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While Hummingbird has been much discussed, not many people understand it yet, or appreciate its benefits because it isn't an obvious feature of Google search. If you want to try it, go to Google on your smartphone and click on the microphone to activate a voice search.

For a bit of fun, say 'Tottenham Hotspur'. Google will search for the greatest team in the world (guest opinion - Ed), and then read out an up to date fact, perhaps the latest result and information about the next match.

Next, click the microphone again and ask a related question, such as 'how old are they?' Google will then show you the Wikipedia information about the club. Ask another question, such as 'where do they play?' and Google will show you information about White Hart Lane.

So, that is Hummingbird in a nutshell - a clever way of linking queries so that, instead of starting each search from scratch, Google can show you more pertinent information related to your previous search.

How does Hummingbird relate to content marketing?

Linking searches in this way turns the search experience into more of a conversation. You shouldn't require a degree in astro-physics to work out where this is going to go. The search engine will soon be able to predict what we want before we know to ask it. That's where the connection to content marketing comes in.

Think about it. If someone has landed on your website having searched for something, there's a strong chance they will have another query that needs answering. Online content publishing has evolved radically, due to a number of factors.

There used to be a trend for creating endless articles full of repeated keywords because Google would reward sites with lots of fresh content and because the repeated use of keywords would help rankings.

That changed when Google decided that too much of the stuff reaching the top of the results lacked substance or any genuine value. Recently, the trend has been to produce more long-form content, where more information can be included in one article. Some long-form articles are long enough to be ebooks.

Now, Hummingbird should make us all re-think about the way we plan and write content. There's an excellent logic to it and, applied properly, websites should be better for it. 

Understanding intent is the key to thinking like Hummingbird

In a nutshell, think about why people are looking for something rather than what they are looking for. A content strategy should be designed to answer their needs, not just provide them with facts.

Hummingbird links different websites together to answer questions, but if you follow the same logic, you can plan a chain of connected pieces of information on your website. 

Let's use white goods as an example, specifically washing machines. A retailer might feature a range of washing machines, with images and specifications and that might be that, but there are several things a buyer might want to know at different stages of the sales cycle.

Here are some examples of content that could match the intent of these users. 

Top of the funnel: just looking for information 

  • How do washing machines work?
  • What's the difference between bio and non-bio washing?
  • How much electricity do washing machines use?
  • Which washing machines are made in the UK?
  • Does hard water damage washing machines?

Middle of the funnel: shopping around, exploring options 

  • Top washing machine brands compared
  • What different functions are available on washing machines?
  • Which washing machines are most energy efficient?
  • How long does the average wash cycle take?
  • What's the best detergent to use in a washing machine? 

Bottom of the funnel: ready to buy, comparing retailers and prices 

  • What delivery and installation options are available?
  • What do customer reviews say about xxxxxxx?
  • How easy is it to install?
  • How noisy is it - in comparison with other machines?
  • Compare prices

After sales care: information for customers 

  • How does the guarantee work? Do you fix it on site?
  • Do I need to keep checking the filter?
  • Help with the program - it seems to have an error
  • Why is powder collecting in the detergent tray?
  • Which program is best for different washes? 

Now you need to connect it all together 

Following the Hummingbird mentality, you need to connect dots for the user with a logical process.

If they want to know one thing, there may be other relating things or follow-on questions they want answers to. Any one of the ideas above could be broken down into a series of helpful articles, or link to video guides or instructographics.

The key is to avoid dead ends but also to avoid making the user have to hunt around to find the answers. You don't want to break it down so much that they feel they are being led through a labyrinth with a never-ending array of answers. Your aim is to solve their problem, but sometimes you can't solve everyone's problem on one page.

Think about how different pieces of information can be linked together so that users can find these related articles in a way that is easy to navigate. Information architecture is a skill in itself.

How does this all help with content marketing?

So, you have used the Hummingbird mentality to create content that answers natural questions in a way that covers all the bases. What this should give you is two things,  depending on how it is all published.

First, you should be better placed to benefit from search results, because you have content that answers specific, niche questions. Second, such helpful content is the kind of stuff that customers might share socially and in forums, such as Ask Yahoo!, when they want to be helpful to others. 

This article was co-written with Steve Masters

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Published 13 December, 2013 by Michelle Hill

Michelle Hill is Marketing Manager at Vertical Leap and a contributor Econsultancy. 

4 more posts from this author

Comments (28)

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Shadrach

Really helpful article Michelle especially the funnel; hummingbird appears to be a "silent" game changer and we'll have to wake up to this reality.

over 2 years ago

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Michelle Hill, Marketing Manager at Vertical Leap

Thanks Shadrach - glad you found it useful. Yes you're spot on - it's already upon us and marketers need to react 'now'!

over 2 years ago

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Tangerine Digital

Hi Michelle, a informative and very well-written article. Content Marketing is the new black and it needs to be created keeping in mind the consumer's wants and needs. We at Tangerine Digital (www.tangerinedigital.com) believes in creating and managing compelling content in the form of great stories for our clients globally.
Thank you so much for an insightful post.
Team Tangerine Digital
(www.tangerinedigital.com)

over 2 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

Thanks Michelle, nice way to model the user search journey.

I would also place emphasis on mobile devices alongside this. As we move away from point and click and into touch and swipe, I believe we'll start to embrace voice commands more so than ever in our everyday devices in the next few years (think Xbox 1, Google Glass, Motorola X) all veering toward voice command. It's quicker and more intuitive for us as humans. So it's not just about getting set for the new long-tail queries but also in ensuring they're presentable for mobile devices (not just Smartphone and Tablets). Some of which will read the content out, others that will present them in smaller format.

We also have additional areas such as rich snippets and structured data which can all help Google better interpret data, which is what Hummingbird is fundamentally changing. The link between query intent and result for a better UX.

For me, format and structure is as important as the content itself for Hummingbird.

over 2 years ago

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Faith Warren

Great article Michelle. Many businesses view Google's updates as tedious new rules designed to complicate their SEO efforts. If you look at the core intention of changes, like Hummingbird, it's clear that they're all designed to keep Google ahead in the search engine market, and that's a good thing in my book. There's no room for stagnancy in today's competitive digital marketplace.

over 2 years ago

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Sohil Memon

Amazing article, Michelle. By reading the article, I still say that "Content is the King". I believe that if we stay away from the plagiarism then Google can't harm us! No matter, which updates are out! Thanks for sharing :D

over 2 years ago

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Joelle Wyser-Pratte

Google is into a perfect search now. They are creating filters that will users will benefit. It's on the online marketers how they will ride along with this updates.

over 2 years ago

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seo expert

I just wanna say 2014 will be the year of content and social media.
anyhow nice post Michelle Hill

over 2 years ago

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WebSight Solutions

Excellent article. Great infographic. It has got me think more about the content of each website I design. From this I can develop a process that I can use with clients to improve the quality of of the information provided as many clients just think about the buyers part of the funnel as these are the ones who are at the point of handing over money. In reality it is about introducing their brand to the enquirers and browsers for the long term and supporting existing clients building trust and the relationship. Thanks for a very thought provoking article.

over 2 years ago

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Matt Tipson, Digital Marketing Manager at Amtico International

Hi Michelle,

Interesting article, thank you. In a previous article about Hummingbird I read that you need to use Schema Markup for the related queries to work and to avoid users to start each (related) query to work. Is this correct?

over 2 years ago

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Richard Hussey

The implications of this are huge, even for those of us who have been involved with content marketing for some time. I see much greater emphasis on research to understand how potential customers think, planning to ensure we're creating even more of the right kind of content, and measuring to ensure it is the right content and we're using it in the right ways. The good news is that businesses with a genuine customer service ethos should find this a fairly natural approach to marketing.

over 2 years ago

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Matt Tipson, Digital Marketing Manager at Amtico International

To reply to Richard's comment, we've started to look more into long-tail keywords recently and be more customer focused (the content we're currently creating is too geared towards promoting ourselves and our products).

over 2 years ago

Steven Wilson-Beales

Steven Wilson-Beales, Content Strategist at Consultant

Very well written Michelle - an excellent way of demoing to clients - although I might change the name of the football club!

over 2 years ago

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Steve Masters

In reply to Nathalie Allard, I do not believe the presence of Schema markup has a direct relationship with Hummingbird.

Basically, Hummingbird is a method for linking a web search to a previous search, based on context and the use of trigger words. The actual search is a fresh web search.

If you search for one thing and then ask Google "how old is it?", Hummingbird uses the "it" to refer to what you just searched for. It then runs a search for "how old is it" but replaces the word it with the previous thing you searched for. Each search is effectively a new search.

Where Schema would make a difference is in improving the quality score of your content - the better you mark up your content, the more likely you are to appear as one of the top results in answer to a question, if that makes sense.

Schema is not a requirement because Google makes its own decisions what to show for any given search.

over 2 years ago

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Victoria Clare

Good article, but I'm not 100% sure about that funnel - some of those searches don't look like they are being run by the same people, to me.

How do washing machines work?

doesn't seem like the start of a buying funnel - that sounds to me like either schoolchildren doing a project, or someone who has got an old machine and is planning to deconstruct it. Perhaps some content testing should be done to check this?

What's the difference between bio and non-bio washing?

Is that a washing machine question? It sounds more like a washing *liquid* question. Do people buy liquid and machines at the same time from the same place? More research! More testing!

How much electricity do washing machines use?
Which washing machines are made in the UK?
Does hard water damage washing machines?

Those three could be the start of a buying process and you could add things like 'why does my washing machine smell?' and 'why is my washing machine not spinning' to the list.

But of course this tactic is not new for Hummingbird - it's been a good content generation strategy for a long time. I guess one consideration is likely to be how much time and effort it will take to keep it updated though, which for many smaller businesses is a real worry.

over 2 years ago

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Matt Tipson, Digital Marketing Manager at Amtico International

Thanks for clarifying this Steve. For the Schema, we're looking into using it more to increase the CTR in Google search results although I wasn't aware that it's up to Google if they want to show it.

over 2 years ago

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andrew chilvers

Really useful blog. For writers, journalists, emarketers and webmasters, the key to providing content - on whatever level and for whoever - is to understand the connections and the clarity in the information.

over 2 years ago

Sarah Alder

Sarah Alder, Managing Director at Cranmore Digital Consulting Ltd

That's a great article and your list of questions for trying out Hummingbird was particularly good. I agree with Victoria though, I don't think people buying washing machines care how they work, they probably just need one that DOES work to replace the one they have that DOESN'T work. But that is nitpicking. Sorry.

over 2 years ago

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Steve Masters

Hi Victoria, and Sarah. Those example questions are supposed to be illustrative of the level of the sales funnel. I agree that they are unlikely to be performed by the same person, and certainly not on the same occasion.

The idea for choosing those is to reflect relationships. The whole top of funnel scenario is about reaching everyone and then filtering from there. Some brands would think it's worth reaching students. They may, after all, want to buy a washing machine at some point and brand awareness could be useful in that context.

Likewise with questions about bio v non-bio. Just because it is a question about powder/liquid and not the machine itself, that doesn't mean the asker won't be in the market for a washing machine at some point. People don't buy a washing machine every day, but you can help them with content that is relevant to their everyday laundry needs, in order to build a brand relationship with them. Why wait only until they are ready to buy a machine?

over 2 years ago

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Tom

I think Hummingbird actually makes the job of the white hat-inclined SEO easier - if anything, it's the companies that hire the SEOs that have to embrace the new reality of higher prices. Instead of merely automating backlinking strategies and submitting articles everywhere, now you've REALLY got to focus on writing great content that fulfills a need. The tips-and-tricks era is slowly drawing to a close, in favor of outstanding content. We at serpstar.org have always stressed content over blog commenting, directory submissions and all that nonsense, so we'll be able to ride the coming wave easily.

over 2 years ago

John Waghorn

John Waghorn, Content Marketer at Koozai Ltd

This is what I’ve noticed too, plenty of people are aware of the update, although not many people look at what it entails or its implications on a wider scale.

Conversational search is something that marketers will need to get used to, although this has been a content tactic for a long time anyway despite the new update. Content should be about your audience first and the search engines second, so this resonates with Hummingbird.

Conversational tone will also find its way into the content you produce if you are working on a big scale project as well. Thanks for sharing Michelle.

over 2 years ago

Lucy Lonsdale

Lucy Lonsdale, Digital Account Director at HH Global

Hi Michelle and Steve

Really good article, I have bookmarked this page and also sent it to my team.

"Next, click the microphone again and ask a related question, such as 'how old are they?' Google will then show you the Wikipedia information about the club." ...it's funny for me Siri just replied with, "Interesting question Lucy" and then nothing else. It's still obviously finding its feet or was possibly shocked at the fact a girlie girl like me was asking questions about football ha! I checked with typing in Google too and it didn't pick this up either hmmm.

I'm interested to know how it stops this happening - starting a new search and getting confused thinking you're still after 'Tottenham Hotspur' related searches.

This is definitely one of the best articles I have read on Econ and your thought about 'Information Architecture' is my new favourite sentence.

Thanks you, L.

over 2 years ago

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Michelle Hill, Marketing Manager at Vertical Leap

Hi Lucy - thanks for your comment - it made me laugh! Glad you found the article useful. Yes it's sometimes a bit hit n miss isn't it - will definitely be interesting to see how it develops over this year.

Michelle

over 2 years ago

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Steve Masters

Hi Lucy, that's really great feedback, thank you. It's interesting how you got a different result. I tried it again and it worked. Maybe Siri is working differently in different locations.

You can also try it by searching for Landmark Group. If you do a second search for "where are they", it doesn't link up, but if you ask "where is it?" you get a connected answer.

This is, of course, grammatically correct because a company is a singular thing, not a plural. Perhaps Google is a little too pedantic. :-)

over 2 years ago

Lucy Lonsdale

Lucy Lonsdale, Digital Account Director at HH Global

To be honest I would be if I was Google ;) Thanks guys!

over 2 years ago

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Prasad Gurav

This post is really helps who people are fresher to our Marketing Fields.

We value your post. can u suggest some good steps for the hummingbird update, I mean to say what we have to do for seo according to the hummingbird update of Google.

over 2 years ago

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Hassan Mostafa, Mr at masrya

I think Hummingbird actually makes the job of the white hat-inclined SEO easier

about 2 years ago

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Hassan Mostafa, Mr at masrya

This post is really helps who people are fresher to our Marketing Fields.

about 2 years ago

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