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Keywords, and #Hashtags, and Hummingbird! Oh My!

Michelle Stinson-Ross
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Chaos Order

A long-standing aphorism in the search community dictates that chaos brings opportunity. Well, Google has brought us the chaos.

The last couple of weeks have been full of the kind of Google news that fundamentally alters the way SEO professionals and site owners do business. Reeling from a triple shot of change, the search community has been eating anti-anxiety meds, writing emails to clients explaining what will happen next, and generally running around in circles.

From a social media and content marketer point of view, Google's recent changes ring with the thrill of opportunity.

Businesses tend to parcel out their digital marketing tasks to multiple third-party service providers. One company does SEO. Another does PPC and a third does social marketing.

Now Google has given our industry a reason to force consolidation. Businesses that continue to see digital marketing as a series of silos will miss out on a myriad of opportunities to cross-pollinate their marketing with all of the their other online efforts.

Here's what Google has changed and what those changes mean from a social marketer's point of view.

Keyword Reporting

Not Sure If...

As Thom Craver pointed out in his article, "Goodbye, Keyword Data," all searches now happen on encrypted servers, eliminating keyword data previously provided to site owners. Google said it's a user privacy issue:

"We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year," a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Watch. "We're now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in."

For businesses that live and die by their keyword rankings this sounds like catastrophic news. In fact, their visibility for certain terms in search is only a starting place. Granted it's an enormously strong starting place.

Keywords told us "what," but weren't indicators of how likely a site visitor would find exactly what they were looking for on a particular website or how likely they were to stick around and convert into a paying customer.

The removal of keywords forces website marketers to move the needle forward. Google is very good at figuring out what your site is about and no longer wants to be told.

This is where content and social media come into play. Well-written pages that serve value to the human beings navigating a website are critical to conversions and true ROI.

Establishing relationships via social media with visitors that are still in the decision-making process help to foster an emotional affinity for the brand and separate the researchers from real customers. In other words, search and social shouldn't be separate. They need to be working together as a marketing team.

Hashtag Search

hashtag-abuseJust as easily as Google taketh away the keywords, Google giveth hashtagging. Hashtags, particularly those used in Google+, are now providing value added results in Google search.

Along with standard search results for their query, the user will also get a live scrolling feed of public Google+ posts bearing the hashtag searched for and links to those hashtag feeds on Twitter and Facebook. The Google+ feed isn't showing up for every hashtag searched, it seems to depend on if the tag is trending at the time of the search.

Hastags present branding and topical authority opportunities. When used judiciously, well-placed hashtags in blog titles, Google+ posts, Facebook and Twitter updates, and in image descriptions across Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine can add a layer of cohesiveness to a brand's online campaigns.

One of my clients is interested in developing an ongoing series of Hangouts on Air for their customers. We had already discussed the use of a branded hashtag to help promote discussion on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Now that we know there is an added benefit in search, we will be even more tactical about how we post and share promotions of their Hangouts.

Combined with the authorship markup, hashtags used appropriately in blogs should help writers aggregate their articles around specific topics and increase the perception of authority on those topics.

Hummingbird Update

Google HummingbirdDanny Goodwin points out that the technological update of Google search is designed to handle more complex queries, in his article, "Google Hummingbird Takes Flight."

As the search engine has matured over the last 15 years, its understanding of language has become more sophisticated. Like any other teenager, it can combine vocabulary with grammar to understand the meaning of questions rather than just matching words on page to words in a query. Google has grown up to understand how we communicate and share information with one another.

This is what is most exciting about Internet marketing. The content of a website no longer needs to be artificially loaded with terms meant to attract web crawlers.

The more we produce material that real human readers will enjoy, the more search will understand the communication connection. The digital space continues to become a more accurate reflection the real world.

Summary

Embrace the change, shift your paradigm, tear down a few cubical walls, and free your content writers, webmasters, SEO professionals, and community managers to work as a cohesive team. It's a brave new world we live in.

Image Credit: Dimka/Flickr


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