DVD of a particular film the search engine has to understand the query well enough to offer results from both online and offline stores and provide choices relevant to the users physical location as well.
Again, in the video about Google Hummingbird the speakers treat this update almost like a non-event. They say that your SEO practices probably won’t have to change at all from where they were before the update. This is probably true for the most part, especially if your SEO efforts take into account the fairly recent Penguin update. But I think that positive results can be achieved by designing your web presence according to the expectations of the search engines overall and Google Hummingbird in particular.
Google Hummingbird And Music
I found it interesting that Google took the time in their video to make specific reference to music discovery. They were making examples of the cool new way that Google Hummingbird displays search results (starting at 24:31 in the video). This part is somewhat specific to music but it is interesting to analyze it a bit because it illustrates how far reaching your efforts at promoting yourself really have to be.
In order to provide search results in the way they are today search engines, specifically Google in this case, present data as a Knowledge Graph. This means they try to correlate data from various inputs and use that data to anticipate desired information needed. The speaker in the Google video illustrates how this might benefit music discovery.
It looks really cool and everything is integrated from songs to albums to a bio and album artwork and photos. Pretty awesome, right? It is really but if you are an indie artist, even a fairly well known indie artist and you do a search on a major label band and then one on your band worded exactly the same way (band name, songs) your results will probably look nothing like theirs.
As an example I searched Korn songs on google and the result was really cool. All their songs were at the top of the search results and you could click on them individually for a video of the song from YouTube and a list of search results related to the song.
In addition the bands bio was featured to the right of the web search results under the song list on the primary page. With it was a list of their albums and album artwork. Below that was a list of their upcoming shows. Pretty awesome for bands, right?
Then I searched Cilver songs. Cilver is the new name of a band from New York formerly known as Me Talk Pretty. They are pretty well known, have a recording contract and even had Bumblefoot from Guns N Roses in their last video. Their results looked totally different? Cilver got none of the fancy treatment. No list of songs, no bio, just your normal search engine results for things like Civil Rights songs and songs of the silver screen. The band didn’t even appear.
The reason is the Knowledge Graph. This is the concept that gives Korn the really detailed results. It is what the Google video made reference to when showing all the cool things that Google Hummingbird could do. So how is it that one band is given so much help by the search engine and the other one doesn’t even register on its radar?
According to Wikipedia the Knowledge Graph looks at the interconnectedness of things on the web, it draws its results from an array of sources including Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. It is true that the Knowledge Graph was introduced in 2012 and isn’t technically new. However it is a major part of the sum total of Google search so it is an important part of the results you see today and will apparently remain so in the future.
Navigating The Google Hummingbird Future
If you look at the first sites that are listed in search results on the knowledge graph powered Korn search it will clue you in on where Google is pulling their data from. Wikipedia provides the bio and album listings. Youtube provides the music videos. Event info is provided by Livenation, Seatgeek and Ticketmaster. If you are not on these sites or ones like them you won’t show up. That might seem hard for a new band but it has to be part of your digital marketing plan.
Small business you can use local business and Google+ business pages to get similar “to right of search results” placement. Wikipedia is a great resource too but it does have rules as to what gets included and unless you meet those standards you won’t get included. Whether intentional or not this dependence on Wikipedia as the basis for knowledge graph results has actually re-erected the old Ivory Tower. If you don’t yet meet Wikipedia’s standards of notability then you are not invited to the party…sorry.
Does that mean that all is lost if you can’t get a listing in Wikipedia? No, of course not. It means you have to take advantage of the listings you can get and do the basics. I have done a few blogs and videos on YouTube SEO and I will soon be doing another one to more fully describe what you need to do in order to build good SEO into your YouTube channel and each video you post.
In addition you can build good SEO into your website and facebook page and into the posts you make on blogs. A big part of what search engines look at, beyond basic SEO is how many shares you have on social networks. Businesses too are judged by the same criteria. The better you do on these things the higher you will appear in search results.
I think that the video is correct, Google Hummingbird is not really going to change the way Google does search. It is going to enhance it. It is going to put more context into search and try to remember your queries so it can give answers to evolving questions that probe deeper int an initial subject. So it is your job to anticipate the questions that your fans and customers are going to ask that will lead them to your products.
If you serve primarily a local area then local business listings give you a great deal of prominence. You have to build both product and location data into your marketing plan so that you are contextually relevent for Google Hummingbird. Couple that with Google+ pages and solid SEO and you can easily rise to the top of the list of business that serve your area. Music or film can also utilize local business listings to build on listings that are attractive to Google.
Your Google+ account is now the commenting system on YouTube and you can use a properly designed channel page as a sort of business card all over YouTube, every time you leave a comment. The world wide web has become a much more friendly place to indie artists and small businesses. However only the ones who know how to use the tools will rise to the top.