Based on a few emails I’ve had this week and some comments left on Sarah’s last Fast Five in Search post, it’s apparent that some of you are still confused about Google Hummingbird and what it means for your site’s performance in Google.
I’ve gathered together some of the key points and added some of my own insights below to try and shed some light on the issue.
Google Hummingbird: A Summary
- Hummingbird is an entirely new search algorithm, representing the most major change to the Google search engine since 2001.
- Google has been using Hummingbird since late August, but only announced it in late September.
- The new algorithm helps Google sort through “conversational search” faster and better understand the context of the conversation. Conversational search has natural language processing and semantic search built into it. For example you can now *speak your search* on Chrome and it will repeat it back to you before displaying contextual search results related to your query. You can then extend your search “conversation” by asking further questions in a way you can’t do with regular search, e.g. using shortcuts that reference your previous query. Often, information cards will be shown alongside search results.
- Hummingbird focuses better on the meaning behind the words based on the context of the search query and the searcher. In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. Hummingbird is designed to apply the meaning technology to billions of pages from across the web, in addition to Knowledge Graph facts which should provide better, richer results.
- Hummingbird now allows Google to be better at relationally linking search queries and Web documents which means that its Knowledge Graph has been considerably enriched.
- Hummingbird focuses on user intent versus individual search terms.
- Google will likely use Hummingbird to better process social signals and this could turn out to be a major SEO ranking factor in the near future.
Key Examples of Hummingbird at Work
- A search for “acid reflux prescription” used to list a lot of drugs, which might not be necessarily be the best way to treat the disease. With Hummingbird, Google says results have information about treatment in general, including whether you even need drugs, such as a “treatment for acid reflux” article posted by the Mayo Clinic.
- Another example: Today I searched for “What can I take to help me sleep?” on Google.com. I noticed that nearly half of the top 10 results were Q & A or *How To* style articles. I also noticed that suggested medicines treatments featured more prominently than they used to (see screen shot below):
- SEO is now less about keyword data and more about customer engagement.
- As a result of Hummingbird, SEO strategy has become more about creating quality, engaging, shareable, linkable content within a logical context (i.e. using semantic markup and natural language). The aim is to become an information hub and trusted source. This can be achieved by answering searcher questions and creating content that emulates those information cards that Google supplies in response to conversational search.
- Hummingbird and the increase of *Not Provided* (hidden keyword) data means you now have to measure the success of your web site via the entry pages and the number of pages receiving organic referrals i.e. It is now critically important that your website answers questions for end users. Content that answers specific questions will be critical for Hummingbird success. Websites can’t grow their entrance pages without introducing new content regularly.
- It’s now less about the keyword and more about the intention behind it. Not having keywords provided in analytics makes it harder to discover customer intent, but we can get clues about that by monitoring visitor pathways on our sites and actively engaging with customers on social media and other channels.
- Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different that SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Guidance remains the same, it says: have original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and better ways.
- If you haven’t lost traffic in the past two months, you probably came through Hummingbird unscathed as it went live about 2 months ago.
- There’s been no major outcry among webmasters that they’ve lost rankings. This seems to support Google saying this is very much a query-by-query effect, one that may improve particular searches — particularly complex ones — rather than something that can cause major traffic shifts.
David Amerland, search engine expert and author of *Google Semantic Search* says Google’s move toward semantic search will benefit SEO practices:
“Google has increased its ability to deal with complex search queries which means that it also has got better at indexing entities in Web documents. From a strategy point of view this opens the horizon for companies and webmasters considerably. From a practical perspective, the need to identify the USP of each business and become authoritative within it is now a key criteria for continued SEO success. The comparison element that has been integrated suggests that semantic mark-up may begin to confer an advantage now when it comes to helping index information in products and services.”
He emphasizes the importance of content not being left in isolation, but instead shared across social networks via identified influencers:
“This is not something that can or will happen at the drop of a hat,” said Amerland, “It requires time and commitment to building a relationship with influencers and sharing with them content that is of real value to their network.” Quick SEO, according to Amerland, “Is now firmly in the past.”
Google Hummingbird: Changes You Should Make Immediately as a Result
So exciting improvements for searchers, but where does that leave you? Here are some recommended changes you can and should be making to your web sites as a result of Hummingbird:
1) Add Question Answer Pattern Content (e.g. like you find on a Q & A page or a Facebook comment thread )
2) Set up a Google+ page for your business if you haven’t already done so.
3) Implement Google Authorship on your site/blog and link it to your Google+ page.
4) Use Schema Mark Up for any rich technical data on your site, such as product specifications, dosage instructions and garment sizing.
5) Ramp up your social marketing activity to take advantage of Google’s new conversational search skills and make sure you cross-promote your social channels with your main web site content.
6) Implement Mobile SEO Tactics (e.g. increase load speed, reduce file sizes, increase mobile content)
7) Increase the Domain Authority of Your Site (via more incoming links)
8) Add new content to your site REGULARLY. The addition of new content is now absolutely vital to online marketing efforts in a post-Hummingbird environment. If you can’t add fresh data to your web site on a regular basis, get ready to wave to your competitors as they go sailing past you towards the top of the SERPs.
Speed is of the essence. This information is only just filtering out into the SEO world. The sooner you can respond with Hummingbird-friendly content, the more traffic you’ll get before your competitors will even know what’s hit them.
Questions? Comments? Please add to this thread.
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