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SEOs Around the World: Hummingbird Q&A with Morgan Vawter

Elena Terenteva
SEOs Around the World: Hummingbird Q&A with Morgan Vawter

We continue to collect answers from SEO specialists all around the world about the new Hummingbird algorithm.

Today, we have an interview with Morgan Vawter. Morgan is the VP of Analytics & Optimization at Piston Agency in San Diego. She has been named a top digital strategist by the Online Marketing Institute.

Did you face any problems after the Hummingbird launch?

Google's latest algorithm, Hummingbird, is unlike previous updates such as Panda and Penguin. Rather than an update to the existing algorithm, Hummingbird is a complete replacement of the algorithm.

While it affected 90% of search results and wasn't announced by Google until a month after implementation, we didn't face any problems after the launch. We focus our clients' SEO strategies on providing an optimal user experience through developing unique valuable content on and off their websites.

Because speed and precision are the focus of the Hummingbird algorithm, there is greater importance placed on how pages are indexed and the intent behind those pages. Ensuring our clients implement updates that clearly show the purpose of their existing content (keyword-relevant URLs, title tags, schema mark-up, content, alt text, etc.) and build out additional fact-based content has helped increase organic search traffic.

Hummingbird is supposed to be useful with conversational search, but we speak in a different way than we type. How do you find the right queries that would be useful for both types of search?

According to Google, there aren't any different strategies that SEOs need to worry about. Previous search engine signals — including unique, high quality content — remain important with the Hummingbird update.

Because this update focuses on improving complex, long tail queries, there isn't a significant impact on rankings for head terms. Ranking better for the long tail conversational search terms starts with reviewing our content to make sure it aligns with how people actually think and search.

Use relevant keywords and phrases, and be informative. An example would be optimizing your content for "dog food ingredients" and "dog food ingredient quality" rather than just "dog food nutrition." With search engines beginning to comprehend a concept rather than a keyword, there is also a greater emphasis on developing an in-depth, multi-page content strategy that addresses the questions of users.

What if I’m losing traffic? Since we face a “not provided keywords” problem, how can I see what keywords are not working for me any longer?

Although keyword-level data is unavailable from Google through traditional analytics platforms, there are still other tools that can provide valuable keyword insights. At Piston, our technology stack includes Compete, Hitwise, Google Webmaster Tools and SEMrush; all of which provide keyword data including impressions, clicks, traffic and rankings for keywords.

The only change in our reporting structure is that we can no longer directly link keyword data from Google to on-site performance. We can, however, approximate this performance using third party keyword data and first party Web Analytics landing page data.

If I put more informative pages on my website, will it help increase traffic?

Yes. Adding pages with high-quality, fact-based, unique content will help to increase organic search engine traffic. FAQs are always a smart bet! They provide a great resource for your users, and help to increase organic search traffic for long tail phrases.

The main theme of Hummingbird is quality, not quantity. Each page should be able to stand on its own, and not be developed for the sake of targeting a single key phrase. Previously, SEOs optimizing for “healthy dog food” may have focused on creating multiple pages including “Healthy Dog Food Basics,” “Healthy Dog Food 101” and “Nutritious Dog Food.” All of these pages targeted essentially the same concept and key phrase. Post-Hummingbird, re-hashing the same topic again and again using different keywords is less effective.

Instead, the focus should be on supporting the concept of “healthy dog food” with unique pages of specific content that address the concept. Like “High vs. Low Quality Dog Food Ingredients” and “Grain Free Dog Food.”

How can SEOs deal with not provided keywords now? Any tricks or advice?

While keyword not provided data has removed direct post-click interaction data from our Web Analytics software, including Google Analytics and Omniture SiteCatalyst, we still have access to keyword-level data for other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing. We can also approximate the top performing Google keywords by integrating Google Webmaster Tools keyword click and impression data with top organic search landing pages.

Morgan Vawter bio

Morgan manages the Analytics and Optimization team at Piston Agency ( She has a B.S. in Psychology and Chemistry, and has spent years as a Web Strategy and Analytics Consultant for many big-name brands. Morgan is a frequent industry event speaker, and was recently named one of the top Digital Strategists by the Online Marketing Institute, and one of the Top 10 Hottest Digital Marketers by iMedia.

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Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush. Elena has eight years public relations and journalism experience, working as a broadcasting journalist, PR/Content manager for IT and finance companies.
Bookworm, poker player, good swimmer.
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Great interview - hopefully this will clear up a lot of the noise surrounding Hummingbird.
Kathleen Garvin
Mike Massie
Glad you liked it, Mike!
Eric Van Buskirk
Great Hummingbird ideas. It's not rocket science, and this shines in Ms. Vawter's POV.
Eric Van Buskirk
Not sure I understand your points, Eric. Google hires the intellectual equivalent of rocket scientists to craft its algorithms, which is why most folks have no idea what's going on with Hummingbird. If you don't think that's true, I'd love to read your analysis of this latest algorithm change. :-) Also, Ms. Vawter's POV is irrelevant to folks who don't have thousands of dollars a month to spend retaining her firm. I imagine that 99.9% of SEMRush customers fit into that category so this article is of little use to SEMRush users.

I was considering switching from a competitor to SEMRush because ya'll offer things they don't, yet the quality of discourse on this blog has convinced me I should stick with the other guys. At least they have quality educational material and don't just ignore POVs that raise serious questions about their business model.
Eric Van Buskirk
Janna Chan
Janna, what I meant by it's "not rocket science" is that understanding the fundemental meaning of the changes is not highly complex. No, I don't think ANYONE can reverse-engineer this algorithm-- even agencies.

Our customers can definitely use our data to help rank with hummingbird.

Sorry to hear you went with another company. We can't please everyone.
Thanks for the post, Elena. It seems that Google is heading in the right direction. From what I've read, the only people who don't like Hummingbird are those who don't strive to produce good-quality content.
Elena Terenteva
You are welcome!
You know, you'll be surprised when we'll get to users - they might have a totally different point of view on Hummingbird.
I respectfully strongly disagree. In my view, as someone who has been in web marketing for more than 10 years and has used SEO as a marketing strategy the entire time, Google had a gentleman's agreement in place that genuinely rewarded folks who spent time optimizing their pages per Google's precise specifications and producing what it considered quality unique content. However, Google has now reneged on that deal with Hummingbird by kicking everyone to the curb for whatever reasons it has decided to do that. All of Google's other algorithm changes were designed to root out people who were just trying to game the system. This one is different because it hurts honest folks as much as it hurts cheats. Spending time cultivating search engine traffic simply isn't worthwhile to a marketer if he/she can't figure out which keywords are bringing people to certain pages. Yes, you can try to get around that problem by spending money approximating data Google use to give away for free via the strategies Ms. Vawter suggests. However, I estimate that retaining her firm and buying the expensive software in question starts at $10,000+/month. If folks have that kind of money to spend, then worrying about getting organic traffic from Google may be worthwhile. Otherwise, it's probably not a viable marketing strategy anymore if one does a true cost benefit analysis.

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