Hummingbird and the role of Search in the decision making progress

Von Stav Pipis - 24th März 2014

Every marketing professional is familiar with the ‘funnel’; an image we have come across an unimaginable number of times (this marketer certainly has). This visual depiction of the consumer journey from prospect into brand advocate can encompass most of our roles in marketing. Even more nowadays, with the mobile revolution the average Joe has the world at his fingertips and with a quick search on his smartphone/tablet he can find out where to eat, drink, or what the best deal on those shoes he wanted is, while brushing aside all the ‘noise’.

This mobile revolution was the driving force behind Google’s complete – the first major one in ten years – search algorithm overhaul (although there were updates). Hummingbird, as the new algorithm is called, was introduced in late August 2013 – announced a month later – and features as the search giant’s answer to the ever changing nature of Search. Contrary to Caffeine (Google’s previous complete search algorithm overhaul), Hummingbird’s objective is to better understand the user’s intent behind the search, and offer them the most relevant results based on the specific search query, rather than to better optimise the indexing process. In spite of the great differences though, Amit Singhal, senior VP at Google, made it clear, when presenting Hummingbird, that had it not been for Caffeine, Hummingbird would not be here, making this more of an evolution of Google’s Search Algorithm rather that a revolution.

As Amit Singhal admitted, to provide the user with the most appropriate answer, the under-the-hood process gives the algorithm semantic elements as it is attempting to identify the meaning or reason behind the search query in order to answer it as intelligently as possible, in a more conversational manner.

Hummingbird’s algorithm is now focusing on understanding the “why” behind the search query to try and give the user the most appropriate results. As the algorithm becomes more intelligent, it means that people will begin to trust it even more for information on the go. This will undoubtedly have an impact on the marketing funnel as a whole, as search is no longer responsible only for the initial awareness or final click, but it has now become a medium by which marketers can cater to their customer’s needs across the whole funnel:

For example, the query “which encryption protocol is most secure” might not necessarily be made with a purchase in mind, but the results can offer the user information to take him/her through the funnel, in a step by step process and lead to the conversion. This makes it increasingly important for brands to invest time into properly understanding the role of search, and how it can help them in achieving their goals.

With this in mind here are three tips you can follow to make sure your content is helping a potential customer through your funnel:

  1. Listen to social conversations and see what topics are of interest to your audience. They will be googling those topics…be sure of it!
  2. Create different types of content, and in various formats, considering what your audience will find useful at each respective step of their buying process.
  3. Do not neglect mobile! Mobile search is on the rise and content should be created with this in mind: make your content accessible to various platforms/devices. In fact specific forms of content such as video, rank higher on mobile search than desktop search!

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