The Google Hummingbird Update:
What It Means for You
What is Google Hummingbird and why should your business care? Since there are many misconceptions about this topic, I will try to explain what Hummingbird actually does in order to illustrate the reason it matters to your businesses.
Google Hummingbird is the new search algorithm and is widely believed to be a one of the most significant evolutions search engine functionality. As we have mentioned in previous articles, search engine algorithms are continuously being altered to improve user experience. Google implements several hundred subtle modifications to its algorithm each year, but according to Amit Singhal, Vice President of Google Search, Google Hummingbird is perhaps the most significant alteration to the algorithm since 2001.
After Google’s announcement about the update, many outrageous predictions about Hummingbird leading to a SEO apocalypse surfaced over the Internet. Despite the over reactions of some misguided individuals, Hummingbird will not dramatically impact your ranking on Google. That being said, it does represent a significant step forward for semantic search and provides a wealth of insights into the direction the Internet is heading.
What Does Hummingbird Do?
Google Hummingbird is a major milestone in semantic search, or the effort to improve search results by making search engines better at understanding the intent of a search query. This is nothing new to Google. For over a decade, Google started using information in custom settings and profiles to influence search results.
In the past, Google would deliver search results based on the content that matched the queried terms. But relying on individual keywords alone has its limitations.
Here are two related queries:
Query 1: “Where can I find a place to eat in Poughkeepsie, NY”
Query 2: “Restaurant in Poughkeepsie”
Both of the queries are essentially looking for the same information in two different ways. But what if a business describes itself as a restaurant and not a place to eat on its website?
Google is getting better at recognizing the meaning of terms or phrases in the context of a query. In this case, Google may consider “restaurant” as a possible substitute for “place” to better satisfy this query.
Dealing With Long-Tail Search
In developing the Hummingbird update, Google’s primary concern was coming up with a better way of dealing with “long-tail” searches. For anyone unfamiliar with long-tail search, it simply refers to searches with a larger number of words in the search phrase. For example, a short search may be, “Directions, 3 Neptune Rd., Poughkeepsie”, while a long-tail version would be something like, “How can I get to 3 Neptune Road in Poughkeepsie, New York?”
According to Google, longer search queries represent a significant portion of the total search volume. Before Hummingbird, these queries have tended to produce less accurate results because they usually include several words with no correlation to the intended search. This presents a number of issues, which brings us to our next section.
Why do long-tail searches matter to Google?
From an advertising perspective, Google is interested in long-tail search for the ability to sell ads for these queries. Google has a difficult time showing the volume around these queries and establishing a value behind bidding for these Adwords.
In just a few years, tremendous growth has been seen in mobile and tablet devices, capturing a significant portion of the total search marketshare. One mobile search trend has interesting implications for Google, is the popularity of using long-tail “conversational” or “natural language” search queries on mobile devices. Smartphone users often have the ability to speak their commands into the phone to voice recognition artificial intelligence programs, such as Apple’s Siri, which causes a more speech-like, conversational query.
Mobile represents a new and emerging market over which Google will want to quickly establish dominance. The ability to better understand conversational search queries is therefore crucial. Without a way to improve long-tail search results, mobile searches would be skewed toward the irrelevant terms in these more verbose searches rather than what was intended. Hummingbird attempts to address this issue, using the entire search query to better understand and apply intelligent scoring to the individual words as they relate to each other in the context of the whole.
Google understands that mobile has a role to play in the future of search. In order to remain the top search engine, Google must be able to offer a superior experience for users across all devices.
Do Keywords Still Matter?
Keywords still play an important role in the semantic analysis (or method for recognizing the concepts and themes associated with your content). However, website owners should move away from long-tail search optimization and focus on creating content with greater depth about specific concepts.
In the past, the only way to appear in results for longer, often unusually worded searches, meant including them in your website content. As a recent post by Ammon Johns explains in greater detail, Hummingbird will (in theory) have the ability to interpret these verbose queries and return the same results as a clearly worded short-term search.
For website owners, targeting and tracking long-tail search results should be a thing of the past. Google wants us all to stop focusing on wording and start creating great content around specific topics. The goal should be to offer original, high-quality content that provides value or addresses a specific topic will improve your Author Rank Authority.
What does Google mean by better content? Google offers great insights in a post on their official blog. Although it was posted in 2011, the advice holds true today and the bullet points will help you to “step into Google’s mindset.”
What Does Google Hummingbird Mean for Me?
It is not a coincidence that the most significant update to Google in over a decade, which deals primarily with mobile search issues, comes on the heels of an unprecedented growth in mobile search. Hummingbird is likely just the first in a number of changes Google will make to improve user experience – including new indexing criteria.
During a presentation at the the 2013 Pubcon Conference, Matt Cutts, Head of the Google Webspam Team, emphasized that focusing on mobile strategies, such as a responsive website design, will be a crucial aspect of any online presence.
“Mobile is huge,” said Matt Cutts. “No matter how savvy you are, I think you might be surprised at how quickly mobile is growing.” Matt Cutts also highlighted some remarkable facts about mobile searches on Youtube, which are illustrated by the charts seen below.
Round up: What you need to know about Google Hummingbird:
- Hummingbird will favor marketers: Offer interesting, unique content tailored to your target audience’s interests.
- SEO Rules Remain the Same: If you have developed a SEO strategy that complies with Panda and Penguin, these current SEO efforts should not have to change.
- Improved Conversational Search: Examining terms within the context of the entire query, Google is understanding and providing more weight to the relevant terms in a search.
- Mobile is Huge: If you have not started making mobile web experiences a major factor, now is the time.
Hummingbird is certain to have more changes and implications in the future. It is impossible to predict just how this newest update will play into future for Google, but the smart online marketer will begin adopting these best practices today and be prepared for what may come tomorrow.