If you’re tapped in to the SEO-verse, you’ve probably noticed some commotion in the past couple of weeks. On September 26, Google announced the birth of Hummingbird, a major update to its search algorithm. Hummingbird is perhaps Google’s most significant update since 2001, and was thought to replace all previous algorithm tweaks, like Panda and Penguin. Then on October 4, another update to Penguin rolled out. Huh?

What the heck is Hummingbird? What did it do to poor Penguin and Panda? And what does it all mean for your SEO strategy? Allow me to explain.

First off, it’s probably time to stop losing our minds every time Google releases an update. The company actually changes its search algorithm between 500-600 times per year—and we almost never know the difference. Developers following SEO best practices, in particular, should rarely take a turn for the worse after an algorithm change.

I choose you, Hummingbird

When an update is major enough to affect a significant percentage of searches, however, Google will make an announcement—usually in the form of a tweet from Matt Cutts. But Hummingbird got way more than 140 characters to declare its arrival. Hummingbird was announced at Google’s 15th birthday party—but in fact, it had already been active for more than a month without anyone knowing.

Google’s search wizards didn’t release much detail about how Hummingbird actually works. But we do know that it’s a response to our shifting reliance on search: more users are speaking questions into their smartphones (“Where can I get Chinese food nearby?”) rather than browsing at their desks.

Hummingbird is geared toward “conversational search” (also called “semantic” or “entity” search)—responding to full questions rather than random strings of keywords. It’s designed to be better than ever at sorting out irrelevant stuff—and giving users the answers they need, as quickly as possible.

What about earlier algorithm updates?

As I’ve explained before, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates were built weed out to low-quality and spam-filled sites, respectively. So did Hummingbird’s razor-sharp beak and motor-fast wings tear cuddly Panda and Penguin to shreds? Hardly.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land explains it this way: think of Google search like a car engine. It might be high-quality, but over years of use, it will simply become outdated. Hummingbird is like a brand-new engine. Penguin and Panda, in contrast, are like an oil filter and a fresh batch of coolant: they still help the car run its best. But they can be swapped out easily without affecting the whole system.

That means we can still expect to see Panda and Penguin updates, even with Hummingbird now in place. So no, you’re not suddenly off the hook if you’ve been using black-hat tactics—you’ll still be penalized for tricks like spammy backlinks. (Penguin 2.1, released October 4, particularly zeroed in on this issue.)

What’s an SEO to do?

We don’t know much yet about how Hummingbird actually works. So it’s hard to say how to make the most of it. Because Hummingbird seems to favor content written as answers to potential search queries, it might be tempting to frame every page title in the form of a question. Eric Ward, also at Search Engine Land, cautions against this—as past updates have taught us, there are consequences for going overboard or trying to game the system. He does offer a few tips for how you might use Hummingbird to your advantage and integrate it naturally into your site.

Above all, there doesn’t seem to be much cause for concern. As Google’s been telling us for years now, we should stop obsessing over the algorithm’s particulars. Instead, create awesome content that’s helpful to users, and traffic will follow.

Does your site match up to Google’s latest guidelines? Give Atomic a call, and we’ll get you up to speed.

In case certain other tech news this week had you distracted, here’s what’s new with Instagram, the app beloved by amateur food photographers and selfie addicts the world ’round. On August 8, the company announced that it had reached 150 million users. And 50 million of them signed up for the service in the past 6 months.

With that kind of user base, it’s no surprise the company made a second announcement: the previously ad-free app plans to roll out advertisements within the next year.

Instagrammers have known this day was coming since the site’s $750 million acquisition by Facebook in April 2012. As Facebook experiments with sponsored posts in addition to its ubiquitous pay-per-click sidebars, it’s no surprise that the social sharing pioneer wants its trendy little sister to start pulling her weight.

There’s been murmuring throughout the tech world on what an Instagram-ready ad might look like. Why the commotion? Other apps and platforms have been able to integrate ads without much user pushback. But Instagram has it a little tougher.

The app has a certain cool factor that just won’t mesh with “Lose Belly Fat with this One Weird Tip”-type ad trash. If the app wants to keep its loyal user base, it’ll have to find a way to make advertising hip.

Don’t panic yet. We’ve got plenty of #throwbackthursday-s to go before we have to deal with ads on the ’Gram. Until then, here are my predictions of what those ads might look like:

• Targeted ads based on a users’ activity and following lists. Facebook already knows how to mine users’ data to sell stuff. And because there are already many successful consumer brands using the app, developers will have a pretty good idea of what users—plus those they’re following and are followed by—are in to. Users can also share their genders and birth dates, allowing for further demographic targeting.

• Embedded posts á la Twitter and Facebook. Because Instagram posts already show up in a feed, it would make sense for ads to look like just another pic in the stream. Posts could link to an advertiser’s external website, or function as a “suggested account” for users to follow based on their interests.

• Integration of video. Instagram added functionality for 15-second video posts in June, a feature that advertisers are sure to cash in on. Imagine having to watch a full-screen interstitial ad (think YouTube) each time you wanted to comment on a photo or refresh your feed. For brands, these are a great way to sell to a captive audience. But used too often, these ads could get majorly annoying, and might repel users.

• Hate ads? Upgrade to Instagram Gold. It seems likely that Instagram will roll out in-app purchasing features over time, like paid filter options. So why not a premium version of the app? This could work well with the Instagram’s curated aura of exclusivity, and would allow the app to earn money without degrading its product.

Here’s the unfiltered truth: this could either go okay for Instagram’s popularity, or it could go really, really badly. It will all depend on whether ads are designed with consumers—or advertisers—in mind. Hopefully, Instagram will learn from the mistakes of its parent company and avoid the ad-weary “fatigue” that has plagued Facebook this year.

Time will tell whether Instagram can grow up, get a job, and still remain cool. We’ll be paying close attention to the platform’s evolution.

By the way: brands interested in connecting with consumers on Instagram don’t have to wait for the big ad rollout. Many retail and B2B brands are already maintaining viral, content-rich Instagram accounts for their businesses.

In fact, given the obstacles Instagram advertisers will likely face, focusing on great content marketing over paid ads on Instagram may be brands’ wisest option.


Does your business need to get more social? Give Atomic a call, and we’ll help you build some buzz.


A few years back, I was working as special projects manager for the City of Dayton. The city needed a firm to take on a unique assignment: creating a website for the Ohio Aerospace Hub. Dayton earned the Hub title in 2009, an initiative to draw aerospace-related jobs, education, and economic development (read: cash money) to the region.

Researchers partnering with the Ohio Aerospace Hub are up to all kinds of crazy stuff: advanced sensing, drone technology, cybersecurity, you name it. The Hub needed a website to show off its research to the world.

But the website had to do more than just inform. The Ohio Aerospace Hub will require significant investment over time—not to mention an A-team of scientists and engineers to get things done. Now, we locals already know how cool Dayton is. But the city wanted to raise its profile by attracting a new segment of people: techies, creative types, entrepreneurs, and businesses keen on Dayton’s new aerospace economy. That’s a tall order for one little website—but Atomic was up to the task.

In the search for the perfect firm for the job, Atomic really set themselves apart. (It also led to my job here—but that’s a different story.) Throughout the development process, there was great collaboration between the guys at Atomic, the director of the Hub, and all of the partners involved. The result: an awesome site—that got people talking as soon as it launched.

And it’s not just Daytonians taking notice. International publication fDi Magazine held its first annual Digital Marketing Awards in 2012, sizing up economic development sites worldwide on design, innovation, and social media strategy. More than 50 organizations entered the contest. The Ohio Aerospace Hub won 12th among websites overall, and third among Economic Zones, a category for initiatives within a city, state, or country.

I’m proud of what our team has accomplished. Now, Atomic is ready to help the Ohio Aerospace Hub move forward as its research products take flight. (Plus, maybe they’ll finally let us give their latest gadgets a try. Fingers crossed.)

We can’t wait to see what the Hub does next.

So you probably heard that Slickplan, our web app for sitemapping, was selected as a finalist in this year’s AppItOut competition.

The contest was held at Future Insights Live, a massive 5-day conference for web developers held in Las Vegas.

The contest pitted three web apps against each other in a head-to-head competition before a live audience. Lights, cameras, presentations, clapping, cheering … for a few minutes, on a Tuesday afternoon, Ian and I felt like we were on American Idol.

We even got grilled by the judges, Simon Cowell–style, and had to defend our app’s design and functionality.

It was a crazy and amazing experience. Not only did we have the honor of being voted into the competition by real users, we had the privilege of introducing Slickplan to a ton of our colleagues in a huge public forum.

We also got to meet lots of Slickplan users, many of whom thanked us for creating the app and told us how much they enjoy using it every day.

And after the competition, we got to enjoy the conference itself. We got to meet and learn from amazing industry leaders like Bulat Shakirzyanov from Twilio and Devrim Yasar from Koding. And superstar entrepreneurs like Jason Calacanis from Mahalo.

Oh — what’s that you say? Did we win the competition? No, we didn’t.

That honor went to Tracky, a social collaboration app.

But the recognition from our peers — the great feedback from our users — and the chance to learn so much in such a short time — made us feel like big winners nonetheless.

So thanks to all the fans who voted Slickplan into this year’s AppItOut competition, and gave us such a wonderful opportunity. We’re sending big love right back atcha.

After months of strategy, planning, and production, we’re happy to announce the launch of Atomic Interactive’s new website.

Nearly everyone on our team touched the site in some form or fashion. Ryan, Alexis, and I worked on the creative concept and strategy, and Curt and I came up with the design. Eric and David worked on development, and Zach and Ryan handled strategy and execution for search engine optimization. Curt pitched in with his camera on photography, and Marshall created the great line drawings that accompany our client testimonials.

We feel like the site is a great representation of Atomic’s overall capabilities. We’re proud of the work that each member of our team did in pulling it together, and we think the site really showcases each person’s individual talents and reflects their knowledge and creativity.

In addition, building the site gave us a chance to work with some of our favorite creatives in the region. People like Kenny Mosher with Showdown Visual, who produced the killer video on our home page; Jason Joseph, who shot the additional videos throughout the site; Sam Enslen at Dragonfly Editorial, who lovingly wrote the many pages of copy; and Ben Prince, who did the Flash programming for the home page. Thanks guys, you’re awesome.

A couple things we’re especially proud of are the Work section, which allows users to filter and view our work samples by date, industry, and type of service. We built this on WordPress with custom plug-ins that categorize and tag our work. We’ve improved the search, which also runs on WordPress. And we feel the blog is better than ever. It’s now easier to navigate, makes better use of archives and categories, includes its own search feature, and has a multiple author system. These are all components we build for our clients everyday. It’s nice to see them shine on our site as well.

To sum up, let me thank everyone on our team one more time for the creativity and dedication they brought to this project. You’ve helped create a site that really reflects where Atomic is in 2011. You’re what makes our company – and our new website – great.