Google’s latest update, MUM, uses artificial intelligence to give users the best results yet, and answer questions with surprising sophistication. So how does this affect your website and how users find you online?
Google’s MUM Update: What is it?
Last year, Google announced the use of Multitask Unified Model, or MUM, as a part of their search algorithm. MUM will substantially change the way the search engine reads, organizes, and delivers content to users. This update is quite complex, using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to better understand content across the internet as well as users’ search queries.
Previous updates such as the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT, gave the search engine increased ability to understand contextual information. This means the search engine doesn’t simply match keywords or keyphrases from a query to a webpage. By understanding context, Google provides more relevant information.
For example, prior to BERT, someone searching “brazil traveler to usa need a visa” might get results aimed at American travelers going to Brazil, instead of the other way around. The search engine wasn’t able to understand the full meaning or intent of the phrase. However, BERT provided contextual understanding. Google could now understand the phrase and provide more relevant results.
Improving Complex Searches
According to Google, MUM is “1,000 times more powerful than BERT.” A cutting-edge NLP system improves this contextual understanding even further, and allows Google to process and produce content in new ways. Though the exact workings behind MUM are complex, it appears that MUM will allow Google to assess the relevance of information, make comparisons, produce its own content, and even reach across 75 different languages to find and provide answers. MUM is also multimodal, so it can process information across different types of content, such as pictures, videos, or podcasts.
So, what does this actually mean? It means a more complicated search, such as those involving comparisons, specific situations, hard-to-find data, or longer explanations, becomes easier. Ideally, it will make search results more accurate for complex and simple queries alike. For example, a user might ask, “what are the differences between climbing Mt. Adams and Mt. Fuji?” To get the information they need, the user would probably have to read through articles or watch videos about climbing each mountain, and make comparisons themself. This might involve several different searches about weather, elevation, hiking paths, and more. However, MUM is able to pick out relevant comparisons and pluck relevant sections from pages to provide an answer faster.
Are Search Results Changing?
It’s important to note that you won’t see these changes immediately. Big changes have always rolled out slowly, so you won’t notice your search results changing overnight. MUM, like BERT, is an ongoing development that shifts the overall way the search engine operates. However, understanding these changes and their impacts now will help you adapt your own website and content as these changes become more impactful.
What Does MUM Mean for My Website?
So what does MUM mean for your website? What does it mean for your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, your content marketing strategy, and your digital marketing strategy in general? Will users still be able to find your website, products and solutions? Does this mean keywords no longer matter? Should you expect a drop in organic traffic?
While it’s difficult to predict exactly the impacts that MUM will have on organic search traffic and content marketing over the coming months and years, we can safely make a few assumptions based on the information Google has provided on MUM, and recent trends in search.
Prioritize Accurate, Informative Content
MUM is designed to understand language and answer complex queries more effectively. This means it will recognize information more accurately and match that information to users’ queries more readily. So, content that is thorough, well-organized, and informative will have the potential to reach more users.
This is the continuation of a trend we’ve seen developing for several years now. As Google and other search engine algorithms have become more advanced, longer and more thorough content has continually won more organic search traffic. The ideal length for a key content marketing piece was once around 900 words. After BERT, content around 1,900 words tended to perform better. Now, the ideal content length is around 2,000 words.
Keep in mind, the key feature here is not actually the length or word-count itself. Content length is merely an indicator or approximate measure of how informative and well-researched the piece is. Simply filling the page with words will not improve SEO. Also, it’s important to consider the type of page you’re working with. An informative piece intended to capture potential customers at the start of the buyer’s journey should improve SEO and organic search traffic as much as possible. However, a functional page, such as a login page or contact page, will quickly become confusing or overwhelming if it contains this much content.
Think About Keywords Differently
Since MUM and BERT allow the Google search engine to understand the basic intent behind a search, do keywords still matter?
Verbatim keyword or keyphrase matches are not critical. For example, if you are selling hiking gear, it is not necessary to add every variation of the phrase “hiking gear” to your products pages. Google’s language processing system will understand what your page is about if you simply describe the product and what it is for. Other SEO strategies might help you improve organic traffic, but this practice of “keyword stuffing” won’t. In fact, adding unnecessary “hiking” phrases randomly around the page will not be understood as coherent content and will likely damage SEO value.
However, if your hiking gear products pages contain no mentions of “hiking” or synonyms, it’s likely that the content isn’t accurately describing the product. Accurate, informative content will contain keywords by necessity, so a complete absence of keywords is problematic. Furthermore, some phrases may help your target audience find your pages more easily. If, for example, your hiking gear is ideal for experienced hikers rather than beginners, including these types of phrases in the content can help.
Finally, keywords can also help you refine your topics, especially for informative content marketing pieces. Examining search volume on hiking-related keywords can help to show what users are interested in, so you don’t waste your time on an informative piece that few are likely to read.
In general, think of keywords more as content guideposts rather than exact requirements. If you’re not using any relevant keywords, you’re probably heading in the wrong direction, but you don’t need to meet particular quotas of exact phrases.
Consider Multimedia Solutions
One particularly impressive aspect of Google’s MUM update is its ability to recognize and organize pictures, videos and audio in addition to text. This is another ongoing development of a years-long trend. This also indicates that multimedia content will win more and more search traffic as time goes on.
Recently, we’ve seen Google prioritize videos and images through video or picture carousels and video snippets. For many searches, these visual results appear first, above any text content. Since many users prefer video content, and prioritizing YouTube videos helps Google improve its own viewership (remember that Google owns YouTube), this trend is likely to continue increasing. Informative videos uploaded to YouTube and embedded on your webpages can improve your organic search traffic substantially. You can also reuse these videos as a part of your social media strategy, as video content is likely to grow on these platforms as well.
While video is likely to be the most valuable type of multimedia content from an organic search perspective, it’s not the only type. Images, infographics, and audio clips can all help to improve the search value of text-based content. As with every strategy, it’s important to consider ROI; spending an hour creating an infographic may ultimately be more valuable than spending four hours creating a video. Consider these decisions carefully as you move forward.
Google’s MUM update is a fascinating development in the world of artificial intelligence, language processing, and digital marketing. This sophisticated tool may be promising or frightening, but it’s important to remember that search engines are designed to organize content which humans create, and answer questions that humans ask. Only with honest, informative content can search engines produce real, helpful answers.