The world of SEO has seen numerous changes over the last few years – thanks to Google’s range of “animal” updates to its search engine – but the way people are searching has changed too. That is why Google has adapted the way it processes queries with a (fairly) new algorithm update called Hummingbird. However, unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird (which launched last fall) isn’t just another update. It’s a completely new search engine, fine-tuned for what is called semantic search, which aims to determine the intent behind and the context surrounding a search query to then deliver the most relevant results.
For instance, if you’re doing a voice search asking, “Who is Tony Romo,” Google will tell you that he’s the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys – pretty basic, right? Well, with the Google Hummingbird update, you can then ask a follow up question about Romo without mentioning his name, like “How tall is he?” or “Who is his wife?” and Google (because of Hummingbird) will know that you’re taking about Tony Romo, and answer the question accordingly (in case you’re wondering, Romo is 6’2” and he’s married to Candice Crawford).
To put it plainly, search is no longer about identifying keywords and phrases. It’s about understanding the intent behind a search, and connecting the searcher with the most relevant information. What makes Hummingbird really special, though, is its ability to process “real” speech patterns.
More than 50% of all search activity will come from mobile devices by the end of 2015.
Copyblogger contributor Eric Enge says the algorithm is only about as advanced as a two-year-old child, but it’s a significant step for Google because it knows the future of search is via voice commands on smart phones and tablets. (Just think. How many times have you asked Siri a question instead of typing it out?) In fact, a new report from eMarketer projects that more than 50% of all search activity will come from mobile devices by the end of 2015, just a year off from Google’s Matt Cutts’ own prediction that the tipping point would happen by the end of 2014.
Either way, it’s clear that more and more people are searching on the go, which means Google will continue to refine Hummingbird to better process semantic searches.
What does this update mean for SEO?
- Don’t stop at keyword research. Some people might think that keyword research is outdated or irrelevant because Hummingbird no longer ranks pages based on keyword density alone, but the truth is that keyword research is still the most important part of the SEO puzzle. Hummingbird looks beyond the limits of a single keyword or keyword phrase to understand what the searcher is looking for – and you should do the same in your keyword research! Look for synonyms or related phrases to see how people are using Google and what they really want to find. This will help you know how to create the kind of content that Hummingbird will relay back to the searcher. Another way to explain this is that you need to look more at concepts and themes than individual keywords.
- Don’t be stale – create conversations. Once you know what your audience is looking for, you have to create the content that will answer their questions. We’ve already established that you don’t have to force specific keywords into every other sentence – remember, Hummingbird cares about relevancy, not specific keywords – so your new focus should be engaging the reader in a conversation. Ask them questions. Why? Because doing so shows that you are aware the question exists and that you have all the answers. This also shows them (and Google) that you are a relevant authority on the subject, which will help you rank higher on the SERPs. Besides, who wants to read something that sounds like a robot typed it out? (I know I certainly don’t, and I’m sure you wouldn’t either.)
One tactic for doing this would be to put a question box on key pages of your site. Leave it open-ended so people can type in anything they like. This could give you some really great topic ideas to include in your content strategy.
- Keep your content clean, clear, and consistent. I mentioned these points in my last blog post on SEO Audits, but it’s important enough to say it again because Google really does reward sites for these factors. Hummingbird is constantly buzzing around the Internet, processing specific and related questions; so, in the words of Eric Siu, “The more content you have, the more questions your site answers – and the more likely it is to appear in the contextual search results.” This new content should also be easy to access on your site. If a person has to dig through multiple pages to find what they’re looking for, so does Google, and the results won’t be what you want. There are also little touches that you can do to keep things clean, like making sure your page URLs are readable text instead of a sting of jumbled characters. It may sound unimportant, but this kind of attention to detail will get recognized by Google Hummingbird and set your content apart from the herd.
Why does any of this optimization matter?
Hummingbird affects roughly 90% of all searches – so Google is almost definitely applying it to your site. And while most SEO experts agree that if your content is already ranking well on the SERPs then you probably don’t need to drastically change your digital marketing strategy, it’s important to keep your site up to date with the current trends and ranking factors.
What’s the next step for my website?
Go through and audit your site for SEO best practices. If you’re not sure where to start, you can read our blog post about performing SEO audits to learn how to perform an audit, or sign up for our manual SEO audit service. We also offer in-depth SEO training classes to help improve your site and grow your business, which you can learn more about in the sidebar to the right.
I hope this article has helped you understand more about Google Hummingbird! We really only scratched the surface of Hummingbird, so if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below, or give us a call.