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Embracing Hummingbird for Conversational Search in Higher Education

Thu Oct 10, 2013

Google’s Hummingbird algorithm has swooped in, setting marketers everywhere a flutter on what to do with their SEO strategy.

The release was debuted to grow Google’s Knowledge Graph. But to go any further it’s important to understand what Knowledge Graph is. It’s the beginning of Google’s efforts to move past simple use of keywords and links to determine what to show in its search results. Instead, Google now has mapped the relationships between many search terms, and can use that map to contextualize and answer more complex queries.

How to Use Google's Hummingbird to Your Advantage

1. Write Content That Answers Questions

Higher education marketers can use Hummingbird to their advantage by creating content within the context of questions students and prospects might have. If a student were to search for “Where can I find a class on Zoology in Boston?”, having your page’s meta title set as “Zoology classes in Boston | Example University” would make it easy for Google to index your content and serve up your pages among the most relevant answers.

Write content that is natural, conversational, and uses the language and phrasing your audience would employ to increase the likelihood of lining it up with actual search queries.

2. Use Canonical Tags

Success in Search Engine Optimization is based on the idea that the more you produce content the more your website shows up higher in search engines. But this is becoming less relevant in the sense that yes you can produce more content but your content needs to be relevant and not duplicate. It’s hard to not have duplicate content for a school because there might be a list of same class types but they are at different times, locations, and with different teachers. The solution for this is to use the canonical tag to specify which page is preferred for search.

According to Google, “a canonical page is the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content.” If Google knows that a bunch of pages on your website have the same exact content they will pick a random page that they think is the most relevant. But wouldn’t you rather tell Google to use a specific page? Click here to learn how.

3. Use Structured Data

To also solve for the duplicate content issue it’s important to clearly tag facts about that page in structured data. For example say you have a page about a class on Micro-Biology by Professor Stephens on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10am located in the Boston Room. And you also have the same exact class on Wednesdays only. But you want students to know that your school offers Micro-Biology by the esteemed Professor Stephens and you aren’t sure how to structure it so that prospective students can find this class in Google. To do this Google helps by providing a Structured Data Markup Helper.

As with any change in Google's search algorithm, Hummingbird is causing a lot of buzz in the SEO community. The most important thing to remember is that Google's refinements and updates are always driven by a commitment to better serve users with more useful results. As long as marketers align their strategy to the needs of their audience, they should expect to benefit from future updates. 

Alexis Karlin
Digital Marketing and Operations Manager | Percussion Software

B2B marketing professional, Alexis Karlin, brings high quality experience to the table at Percussion Software as the Digital Marketing and Operations Manager. Her creative marketing skills help drive high quality leads to the sales team. She imparts her passion for social media to other team members, to help promote brand awareness for the organization. Through organization and enthusiasm she is able to show marketing isn’t just about process and technology, it is about the passion behind the brand.

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