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Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm
What It Means For Banks and Credit Unions

Feb. 14, 2014

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Marketers are talking about it online. Google does it again. It dropped the old search engine algorithm, which includes Panda and Penguin, and switched to a new one called “Hummingbird.”

The name Hummingbird could not be more apt. It came from a nectar-feeding bird that’s both “precise and fast.” And it promises big changes. Google, for one, wants to eliminate many of the search frustrations users have especially irrelevant and keyword-focused content.

There’s nothing really new or different marketers and publishers should worry about, especially those who have stick to the rules from the start: relevant, original and high-quality content. Banks and credit unions—or any other financial organization—however, seem to be an exception.

Beyond Customer Data Security

All banks and credit unions must focus on keeping customer data secure and maintaining their customers’ trust. Their concerns (for data breaches) are wholly justified. Cyber security threats to private information in the financial sector continues to rise.

This narrow focus on regulated, private data and content may lead many to miss the larger landscape — the opportunity to use non-private data and content for extremely productive purposes. They can miss the new marketing realities and opportunities to better serve existing customers, while attracting new ones. Not all banks and credit unions are prepared to invest in quality content and user-friendly technologies across platforms. Unwillingness to adapt to change is actually the number one reason they fail at content marketing. Big financial services brands like American Express, Citi and Barclay’s truly master it.

The Advent of Conversational Search

Danny Sullivan, in writing for Search Engine Land, briefly discussed how Hummingbird improved search engine results.

When searchers for “pay your bills through citizens bank and trust bank,” search engine results now return this specific page on mobile banking and bill payment from Citizens Bank. Before Hummingbird, it simple returned the home page for Citizens Bank.

See the difference? Google wants to match specific answers to specific questions. Searchers, after all, are not merely typing in a string of keywords. They’re looking for a particular content.

For banks and credit unions, the fact that Hummingbird supports this new type of activity means that they should focus on delivering highly targeted and engaging content. It’s not enough to upload a list of products and services online. Customers expect banks and credit unions to talk in the same language they’re using.

Accommodate All Computing Platforms

More and more people are using tools like Siri and Google’s very own voice search functionality to perform searches. This makes sense since typing in keywords is more difficult on smartphones and tablets than on bigger screens. Hummingbird, in fact, was made to support conversational voice searchers.

What’s more, Hummingbird knows that it’s going to need your device’s location service when you ask to find a “credit union near me” or a “nearest bank in the neighborhood.” You don’t even have to key in a string of keywords. Simply type in “banks” or “credit unions” and the algorithm would return location-based searchers. It’s that smart.

This new functionality highlights the role of “context.” The algorithm knows (and needs to know) where the searcher is based and what he or she is likely looking for. It’s a great leap ahead of the old search algorithm where keywords (not contexts) rule.

Search marketers in the financial industry should be able to understand both content and context. Asking questions about users is extremely important here. What exactly are they looking for? Where are they banking from?

No one outside Google knows everything about Hummingbird. So if there’s one thing you should be doing now, it’s this: test, experiment, gather results. Remember, ranking high on the search engine is a learning process, not a one-time event.

Banks and credit unions have a harder task then others than most other industries when it comes to communicating with their customers. Keeping and securing the trust of it’s customers is paramount. Outside threats continue to grow and evolve. New walls are built to protect consumers. Next thing you know the walls have risen so high that important non-private information customers need is buried away. Rich content sources directed to consumer needs unable to be indexed by search engines. Missing out on being able to have relevant content shown when a user enters relevant queries in search.

There is significant opertunity to leverage non-private data and content for very productive purposes. The new marketing reality is that both private and open data have a place. There are so many opportunities to better serve existing customers and attract new ones by investing in quality content and user-friendly technologies across platforms. Some of the big financial services brands, like American Express, Citi and Barclay’s, have adapted to this change and are demonstrating their mastery of it.

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