When Google’s latest algorithm update was announced on the 3rd of October this year, SEOs and publishers were understandably apprehensive considering the impact of the Panda and Penguin updates. It certainly doesn’t help that Hummingbird is supposed to be the biggest chance to Google’s algorithm since 2001. In fact, it isn’t just an update to the algorithm. IT IS THE ALGORITHM.
What is the Biggest Change in Hummingbird?
Now that it’s been a month after its announcement, there are still many questions surrounding Hummingbird. The most interesting question is what the biggest change has been. As many of you will know, the way that Google delivered results was based on keywords from indexed webpages. According to Brent Carnduff of SteamFeed.com:
Although this system provided good results for short, broad search terms, it didn’t always produce good results for words with multiple meanings, or very specific long-tail search terms. It lacked ‘searcher intent’, or the context surrounding the search.
What happened is that you would typically get what you wanted for generic two or three-word queries, but once you started making longer queries or used words with multiple meanings, the results would start to get weird. What Hummingbird aims to do is identify the context of your query and handle conversational queries better.
Why the Big Deal Over Conversational Queries All of a Sudden?
Google’s goal has always been to return the most relevant results to your query. We’ve all experienced moments where we searched for something and one or two of the results on page 1 would seem out of place. When we see something like that, we normally think why the heck would Google come up with that? Well, with each refinement of their algorithm, Google is slowly working to eliminate moments like those.
But why now? Well ever since Siri and Google Now, people have been making more and more queries through their phones using voice recognition. These kinds of searches are often conversational in nature, so they tend to be longer and more complex. According to Brent:
It will focus on more of the words in the search phrase, the possible meanings behind the words, and other cues, such as location to deliver more specific search results.
More and more people are skipping the mobile keyboard and simply using voice recognition to start a search. The new Hummingbird update is one of the first major steps Google is taking to take advantage of that and dominate mobile search.
So Now That Google Can Understand Context, What Results Can We Expect From Certain Queries?
While Hummingbird is a huge change over how Google understands the context behind our queries, it is only the beginning of a long process toward returning relevant results for natural language queries. Still, there have already been some building blocks that have been set in place that can already change the way we search for information. Eric Enge of CopyBlogger.com says:
For example, consider the following query sequence, starting with the user asking ‘give me some pictures of the transamerica building’
Google will then return results of images at the top of the results list.
The user looks at these results, and then decides to ask the next question, ‘how tall is it’
Google then returns an answer card with the actual height of the Transamerica Pyramid. Note how Google was able to recognize “it” in the query as representing the “transamerica building” from the previous query. Another example query that Eric makes is “pomegranate vs cranberry juice”. Google will actually return an answer card that compares key information between the two kinds of juices.
It doesn’t always work though. For example, you can make the same kind of image query substituting “transamerica building” for “eiffel tower”, but when you ask the follow up query of “how tall is it”, it doesn’t return a similar answer card with the height of the Eiffel Tower. Similarly, if you compare something more obscure, like say two motherboard models from competing brands with each other, you won’t get the same answer card comparison as with the “pomegranate vs cranberry juice” query. So it’s not perfect, but it will get there soon.
How Does Hummingbird Impact Existing SEO?
One of the questions that every SEO and publisher has asked since the update was announced was how Hummingbird would impact their sites, particularly those they have worked to optimize. Robert Hof of Forbes.com says:
Most people won’t notice an overt difference to search results. But with more people making more complex queries, especially as they can increasingly speak their searches into their smartphones, there’s a need for new mathematical formulas to handle them.
Another reason you might not see any changes is that Hummingbird has already been running since at least a month before the announcement. Obviously, if there haven’t been any drastic changes now, there aren’t going to be until probably the next major update. The guidance from Google hasn’t changed in that if you provide rich and informative content rather than something that’s been keyword-stuffed and filled with fluff, there shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, your rankings might even improve, especially for long-tail searches. Google still uses all of the classic ranking factors. It’s just that it can tap into the Knowledge Base more effectively for long-tail searches and return a more relevant result.
Of course, there will still be victims. Gianluca Fiorelli of Moz.com says:
So, which sites got hit? Probably those sites that were relying just on very long tail keyword-optimized pages, but had no or very low authority. Therefore, as Rand said in his latest Whiteboard Friday, now it is far more convenient to create better linkable/shareable content, which also semantically relates to long-tail keywords, than it is to create thousands of long tail-based pages with poor or no quality or utility.
What Should You Change in Your SEO Strategy?
Google isn’t actually asking us to change anything we have been doing. Their guidance has always been to create useful and shareable content that people will naturally come to. The Hummingbird update and all updates before it have all been refinements working toward identifying the right pages and returning them as relevant results. Brent of Steem Feed says: