Google continues making changes that impact the online marketing and search community. In the past month, they’ve rolled out Hummingbird, a major update to their search algorithm and also decided to encrypt all searches, no longer giving keyword data to website owners.

What Does Google Hummingbird and (Not Provided) Mean for Marketers?

While these changes are not explicitly connected, they both pose changes and challenges for online marketing and SEO. Google has been unabashed about their war on black hat SEO and content spammers, progressively updating their algorithms to reward websites with high quality, user-focused content, and penalize websites more concerned with manipulating algorithms than satisfying searchers.

So what are the details of these changes and how exactly will they impact your online marketing efforts? Here are a few thoughts to consider.

What is Hummingbird?

Search engines use algorithms to sort through the billions of pages on the Internet in order to serve up results when someone enters in a search. Different than previous updates (Caffeine, Panda, Penguin, etc.), Google Hummingbird represents as close to an entirely new algorithm as they’ve had in 12 years. The change is naturally based on Google’s aim to provide searchers the most relevant results possible.

Better understanding of a user’s intent and meaning

According to Amit Singhal, Senior Vice President at Google and head of their core ranking team, Google Hummingbird will affect about 90 percent of the search requests submitted to Google. The focal point of the change is “semantic search,” giving the search engine a better understanding of concepts, meaning and intent, instead of just focusing on individual keywords.

“The change needed to be done, because people have become so reliant on Google that they now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics,” said Singhal.

With the steady growth of mobile usage and the release of Google’s “conversational search” feature on its Chrome browser, people are increasingly submitting search requests in the form of spoken sentences and questions, rather than just keywords. Because of the shift in search habits, it makes sense that Google’s algorithm needed to evolve. With Hummingbird, Google aims to be much smarter when dealing with longer, more complex search queries in the form of questions and gives users the best answers possible. Google has also redesigned their mobile search results page, making it simpler and better optimized for touch.

Key Hummingbird takeaway for marketers

Hummingbird increases Google’s focus on semantic search and providing relevant, high-quality resources for search queries. For marketers, that means adopting the content marketing mindset of providing valuable information that answers questions, informs, educates and guides your prospects and customers—instead of simply pitching your products and services. It’s not about trying to manipulate the algorithm; it’s about building trust and authority by creating and publishing original, high-quality content on your website and blog and providing answers to the questions your audience is asking.

If you’ve noticed an increasing number of (not provided) traffic showing up in your web analytics recently, there’s a reason for that. For more than a year, Google has been encrypting the searches of signed-in users and now, with the exception of ad clicks, all search activity is being encrypted. Regardless of Google’s motives for the change, the change is big, especially for online marketers who have relied on seeing the search keywords that led visitors to their pages and used that data as a primary measurement of past success and an indicator for being successful in the future.

Without keyword data, how do you measure SEO success?

In the past, SEO success was largely measured by keyword rankings and non-branded traffic (traffic from searches that don’t include a company or brand’s name). But as the analytics of online marketing have evolved, and with the advent of Google’s Hummingbird update, keywords are becoming less important. After all, the ultimate goal of online marketers has never been keyword rankings; the goal has been new business. But while the ultimate goal is conversion, marketers still want and need to know how effective their content is. So how can that be accomplished in the new era of (not provided)? Here are a few things to consider:

• Pay more attention to landing pages and blog posts
• Consider how your content is resonating by looking at referring traffic
• Utilize lead tracking information from marketing automation tools
• Use Google Webmaster Tools to view search queries and anchor text
• Open an AdWords account to utilize the Google Keyword Tool
• Set up internal site search analytics

While Hummingbird and encrypted search have certainly made waves in the online marketing community, there is no reason for marketers focused on doing what really matters to fret. Content is king and the fact remains that the companies focused on answering their audience’s questions, solving problems and providing high-quality content will see success not just in SEO, but in their online marketing program overall.