Five Years of SEO: Hummingbird and Knowlegde Graph
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Where changes like Panda, Penguin and “not provided” are changes that have the most impact on the ‘back end’ of things, aka the work of an SEO, changes like Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph have much more impact on what we actually see in the front end. And it gives the SEO’s headaches as well.
What are they?
The reason I’m putting the both in the same article is because the two changes are very much connected. The way we’ll approach it in this article is therefore very semantic. Because that’s what it is :-).
When Google rolled out the Hummingbird Update in 2013 Danny Sullivan described it as ”Google changing their entire engine, but keeping the car intact.” This to emphasize the size of the change: it was huge.
“This is the promise of moving away from keywords and into real language and deeper understanding of intent.”
But what had exactly changed? Everything! Well, sort of. Google seemed to have changed the way it looked at search so it seems. Where before Google looked at search as a keyword-based action (you are looking for something so you type that into the search bar), they now looked at search as ‘communication’. Upon the actual launch Google hinted at the changing way of looking at search very clearly:
“Users expect more natural and conversational interactions with a search engine”.
Google is expecting people to have much more of a communication with the search engine, they are not typing in keywords anymore, they are asking questions. So we can talk to the engine and get answers back now.
Take a look at this ‘conversation’ I had with Google about the Eiffel Tower:
You may notice a few things:
First of all, it’s a conversation; they are not search queries on its own. When I search for Eiffel Tower related elements it gives me that information as expected. As soon as I start leaving out the actual name ‘Eiffel Tower’ Google however still understands that my questions are related. This is Hummingbird at it’s best: it has a better understanding of whom Google is ‘talking to’.
Semantics are key here. It is based on the search behavior of course, but Google is also taking a lot of other things into account, like your social profile and data from the people around you. See the third video below for an example on how ‘personalized’ this can get.
The answers come from the Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph is something Google has been doing for a few years now. It is trying to give people answers to their questions, as quickly as possible. Which basically means you don’t have to click through to a website anymore, Google will just give you the answer. Want to know how tall Justin Bieber is? Google to the rescue!
Knowledge Graph also gives other information, which means that in many cases we don’t need to click through to websites anymore. Google is working with partners on this so it means they aren’t ‘stealing’ the information from websites. But, as Barry Adams points out, they are taking away traffic:
“Google has broken the unwritten rule of web search:
Websites provide content to search engines, and in return search engines provide traffic to websites.” Increasingly, Google is taking websites’ content and not giving traffic back. Knowledge box SERPs, ever more common, are stealing traffic from websites that publish original content, and the new site search box is another example of Google’s nefarious tactics to steal traffic from websites so it can show more ads.”
This taking away traffic is based on the information, which is shown in the SERPS on some results:
No need to click through anymore, because Google is giving us the answers directly in the SERPS!
The Knowledge Graph clearly shows the intent of Google. At SES San Francisco in August, Matt Cutts said:
“…one of the key focuses for Google is to move away from being a search engine and focus on becoming a knowledge engine. Google is so committed to this that Google’s Search Quality team has been renamed to Google’s Knowledge Team.”
Google combines the Hummingbird Update and the Knowledge Graph into a way of working as they said they would: a conversation with an answering machine.
Take a look at this video for example which shows how Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph work together very nicely:
There is something to be said for the opinion that Knowledge Graph and Hummingbird have had a much larger impact on the work of an SEO than Panda or Penguin. This because it means a completely different approach is asked for which is not ‘technical’ or even taking or not taking certain steps. It is much more about understanding the audience.
This means a lot more effort for the SEO’s and also a different approach, much less analytical, much more human.
The impact of that it is more difficult to be seen, as Andre Alpar points out:
“The Knowledge Graph keeps drastically lowering publishers’ opportunities whose business model is to monetize users (or their eyeballs) with advertising.”
This means the combination of Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph has ‘hurt’ SEO’s and certain website owners. It also means a new way of thinking has to be implemented: not trying to give the answers, but being visible in the conversation. Which is a lot harder.
What do you think was the impact of Knowledge Graph and Hummingbird? Tell us in the comments or tweet:
Be sure to read the other articles in this series:
How to Keep Your Knowlegde up-to-date for (almost) Free
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The Digital Marketing World is a rapidly changing world. If you want to keep your knowledge up-to-date you have to work hard. Standing still means going backwards.
This summer we asked industry experts about their knowledge and about how they think the current state of digital marketing training is organized. There were some very diverse answers as well as agreement on many levels. One thing they all agreed on: knowledge is important.
Now for the challenging part though. You are a digital marketer and you want to keep your knowledge up-to-date. What to do? You can go to your boss and ask for a budget for training, but not everyone will get that budget or have a boss for that matter.
Still, there is a lot you can do to keep your knowledge up-to-date without spending too much money.
One thing to keep in mind though is to always be critical on what you read or hear. The fact that something is published on a website or said at a conference doesn’t mean it’s true. Always keep your eyes open and doublecheck.
Feeds of websites
This is the ‘easiest one’. If you want to stay up to date it is smart to keep track of what specific websites in your niche are writing about. Good old RSS plays a big role here. I personally use Feedly to gather feeds of the websites I think are important. Off course State of Digital is one of them, but here’s the important part: differentiate.
I have made folders within Feedly which describe the different websites, both on topic, trust and type of content. This means that news goes into one folder and opinion articles in another and guides, lists etcetera, all have their own folder. This means a lot of different folders, but it makes me go through the big clutter of websites a lot quicker.
This way I will know the essence of an article before reading it and will therefor understand a) if I want to read it and b) how important it is knowledge wise.
Face to face networking is one of the best ways to improve your knowledge level. Going to an event and listening to industry experts will always increase your knowledge. My rule always is that if you get one thing out of a talk, it has been worth it.
However, you might not be able to afford going to conferences all over the world. The ticket prices can be expensive. There are ways however, in which you still can get the information:
There are free events out there specifically aimed at industry experts. BrightonSEO probably is the best known in that area and they have other shows on other topics (like Content Marketing and PPC) as well. Also meetups are a place where you can get ‘free’ information.
Follow the blogs on the event
State of Digital covers a lot of events. Other blogs do as well. You could keep up to date with what is being said at a conference by following these blogs.
Follow the event hashtag
Another good way of getting a sense of the important things that are shared at events are the hashtags of the events. By following that (for example #brightonseo or #smx) you will see what those that are there find important. Also the speakers will often share their own highlights.
Cover the event yourself
If you are a blogger you might be eligible for a free ticket. If you can provide the event with enough coverage they might be interested in giving the ticket to you. You have to realize though that this ticket is not a free pass, you need to work for it! You will need reach, if you don’t have that yourself try signing up as an event blogger on sites that do.
Another way of getting into conferences ‘free’ is speaking yourself. If you are an expert in a certain area, pitch to speak, it might get you two shots in one: you have a stage of your own and you get to see all the other talks for free!
Go out to dinner with peers
Finally, when you are at an event, don’t leave at 5pm. Stick around. Go out to dinner and drinks with peers. Not just to network. Not just to make friends and get drunk, but to learn as well. The most interesting conversations around the latest developments happen over dinner. Find yourself a nice seat in the middle of the table and open your ears during dinner!
Find presentations online
Many events these days record their talks and publish them afterwards. This is freely available for all of us! By going online to the right places you will find nuggets of gold to increase your knowledge level:
YouTube is filled with talks around marketing related topics. But to be honest, you can probably find interesting presentations about almost any topic.
The trick is knowing how to search on YouTube. If you know a certain speaker, search her or his name. If you know a good conference, search that. But I find the most interesting talks by using the right keywords on the topic. For example “Big data keynote’ will give you around 342,000 videos on YouTube. Refinining that is the trick: filter with ‘This month’, ‘Video’ and ‘Long (20 minutes+) gives you around 1,930 results. Take your pick!
YouTube isn’t the only place you can find videos of presentations. You can go to sites like Vimeo as well off course, but there are also specific sites to go to. Even tough TED(x) has been hyped like crazy, there is still very good content to be found on their website. And you can even install an app on your tablet to make it easy.
Finally there is Slideshare. This is a resource of great content. This is where speakers upload their own presentations. Even though you miss the speaker explaining his slides (I know that in my case it can be difficult to interpret because I use a lot of images) you can still get the most important parts of the presentations.
Social Media is a very good resource to find knowledge. Off course there is your own timeline of people you follow but there is more you can do to make the most out of Social Media and Twitter in specific
Twitter lists are very useful to follow a specific group of people that share certain knowledge. Create (private of public) lists of those knowledgeable in a certain topic and check what they have to say.
In the event part I mentioned hashtags as a good way of following what is happening at an event. They are also very useful when it comes to increasing knowledge in a certain topic. #ppc and #seo are obvious ones but you can go as in depth as you want.
The hastags are also used to organize twitterchats. These chats have groups of people talking about one topic. Good examples are #blogchat, #facebookchat or #ppcchat. But you can find them on many different topics.
Facebook, Google and Linkedin can also be very valuable sources. Where Twitter is more an aggregator of information from around the web, groups on these platforms can be much more a place where the knowledge is shared directly. Off course there are (especially in some groups) people who only share links to their website(s), but if you look well you will be able to find groups on Facebook or Linkedin or Communities on Google+ where people actually have discussions. They share information but also ask questions, which are being answered by others. The right groups will give you the right knowledge!
Finally there are Q&A websites. My personal favorite is Quora.com. Here you get experts answering questions. Questions you can follow. So find the right topic, find the right questions and start learning from the answers. And is the information you are looking for not there? Ask a question yourself!
I personally feel that books are still one of the most important resources for gaining knowledge. They beat blogposts by far, usually because there has been done a lot more research by the author and the author usually also has ‘pre-readers’ or editors, people who make sure there is not too much nonsense in a book. Many blogposts miss this extra filter. So I try to read as many books as possible, some good and some bad, but I always get things out of it.
Off course the best thing to do is buy the books. The authors have worked hard to create something special and they deserve to be rewarded, even if it’s just a little bit.
Getting good books (in our case around digital marketing topics) is easy. There are services like Amazon and Goodreads which have great collections of books or can tell you where to find them. If you prefer an audiobook you can go to Audible for example. To me audiobooks are great because I travel a lot and can listen to them (in high speed) and thus read a lot more.
Go the library!
It might sound old fashioned, but there are still great libraries out there where you can find all the books on the topic you want. Become a member or borrow someone else’s membership card, step outside an go!
The free books
There are also free books to be found online, though they are usually of a lot less quality. But there are some good resources to find free books:
Google Books Wikibooks Textbook revolution
E-books and guides
Finally when it comes to books there are the (free) e-books. Keep in mind that these are usually written by a commercial entity, which makes they have more than just the sharing knowledge purpose. This means not every e-book out there should be trusted, but again, there are plenty or great ones freely available.
E-books are usually published by site like ours or E-Consultancy for example. Do a search for ‘free download ebook on digital marketing’ for example and there are plenty ready for download. Usually they don’t cost you more than your e-mail.
Off course Google itself is a great resource as well. There are different ways of using Google to grow your knowledge.
First off all, what Google is best at: search. By searching Google you can find a lot of good information (like the websites mentioned above). The trick however is not to believe everything you read right away, but to apply the right filters to be more sure you find the right content.
Filters you should use first of all are the time-filters. By clicking on ‘search tools’ you can choose a date range. Try the newer results first. You can also filter on ‘news’ for example, which will give you more relevant news around the topic you are interested in.
The main thing when using Google for knowledge growth however is the search phrases you use. Really understand how the authors might write and search not for keywords, but for sentences. For example:
“a good explanation of why big data is important” will give you much more insights than just a search for “big data”.
Another very good resource by Google is Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) . Here you can search specifically for scholarly literature. And again you can use filters to look for the most recent papers for example.
A great online resource which more often than not is free these days is webinars. Take for example the webinar I did on blogging earlier this year. This is free knowledge shared by experts. The only thing you need to do is sign up. Websites like for example Digital Marketing Depot or Hubspot or ClickZ offer free webinars that can increase your knowledge very much.
Closely related to webinars are online courses. Where webinars usually are a one-time presentation, courses actually take you more in depth through a topic. And you get assignments as well, making it much more like ‘school’.
These days online courses come in many forms. There are the paid ones by the experts, which will really take you to the next level, but there are also very valuable free courses available on websites like Coursera, Khan Academy and Academic Earth.
Find a mentor (or two)
The final resource of increasing your knowledge for free is find the right mentors. Get in touch with experts and try and help them where possible. In return they will share their knowledge with you.
Basically this is networking (like I mentioned at events above), but when done right it is much more than that, it’s building relationships. Relationships that help you get more knowledge.
I myself have several people I can turn to, to increase my knowledge. Each one as important as the other. And in the end, they are my most valuable resource when it comes to keeping my knowledge up-to-date.
As you can see there is a lot you can do. One thing is important though. To increase your knowledge you can rely on free resources as much as you can, but you always have to stay critical. The real learning is within yourself, by being critical and trying things out, you can really learn and become much more knowledgeable.
Finally, over to you: how do you keep your knowlegde up to date?
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