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Google’s Hummingbird Update Triggers SEO Bedlam for Banks and Credit Unions

Google’s new ‘Hummingbird’ update could systematically torpedo search rankings for both banks and credit unions. Here is what to do about this Angry Bird.

By John Siracusa, President & CEO at mOSa eBank Marketing Services

google_hummingbirdTo most bankers, pandas, penguins and hummingbirds are cute animals. But for professional marketers however, these beasts represent the biggest challenges in the history of search engine marketing. Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird are all updates to the Google search algorithm, and these updates have changed how Google — the gorilla of search — ranks websites… including yours.

What is a ‘Search Algorithm?’

Google’s algorithms are computer processes and mathematical formulas that turn search inquiries into results. Rather than serving up every page with your search results in no particular order, algorithms allow Google to prioritize and rank these pages in order of relevance. This makes finding the information you need more easily accessible.

Why is it Important to Understand the Hummingbird Algorithm Change?

Hummingbird, unlike previous updates like Panda and Penguin, is not about penalizing websites. Rather, this algorithm Google’s attempt to improve search results using a more complex and robust understanding of human language. The algorithm reduces the search engine’s dependence on “keywords.” Now, search terms are taken into account according to syntax, word order and other variables. In other words, this algorithm is going to look for the meaning — the context — of the words in a search, and their relationship to each other.

Wide Reaching Effects

Google’s SVP of search, Amit Singhal, told reporters on Sep. 26 that the company launched the Hummingbird algorithm a month ago and that it affects 90% of worldwide searches via Google.

Ninety percent!

Let’s put that into perspective. Imagine that 90% of the new checking relationships your financial institution open online originate through Google searches. One day your website was ranking high compared to your local competitors. Then all of a sudden, your rankings shift because your SEO strategy (also known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO) is now outdated thanks to the new changes in Hummingbird. This means you could lose 90% of the keywords you once ranked strongly on. And it isn’t that farfetched.

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Staying Relevant

By October 2014, if you want your banking website to stay relevant in Google’s eyes, it will need to look more like a hybrid of a traditional banking site and an informative, engaging blog focused on user experience. This quasi-blog format will require new, fresh and conversational content that’s published on a regular basis.

Why? Well, Google believes consumers want the most engaging content when they search for something. When someone searches for checking accounts or mortgage products, Google assumes the right financial institution that has the right products for them is the one with the most engaging content (i.e., blog-style posts published consistently). Yes, your website will still need to have informative product details, with an intuitive sales funnel and calls-to-action, but above that Google wants to see engaging content… material that gets clicked.

Challenges for Banks and Credit Unions

The challenge, of course, is that financial institutions aren’t wired this way. Secure online banking is a key focus for banking sites, as is providing information regarding rates, products and services. People need to know that their investments — the money they’ve worked so hard for — is safe. They need to know how your products fit into their lives and how you’re different from the other banks. The difference is that now, banks must focus heavily on generating great content and building a user-friendly experience across all platforms (mobile, tablet and desktop).

This is a huge shift: from static and staid to dynamic and lively.

With platforms like Facebook, your financial institution’s paid and organic posts can’t compete with a picture of someone’s child, a viral video, a hilarious meme or an emotionally touching post. Stiff, cut-and-dry messages aren’t going to pique the interests of your audience if they’re not personal and well executed. In other words, your current material isn’t going to cut it if it isn’t engaging.

Creating Compelling Content

Your content will likely need vast improvements. Banks and credit unions looking to rank high in Google will need to retool their online marketing strategies around unique, humanistic and compelling content. A bank isn’t just a bank; if anyone can spot the differences, it’s Google. Google is looking for financial institutions that appear to be part of the community — a place where real, live, emotional people interact with real, live, emotional people (i.e., communication, dialogue, vibrant activity and an exchange of ideas).

In Google’s eyes, it’s not about money; it’s about making connections and building relationships. Your content must appeal to people on an emotional level and across all platforms. It can be funny, touching, happy, provocative, thought provoking, inquisitive or even silly. However, the one thing it cannot be is ordinary.

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Better Management of Content Distribution

Banks will need to become experts on organic and paid content distribution. The world of content distribution looks vastly different today than it did a year ago, or even one month ago. Financial institutions must now have a content distribution system built around Facebook ads, Twitter ads, display ads, retargeting/remarketing, regular posts, original tweets and organic search results. Distribution of this content must be consistent, engaging and (above all) strategic.

Let’s face it, banking products and services aren’t really made to be thrilling or exciting. Banks, after all, have built their reputations on stability and reliability. However, that doesn’t mean your content should read like a dry ad about your services. People don’t want to see electronic versions of billboards on their computer screens or mobile devices; they are largely online to enjoy themselves — even when doing chores — and Google knows this. Whether the content is paid or organic, it must appeal to the human, emotional side. Your hybrid blog/banking website will need to be the primary vehicle for delivering this unique, engaging content, and the social media profiles will be used to strategically share and distribute that content.

If there’s reluctance to implement these changes at your institution, keep this in mind: many companies — entire industries even — have fallen by the wayside because they refused to keep up with technology. Consider Blackberry phones. For a few years, they were the frontrunners among smartphones. People fell in love with touch screens, though, and (until the Z10 last year) Blackberry failed to jump on the bandwagon. Now it’s too late. The company laid off a large portion of its staff and sold itself for only a fraction of what it once was worth. The point is you need to embrace the future of online marketing and technology… wherever that may take us.

John SiracusaJohn Siracusa is the president and CEO of mOSa Marketing, He helps banks build highly effective social media programs. A popular industry speaker, he helps banks not only connect with customers, but also with their community at large. You can follow him on Twitter @johnsiracusa

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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  1. Great article John. This is a very interesting time for FI marketing, so hopefully they embrace the changes!

  2. Thanks Michelle! I love many of your articles as well.

  3. Jack Frost says:

    This is a pretty terrible article. The author makes a number of wild speculations and draws a ridiculous conclusion from at least one horribly flawed premise.

    Premise 1: Google now rewards websites that produce fresh and engaging content.

    Premise 2: Financial institution website content can’t compete with the virality of popular videos, internet memes, and emotional content shared on social media (the “fresh and engaging content” from premise 1).

    Conclusion: Financial institutions must leverage “fresh and engaging” content to stay competitive.

    There a couple of problems with this argument.

    First off, financial institutions are never in competition with internet memes, viral videos, and emotionally-charged social media content. When was the last time you saw a funny cat video or de-motivational meme image show up in a SERP when you tried to find a bank or ATM or financial adviser in your area? These things exist in completely separate realms – the Hummingbird update doesn’t mean that internet memes will somehow magically outrank banks for their targeted keyword terms and phrases. It simply means that Google better understands complete phrases and questions better than it did before. If anything, this could make a positive impact for banks – instead of having to search for “bank seattle”, people can find the same thing by asking “where’s the nearest bank in seattle?”, “what banks have locations in seattle?”.

    Second: ” Google is looking for financial institutions that appear to be part of the community — a place where real, live, emotional people interact with real, live, emotional people (i.e., communication, dialogue, vibrant activity and an exchange of ideas).”

    How do you know this? Do you work for Google? Do they have an “emotionality” measuring device, now? I’m all for sites being better at engaging with their audience, but your slipping into wild speculation here when you start talking about “vibrant activity” and “exchange of ideas”. Maybe Google will get there some day, but it’s not clear their algorithm is THAT smart yet, or that it even rewards this kind of behavior.

    Third: You mention that financial institution’s content can’t compete with the wide world of social media and internet culture… and then advise them strongly to try do so. They can’t win, according to you, but apparently they should still buy heaps of “targeted and strategic” Facebook ads, Twitter ads, display ads, regular (blog) posts, and original tweets. Isn’t that self-defeating if their content can’t truly compete in those spaces?

    Geeze, it’s almost like you’re the CEO of a digital marketing company that sells Facebook ads, Twitter ads, display ads, regular (blog) posts and original tweets trying to leverage the general ambiguity and overall ignorance about Google’s algorithm update to a industry that’s notoriously panicky and has a lot of money to throw around.

    But no one would ever do something like that, right?

  4. It’s okay to pick an intellectual fight here at The Financial Brand, but please try to keep it impersonal. Questioning someone’s motives flirts at the edge of an ad hominem.

    The Financial Brand believes it’s reasonable to allow someone who is knowledgeable about a certain subject (i.e., an online/SEM consultant in the financial industry) to share their opinions and interpretations on new developments, even if those opinions differ from others.

  5. Jack,

    Let’s start with some clarifications.

    First, Google didn’t just now start rewarding websites that produce fresh and engaging content. They always have. The fact is that the more current the update on Google’s end i.e Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, the more importance it places on fresh and engaging content. Here are some articles that discuss how important fresh engaging content is from different times in Google Update history (that are not written by me)

    Google + proves the point even further that Google is rewarding producers of fresh and engaging content since Google + by intended design is for the creation of fresh and engaging content. Social and Search mixed together like one happy family.

    Another point.

    Clear out your browser cache, log out of Google and start a new Google search for

    Hummingbird for banks or credit unions or financial institutions.


    Google update for banks or credit unions or financial institutions.

    I ask to clear out your cache and log out of Google because I want it to be a genuine result. Since you may have clicked this post multiple times and may alter your search results.

    This post achieves in many cases first page, high position rankings in Google search engine results. Scientifically, the content of this post is fresh, (it was just pressed on the 16th), also, it’s engaging, (thank you for your comment) and it’s unique, you can’t find it anywhere else other than right here on So Google rewards this post as relevant, thus giving it a page one, high position ranking in a very short period of time.

    Another point. There was no mention within the post that quality links and proper choices of keywords and page content isn’t still a good practice, these are all assumed to still be valid standard practices of achieving better web rankings.

    To the second premise you mentioned. What I was discussing in this point of my post was what banks and credit unions should be doing in the ways of content distribution above Google, with platforms like Facebook. In Facebook specifically all content distributed to that platform by banks and credit unions is very much in competition with other forms of people’s personal content, ie family pictures, viral videos etc… It was meant to give marketers a more holistic view of content distribution beyond google search results.

    John Siracusa

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