Content Marketing

How Google is Forcing Your Content to Get Better


In this edition of The Baer Facts, I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about the impact of Google’s big changes on content strategy and content marketing execution.

As you no doubt are aware, Google announced that they have significantly changed the algorithm that determines search results. Code-named “Hummingbird” this new system de-emphasizes specific keywords in the search/search results schema in favor of semantic searching. This means that the derived, inferred “meaning” of the search is more important than the exact words composing the query.

This type of semantic searching has been discussed for years, but natural language processing capabilities weren’t able to truly handle it. But, powered by an enormous trove of data from Android and Google Voice, Google now has the capacity to interpret what you really want, even if you don’t phrase it well. This is particularly important as more and more searches are performed hands-free, as how we ask for information via voice differs from how we ask for information via typed phrases (voice searches are typically longer and can be more vague and amorphous).

Additionally, Google’s own “Knowledge Graph” has been expanded and enhanced, and Google will itself attempt to answer questions and provide data when it can. This means that Google is becoming even more of a provider of content, in addition to its traditional role as the traffic cop for content.

Lastly, you might be concerned about Google’s announcement that they will make all searches anonymous, robbing website owners of data about what search terms were used when people ended up on their site. There are some workarounds for this, such as looking at paid search traffic in your Google AdWords account, exporting your historic keyword data, and even looking at Bing searches, but there’s no question Google is throwing the cloak over organic keyword data, in general.

What This Means for Content Marketers

Taken together, these multiple changes from Google bring to a close the era of the “keyword” and usher in the new era of meaning and intent. Google has stated for many years that their goal is to make search behave more like people behave (one of the reasons social signals like clicks and +1s factor into rankings), and this is just the next step in that direction. Content that people like, Google will like. Google wants you to figure out what content to make not by obsessing over keywords and data reports, but to answer the questions that you can genuinely answer well, and be authoritative for the topics about which you truly are a good solution.

The rich will get richer. If you create great content, answer questions well, and provide resources that real people love, Google will reward you.

If you continue to believe that you can find a “shortcut” to search-referred traffic, Google is closing that loophole forever.

Don’t just make content, make content that matters. (tweet this)


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  1. says

    The key point about keywords is whether they are credible indicators of user intent. These days when websites are putting 15 tracking cookies in my browser with a single visit, it seems almost quaint to think keywords are any more valid than everything else I reveal with my Web travels.

    The key difference is that in the free keyword era, keyword data was available to everybody at practically no cost. It’s a safe bet that you can’t access proprietary traffic-tracking data for free.

  2. Bob Burchfield says


    So does this equate to an urgency to rebuild one’s Web pages in HTML5 to take advantage of the semantic HTML inherent in the and tags and so forth?

  3. says

    Google is continuously making improvements in their search engine for the betterment of their users’ experience. Panda aims to index more quality content, while Penguin ensures websites’ links are natural and relevant. Now, Hummingbird, which is a total change of the algorithm wants to really change marketers to do better content marketing.

    Moreover, with the personalization of Google search, they also intend marketers to not only focus on quality content, but also on building good personal relationships.

  4. Katherine Kotaw says

    I like all of Google’s animals, but the Hummingbird most of all. It holds new promise for writers and renewed hope for readers. Google’s algorithm is undoubtedly complicated, but its message is simple: It’s time to stop counting keywords and start creating content that counts or, as you say, “content that matters.”

  5. says

    Love this. Only good news for those of us who focus on value over an algorithm. There may always be times when weaknesses can be exploited, but it will never be sustainable. Quality rises to the top.

  6. says


    The Keyword Tool hasn’t gone altogether, it has just morphed into the Keyword planner.

    In addition, although you may not be able to track the natural keywords in Google Analytics and therefore the passage of visitors that came in via Google search. You will be able to get some data out of Webmaster tools in terms of which keyword queries are sending you most traffic.

    That said, I absolutely agree, awesome content trumps all other factors!

    • says

      Yes. I love the Planner, although others are less enthusiastic. And totally agree about using Webmaster Tools, although many sites still don’t even have it set up!

    • says

      Sean, I agree I think Webmaster tools is one of those under utilized tools where you can pull a lot of information on providing you sources for content. You can find terms that Google is already thinking you add some value to the conversation but may not rank well for, then build better content around those segments.

      Again, finding what your customers/potential customers need help with and providing that content, instead of chasing keywords…

  7. says

    Google may be forcing content marketers to up their game… but I believe that technology is forcing Google to make those shifts in direction. When we no longer have to look at a screen – how do you keep “search” relevant?

    Wearable tech like the NISMO watch (, Siri and our own change in behaviour when it comes to relying on algorithms to give us the BEST answer are all forcing the evolution of search engines to become ANSWER engines (in natural language, on top of that).

    I’d say as marketers, we have to broaden what we think of as “search”. Siri is now essentially a search engine. Your car’s LCD panel is essentially a search engine…

    • says

      Excellent point. Google dominated when the “page” was the unit of information. Now that it’s becoming something else, they have to change their methodology.

      • says

        D’oh – Sorry about the typo! Was supposed to say “make those shifts in that direction”.

        They do have to change and at the same time… for the first time in years… they’re seeing potential competition that could take their cake!

  8. says

    As a business owner or webmaster your primary focus should be on your own business or property, and not on Google or what it does or doesn’t do. Not everything Google does is a win for your business, or even theirs for that matter. Google has to think about the quality of results it provides for is users, and every business owner should think about their customers and providing quality goods and services. Of course as a marketer you would probably like to know the keywords your visitors are using to find you, or the intent behind their search, but if you are thinking big picture and offering quality material then you can live with the fact Google is withholding it. For example a search that was content related brought me to this site, and from what I have seen I like it and have returned several times. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the day is coming when you will be able to search ‘fat and content cats’ and Google will know your intent is ‘content promotion’. That’s what brought me here by the way.

      • says

        Sorry. My search was content promotion. My point was a business owner shouldn’t worry about what Google does or doesn’t do more than they should worry about the quality of the product or service they are offering to their customer. Like Lee Odden said its about your customer first and not Google. My other point was no matter how much better Google gets at figuring out a user’s intent if I were to search for ‘fat and content cats’ (I know it’s silly) I doubt Google will give me results about ‘content promotion’. So if someone is creating bad content because they are worried more about synonyms and semantic search more than producing quality material then how far can they go?

  9. moovd says

    After years of suffering SEO copywriting sameness, the power of social search could change all that. The first step in establishing a semantic basis to web search is a superb beginning – the only question is how long it will take for it to sink in to a marketing mindset that Google itself has helped create.

  10. moovd says

    One more thing – It may take a while for people to change the way they conduct searches from single words or short phrases, into more intent driven messages. In a way this change makes search more of a dialogue – more interactive – more interesting.

  11. Arpita says

    This is so true and relevant. Content marketing will be the key now, earlier it was neglected but now with the constant changes that google is making towards semantic search we can’t afford to ignore the quality of our content. Its proved again that we should make content for our readers and not for search engines !
    Great post, thanks for sharing :)

  12. says

    Jay, I don’t see much here on the impact to image rich content. Doesn’t this update make annotation of images – including alt tags or captions – even more important?

  13. Holly says

    This has been my favorite explanation of the Google “not-provided” issue. I wonder if people who have historic data around a certain keyphrase are going to start selling their data. I guess that could only be valuable for so long. Google, you sneaky little…

  14. says

    Awwww, ya mean I can’t just pay an outsourcer five dollars to write me a bunch of articles that read like a 3rd grader wrote them? But Jay, creating valuable content takes time and effort. Gosh!!! The reality is, if you want to be taken at all seriously, it’s ALWAYS been about value and quality. This should be nothing new to anyone.

    • says

      I agree with you, and I also don’t. There’s a TON of content (even with Penguin/Panda) that isn’t quality that still ranks. And even more content that is modestly okay but suffers because it’s so keyword-focused.

      • says

        I am talking about the reader, not Google. All the gaming that went on, and goes on still, is all well and good. But at the end of the day, people always should have written great stuff. Because while getting found is important, the person who finds you is more important. And for those who wrote poor quality stuff just to get found, probably never benefited the way they could have in the first place, if at all. It may not have looked like garbage to Google, but it would have to the person with a credit card and a brain.

        Long story short, what I was getting at is; who really won by creating crap content to begin with?

  15. Jake Parent says

    Glad to see Google continues to help move business in the right direction.

    Good for businesses and consumers alike.


  16. Jake Parent says

    I would add that now it’s up to us entrepreneurs to start bringing customers into the process of value creation.

  17. Sam says

    Create content people want to link to and the search rankings will follow. Nice to see Google continuing in the direction of rewarding quality content though.

  18. Gordana Stok says

    “What this means for content marketers … these multiple changes from Google bring to a close the era of the keyword and usher in the new era of meaning and intent.” – Music to my ears.

  19. says

    I’ve been looking for some simple explanation of what’s going on. Thank you. Guess it’s just as well that I never really “got” the whole KW thing. Perhaps this new emphasis will help me in the long run. (Plan to return to read more of what you have to say.)

  20. says

    I agree that Google is doing quite a bit to reward quality. However, I disagree with the notion that Google is de-emphasizing keywords. It’s just using keywords differently. A keyword or term is what people use to search for things. I think keywords will always play an important role in content development and optimization. We can help Google understand our content better by using the right keywords and synonyms smartly in our content and schema mark-up. Yes, keyword stuffing and other bad practices won’t work much longer. But, as long as people search with keywords, building content for people based on what what they are searching for (if you’re a reputable source) will always be a strategy that works. What Hummingbird forces SEOs to do (which is what SEOs should have been doing all along) is keep up with how natural search is progressing and use it smartly.

  21. Margo R. W. Winter says

    What’s beautiful about this is that publishing content with message consistency benefits those who exercise this best practice – both with marketing goal achievement and with SEO.

  22. Scottie Leonard says

    The hummingbird update is really shocking because you do not know where your website might rank because of it within no time. Although it focuses on content but I am a bit not satisfied with the results shown in Google search because they are not appropriate. I think Google was better before hummingbird update but if anyone can suggest me how to make SEO better with keywords in mind then they can feel free to suggest me.

  23. Jerry Isbell says

    Jay, you always provide great content. Thanks for the tremendous posts. Hummingbird has definitely gotten my attention. Which hosting service are you using for this blog? WordPress, etc? Best wishes.

  24. Uncommon says

    If you start “improving” your content based on how I interpret it, you will need about 10 million versions, well maybe only 5 million, maybe only 1 million, maybe 100,000, maybe 10,000 version, with Google or someone else as the big filter/content provider that decides what is what, (it is then no longer what you say !!!) this will be a new level of efficiency, understanding and communication…

    I do not want Google or anyone “interpreting” meaning or “intent” for me… words have definitions… we use the words needed to convey the concept, image, thought, want, need etc., etc… The minute Google or anyone starts imbuing meaning or intent other than what the definition of the words “are”, a VERY mushy mine field starts to be created so that anything can become twisted to mean almost anything… whatever the twister or truly innocent party see’s, wants or interprets “it” to mean or “thinks” it means , or thinks my intent “was”…
    Sometimes just because you can do something does NOT mean it is a good idea… no matter how “good” or benevolent the “intentions” are…

  25. says

    I haven’t been creating keyword targeted content in quite a while as I found that it was too restrictive. Instead, I wrote about what inspired me and, based upon the volume of shares relative to views, this seems to have been the right approach for me.

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