Dan ShureNovember 15, 2013: As part of our coverage of SMX East 2013, I sat down with Dan Shure, the owner of Worcester, MA-based SEO firm EvolvingSEO,  for a few minutes shortly after the show. We talked about some of the most pressing subjects in SEO right now, including Hummingbird and Not Provided.

Chris: What is your position on Google’s encryption of search results and the loss of organic keyword data? How would you advise SEOs to deal with the “not provided” issue?

Dan: It certainly doesn’t help to have one of the most central measurements in SEO (the keyword) be pulled out from under us. But at the same time the thing that has always separated good SEOs from great SEOs, in my opinion, is the ability to adapt. So you can’t freak out about it.

You have to adapt. You have to take a step back and ask yourself “OK, we reported on traffic from keywords for so long, but what does that really represent to the client?”

Those keywords were the way we could tell clients in concrete terms “look, we’re targeting this keyword and that keyword, and you’re getting this traffic from those keywords via Google and making x dollars”. That was easy to compute. It was linear. But we have to think of other ways to show value of our efforts. Because that’s what it’s really about, right?

So I would advise others to do a few things. One, make use of other data that’s still out there. Google Webmaster Tools still provides a sampling of search query data. It’s not perfect, but it can give you an idea of where you’re at.

Second, you can use internal site search. Even before (not provided), this was not talked about or used much (and I’m guilty of that too).

Or third, you can report on the page level or piece of content. “We created this page targeting this topic” and measure that.

And lastly, the analytics Genius Avinash Kaushik wrote a killer post about some options we have. He talks about making more use of things like multi-channel attribution, which is just good to be doing anyways.

Chris: What can you tell us about Hummingbird, and how it’s different from Panda and Penguin? Some folks say that Hummingbird is a bigger and longer term issue than ‘Not Provided’. Can you elaborate?

It’s early. I feel like we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what Hummingbird is really about. Google says they released it sometime late August, but as Googlespeak goes, what does that mean “released it”?

It’s totally different than Panda and Penguin. They were add-ons to the core algorithm. They made very noticeable differences to the SERPs and people’s rankings. They are more like penalties or things designed to re-rank you depending upon the presence and/or degree of negative signals.

Hummingbird isn’t about re-ranking; it’s about processing queries better. It’s about re-writing queries (essentially changing what you typed “behind the scenes”) before returning results back to you. It’s also about understanding context better — where you are, what you’ve just been searching, etc.

There’s lots of discussion, obviously, in the industry about what to do about Hummingbird. Ammon Johns has a very compelling piece about how he believes Hummingbird is the opposite of long tail search. Gianluca’s epic post called “Hummingbird Unleashed” is the best in-depth look I have seen so far. And finally, Rand Fishkin’s WhiteBoard Friday is the best layperson’s down to earth explanation of what to do about Hummingbird.

We can’t look at Hummingbird and be like “how is this changing search results?” because it’s not really doing that directly. We have to look at Hummingbird and ask “what does this mean about where Google is going, and search is going?” not in a year, or two years, but in TEN years or more. And future proof your marketing and SEO to align with that.

What I really believe is that websites are going to have to think MORE and more about the user. And not just as a catch phrase, but to really deeply try to exhibit empathy.

For example – if your website makes money by providing reviews of software, what are all the stages of research someone goes through when trying to find, for example, the best finance software for their company?

You need to not just think of keywords like “best finance software” or “quickbooks vs. “freshbooks” but think about what the exact user needs and problems that (they) are trying to solve. And layer your keywords on top of that framework.

So it’s like … real marketing with SEO on top 🙂

Lastly, it’s about topics more than keywords. We have to realize that there may be 10-20 keywords that all are really different ways of talking about the same topic. And you don’t have to obsess about every single little keyword. Pick the top 2-3, track ranking with those, and make sure your content is the best on that topic.

Chris: Do you think that Yandex or Baidu can provide the keyword information that Google is now encrypting? Do you think that they will become bigger players in the English speaking search market years down the road?

This is interesting because a search engine only has that information to begin with when users use the search engine. For instance BING has all that data. They don’t encrypt it and they provide 100% of keyword data. Only there’s one problem: no one uses Bing. Yandex or Baidu would have to step into the U.S. market and get users in the countries in which Google is popular to use them. I don’t know much about their plans, so I’m not sure if/when they would even try to step into our markets.

Chris: Finally, what is your favorite lame marketing metaphor? Remember, marketing metaphors have to be over used to the point of irrelevance and meaninglessness.

That’s easy! “Content is King” and/or “Build Quality Content”. Uggg! I know. We say them because it’s the easiest thing to say in a few words that convey that general philosophy.

But my problem is when advice stops there, or just circles around and around. I’m not one that will usually “rant” (in fact I’m not very crazy about that term either!), but I sort of did that once on Google Plus in regards to “quality content”. My issue is when it stops there and we don’t define it and get more concrete. You can read the post for a little idea 🙂

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