I was at growth consultants FreshMinds this month, admiring their new hummingbird rebrand and talking about writing for the web. We got on to one of my favourite topics, the importance of titles in blog posts and other web content.
Someone asked me if it was a good idea to write a title as a question. Which it is, because it grabs the attention of the user.
But we were laughing about the fact that we don't just put keywords into Google, we ask whole questions, as if we expect there to be a little man in there with all the answers.
Then Google goes and formally announces Hummingbird, its new algorithm which will be able to cope with this more 'human' way that we search the internet. The aim is to improve the quality of search results and cut down on people gaming the system through stuffing their content full of keywords.
It's all about being able to understand longer phrases, more complex questions and the speech patterns people use, rather than keywords and phrases in isolation. Using the Knowledge Graph it takes into consideration your location, previous searches and your speech patterns to deliver faster and more personal results.
It's good news for people who are in the business of being authentic and creating quality content for the web. Not so good for those who farm out any old rubbish as long as it uses a certain magic keyword three times in the text.
So what does Hummingbird mean for people who run websites?
Firstly, if you like going into Google Analytics and poring over the keywords that have brought you visitors, you won't be able to see them any more. Unless it relates to Google AdWords, ie the content you have to pay to create.
Secondly, you're going to have to take a different approach to your content. Instead of focusing on individual keywords you need to be thinking more conversationally, which means some pretty interesting things for the way we present our content.
Here are some of the key things you should ask yourself when creating content that will be picked up by Hummingbird.
How can I make my website more useful to visitors?
People love sharing useful 'how to' content because it makes them look helpful too. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader and think how you can switch the focus of the content so it is offering something useful to them.
Think about the basics, like what information your users are looking for when they come to your site. Then make sure it's easy to find and keep this information up to date.
An FAQ page with all the answers is always good. Plastering the thing with pop-up ads is not.
How important are titles to Hummingbird?
Well, the answer is 'very'. But we've long argued the importance of spending time creating a good title for your blog post, feature or news item. How else do you expect someone to be interested enough to read the thing?
But a good title is more important than ever now. Can you make it match the very phrase people will be searching for in Google? Can you write it as a question? Can you think like a journalist and use W words like how, what, why, when and who? We always find that helps cut out waffle in titles too.
But I hate writing blog posts!
If the thought of writing a 2000-word blog post makes you go weak at the knees, we have good news.
How about a well-thought out infographic adding context to the data?
How about a doodle ad, where pictures illustrate the content in the voice over.
A Q&A with someone on the team or in the industry?
A product demo?
A before and after video?
A slideshow on Flickr or SlideShare which can be easily embedded?
Or get handy with SoundCloud or AudioBoo and offer mini Q&A or a series of podcasts.
Suddenly it starts to sound like fun.
How do I create focused content?
The first thing to do is to think about who you're talking to. Sounds obvious, but lots of content creators think about themselves rather than the people who'll be reading or watching the end result.
You don't have to be all things to all people; you may find that a post on a niche topic draws visitors to the site again and again, because no one else is writing about this stuff!
Why is Google authorship important?
Google authorship links the content you create with your Google profile, meaning you can build up a wealth of content around your specialist area. Giving you a vital whiff of authenticity.
Anything obvious I've missed?
Don't forget to make your content as shareable as possible. Always include sharing buttons, enable RSS feeds and encourage people to comment and share on various social channels.
If I think back to when I started working on the web in the late 1990s, people were trying tricks like stuffing lists of keywords into the bottom of a web page in teeny tiny text. And if they were really sharp, they changed the colour to match the background so no one would notice. It's nice to think we've moved on a bit since then.
See Google's explanation of How search works