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What Hummingbird Means for Paid Search

What Hummingbird Means for Paid Search

Thursday, October 31, 2013

When you lead a paid search team, it’s tempting to sit back and breathe a sigh of relief when a major Google algorithm update like Hummingbird is announced. Let the SEO’s handle this one, right? After all, we’re still recovering from Enhanced Campaigns. Tempting, perhaps, but certainly not wise. Any change to the way Google is delivering non-paid results, whether it’s directly related to AdWords or not, will have an impact on how paid search campaigns perform. These updates also give pretty meaningful insight into what the 800-pound search gorilla thinks is important. This insight should drive how we as SEM’s build and manage the client programs that will share search engine results page (SERP) real estate with these non-paid listings.



Before we get into it, it’s important to offer a brief summary on what exactly the Hummingbird Update is. Easier said than done. You can read some of DAC’s thoughts on it here and a nice summary from Search Engine land here, but the main point is that it’s a huge algorithm update (perhaps the biggest in Google’s history) that affects roughly 90% of queries. Just how it affects those queries is not entirely clear at this point (they made it public almost a month after it rolled out, and no one seemed to notice), but it’s obviously aimed at giving searchers far more relevant results,  drawing on a complex combination of signals to really understand what a searcher is looking for. That tells me that we as SEM’s should be doing the same thing – using the data and features at our disposal to deliver more and more relevant results. Let’s look at how.

Leverage Context

For Google, it’s always been about more than the direct relationship between the words in the query and the words on the pages it crawls. The big idea about analyzing back links is what made Google so much better than every other search engine 15 years ago, and their focus on exceeding user expectations of relevance has given them an insurmountable advantage in the space. The same principals apply to the way they order and present paid listings through AdWords. It’s not just about how much money you’re willing to pay for a click; it’s a combination of price and how relevant you are. Over the years, Google’s organic algorithm has increasingly taken things like location, search history and device type  into account when ordering and presenting results. For instance, I just Googled “pizza.” I’m sitting in our Rochester, NY office using my laptop. Even though I only explicitly told Google that I want “pizza,” I got three ads at the top of the page with local Rochester phone numbers, an organic listing for a Rochester-based pizza chain and then seven local listings for nearby pizza shops. Of the 23 total paid and non-paid listings on the page, 15 of them (including the top 12) are clearly there because of where I am. There are no Google results for the term “pizza” anymore; there are only Google results for me at this moment in this place on this device. In other words, it’s about the context. If I’m to have a successful paid search campaign targeting people looking to order pizza, I had certainly better leverage the things I know about the searcher that go beyond the words the words in the box. As an SEM, what do I know about this person?

  • I know where they are based on their IP address (or GPS location for mobile), so it’s probably a good idea to have local campaigns that focus on the most important areas. Having separate geo-targeted campaigns will allow you to include location-specific messaging in your ads  and drive to locally-relevant landing pages whether or not a searcher explicitly conducts a local search.
  • I know what kind of device they’re using, so I’d better be writing mobile preferred ad copy and using call and location extensions (more on this later), while otherwise signaling to the user that there’s a mobile-friendly experience on the other side of the click.
  • I know when the search is being conducted, so I may want to only appear or bid higher when the shops are actually open.

These concepts may sound familiar, as they directly relate to the features Google announced earlier this year with Enhanced Campaigns. Clearly, leveraging context is extremely important for both paid and non-paid results.

Augment your Ads

It’s certainly no coincidence that just a few short weeks after Hummingbird became public that Google announced a fundamental change to the way that Adwords ranks ads on the page. The short version of the change is that now, in addition to Max CPC and Quality Score, the expected impact of your ad extensions will be factored into your Ad Rank, which ultimately determines your position on the page. The even shorter version is that an effective use of ad extensions is more important than ever for running a successful AdWords campaign. When you consider the evolution of Google’s search engine results pages (or SERP’s), this change is not altogether that surprising. Going all the way back to the introduction of Universal Search in 2007, which added things like maps, news, images and other vertical search elements into the main results pages, Google has been consistently adding more and more visually appealing, interactive functionality to its results. Things like the knowledge graph and the carousel have made today’s SERP’s bear very little resemblance those seen in the old days of “ten blue links.” Hummingbird, in theory, should only increase the appearance of these elements, as Google gets better at divining exactly what people are looking for, giving them even more confidence to present a neatly concatenated bundle of information that represents an entity. Paid search ads will have to do the same. If a SERP includes the knowledge graph and/or the carousel with pictures and a map, a simple ad with one blue link is not likely to be a compelling result for the searcher. Consider the amount of extensions that are (or have recently been) in beta:

  • Image extensions
  • Video extensions
  • Review extensions
  • Communication extensions
  • Form extensions
  • This crazy banner thing that’s in very limited beta

Of course these are in addition to site links, call extensions, location extensions and the others that have been around for a while. Naturally, it’s important to make sure these extensions ladder up to the objectives of your program while aligning with your brand, but it’s clear that the use of extensions will be that much more critical in a post-Hummingbird world.

Move with Searcher Expectations

As search technology has improved over the years, the expectations of searchers have moved along with it. Because of that, best practice has dictated that paid search campaigns get better and more relevant as well. Hummingbird is just one more big step in that direction. Users are starting to simply expect that the search engines know more about what they want than the words they use to search would indicate. They increasingly expect that searches will result in rich, interactive content right there on the SERP. In short, they’re well on their way to expecting to get far more than what they’ve asked for. It won’t be long now before searcher patience for (and receptivity to) results that don’t meet those expectations will run out altogether. Paid search results are certainly no exception.

So, if you’re wondering what you can do about Hummingbird as a paid search marketer, consider that as non paid search results have become more and more relevant, no SEM campaign has ever suffered for giving searchers more than what they’re looking for.

Interested in finding out more? Contact us today!

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