SEO can be confusing to anyone who doesn’t spend their days studying it. In fact, most small business owners probably don’t have a lot of extra time to devote to learning all about SEO, they really just want to know the basics and how to make it work for them. Then they want to get back to the business of doing business.

When Google released Hummingbird there was certainly some groaning heard throughout the social marketing world “Oh no, here they go again, changing everything just when we thought we had it all figured out.”

It turns out, however, that when you sift through all the technical jargon, Hummingbird is pretty interesting and not that difficult to understand. (Take it from a non-technical guru, someone who couldn’t code her way out of a banana box if her life depended upon it.)

So what is Hummingbird?
Hummingbird gives Google the ability to manage what is called “conversational search”. This allows Google to consider the question in its entirety, rather than the old way of simply targeting keywords as a way of determining the type of information you’re trying to retrieve. Google can now understand and respond to a general question that doesn’t have a simple answer such as “Tell me about jazz music”. It’s also beginning to understand and anticipate follow up queries such as “Tell me about the jazz age”.

Hummingbird is using something Google calls its Knowledge Graph. This permits the search engine to determine the relationship between concepts, not just single keywords, thus allowing it to better understand entire questions ranging from the simple to the complex. This is also why long-tail keywords are being promoted more in content writing.

Content. Hummingbird is now driving content in a way that is more relevant to both the consumer and small business owner. What this means is that your webpage will rank higher if you are posting content on your blog that matches well with natural queries rather than specific keywords. One of the best ways to make this happen is to write content that answers questions. And a great place to source questions related to your business is from customer comments – whether in person or from your Facebook, Twitter, and blog pages. Google is also searching for Likes and Shares as a way to validate your social sites, so think about adding items that encourage positive customer interaction such as contests, trivia questions and meaningful quotes.

Mobile marketing. Hummingbird makes it easier for mobile users to search because they often type their questions as they would speak them. And since smartphones have built in geo-location technology, Google’s change allows it to be responsive to someone asking “Where is the closest dry cleaner to my location?” Make sure your website is mobile-ready, and that your content is easy to navigate, read, and targeted to topics showcasing your expertise by answering customer questions.

The advance of digital has blurred the lines in consumers’ lives allowing them to be online everywhere rather than just at home. They’re plugged in to mobile in the sense that they’re in an “always-on” shopping mindset. And they’re using smartphones and tablets to search for useful information even when they’re not actively buying. This is when knowing your target audience and their needs will help as you optimize your online presence for SEO.

As Google uses Hummingbird to refine and adjust how it responds to the way people search, small business owners should begin to see how this can play to the strengths of a well-planned social marketing strategy. Know your target audience’s pain points, focus on content that answers those questions instead of posting content around single keywords, and use a variety of mobile marketing options to engage the “always-on” consumer. Done consistently, these are SEO practices that can help your website rank higher with Hummingbird. And if anyone has instructions on how to code their way out of a banana box, I’m all ears.