In this instalment of Words that Bite, I examine the impact of the latest update to the Google algorithm – Google Hummingbird.
Why I’ve decided to look at Google Hummingbird
Google introduced Hummingbird a couple of months ago. Having allowed the dust to settle (not that there was much dust as a result of the change), I thought that it might be useful to outline what Hummingbird does, and also what you might need to consider if you are interested in the SEO implications of the change to the algorithm.
Why life constantly changes in the world of SEO copywriting
In a post a couple of months ago, I spent some time explaining the significance of the Google PageRank Algorithm for anyone who has a website and is concerned about how well it ranks on Google. I also tried to show that nothing stands still if you work in the area of SEO copywriting. Basically, everyone is always playing catch-up because the people at Google are constantly working to improve the way in which the search engine serves its users. In short, if you work in SEO, you need to keep on top of the latest developments or you might fall off a very fast-moving train.
What is the Google PageRank Algorithm?
For those who are new to SEO, the Google PageRank Algorithm is the tool that ranks web pages. Google claims that the algorithm looks at more than 200 major components when it ranks a webpage.
To explain it in a more practical way, when you enter a search term into Google, it uses a very complicated formula to decide what answers are the best match for your particular search. In short, the Google Page Rank Algorithm determines what turns up on page 1 and what turns up on page 246.
What is Google Hummingbird?
Google Hummingbird is the code name for the latest version of the algorithm. Seemingly, it was given the name ‘Hummingbird’ because it is ‘precise and fast’. Google announced the introduction of Hummingbird on 26 September 2013. However, apparently it had already been running for anywhere between a month and a couple of months before Google launched it, depending on whom you talk to. Yes, there is always an air of mystery about what goes on in the basement at Google.
When it announced the arrival of Hummingbird, Google stated that it was the most significant change to the algorithm since 2001. In short, it wasn’t just a tweak, like Google Panda or Google Penguin. It was a complete overhaul. In fact, Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land has used a great analogy to describe it. He says it is like Google took a 1950s car with an old engine without fuel injection or the ability to use unleaded fuel, and replaced it with a brand-new engine. However, I think it is important to point out (please note it is now me who is working with the engine analogy, so don’t blame Danny for it) that Google did not replace a conventional piston engine with a rotary engine. Basically, Google took a 1950s piston engine and replaced it with a nice, shiny, modern one from the 21st century.
What is strange about Google Hummingbird?
Usually, when Google tweaks or modifies the algorithm, there are howls and screams from the SEO community that the sky has fallen in.
The strange thing about the introduction of Google Hummingbird is that no one noticed the change. There was no screaming or howling when it was introduced. No one even asked ‘What on earth is going on with Google?’ In contrast, when Panda and Penguin were introduced, there were a lot of unhappy SEO professionals.
All the very clever PhDs responsible for Hummingbird must have been highly amused when no one noticed such a major change to the algorithm, especially given that Google claims Hummingbird affects 90 per cent of all searches.
What is different about Google Hummingbird?
You might well be wondering how on earth it is different, if no one noticed anything when Google Hummingbird was introduced. This is a fair question.
Google has updated the algorithm many times over the past few years. However, it has tended to focus on making Google better at gathering information. By this, I mean it has concentrated on indexing websites more often and identifying spammy content. This obviously had a massive impact on people using black hat SEO methods and may explain some of the whining. Still, there is no doubt it also adversely affected some people who worked hard to do their SEO the white hat way.
Hummingbird is different because it focuses on the user rather than websites. I’ve pointed this out before but Google’s main aim in life is to keep its users happy. It does this by trying to provide them with the most relevant information in response to their searches. Sometimes it succeeds. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, Google’s domination of the market indicates that we trust it more than any other search engine.
Basically, Hummingbird is a step in a completely new direction because it has been designed to be able to handle more complex queries. In the past, Google used a more primitive approach, of looking at the individual words in a search and returning results that matched the words individually and as a whole.
Now Google is trying to focus on the context and on understanding the user’s intent, in order to deliver more relevant results and better answers. This means that Hummingbird is better at handling longer, more conversational queries. It is moving towards a situation where you will be able to ask Google a specific question and get a response that is actually useful.
Why did Google introduce Hummingbird?
When people search on mobile devices, they search differently from when they have a full keyboard. Basically, the searches become much shorter. However, when people use voice search, the trend is reversed and the searches become longer, more complex, and more conversational.
An example of how Hummingbird works
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how Hummingbird works is with an example. If I wanted pictures of king parrots, I might enter the following search term: ‘king parrot pictures’. Google will throw up a nice bundle of images.
However, if I were using a phone and voice searching, I might say: ‘Give me some pictures of king parrots’.
I would still see the nice bundle of images that popped up when I conducted the shorter search.
Basically, Google wants to ensure that it becomes the number one choice for voice searches because it knows that is where searching is headed. In short, providing the best search engine for voice searching is how it will continue to dominate the market.
Another example of how Hummingbird works
Not long ago, I moved house and, once I was settled, decided to look for a new hairdresser in my local area. I didn’t know anyone who could give me a referral, so, in desperation, I entered the search ‘good hairdresser Noosa’ into Google, and was directed to an online forum where women were chatting about hairdressers in Noosa. I reviewed what everyone said and then settled on Colin at Smyths inc. Hairdressing. I have to say that my hair has never been in better hands; you’ve got to love that Hummingbird is trying to help. And, yes, Colin was chuffed when I told him that Google said he was the best hairdresser in Noosa. And, yes, I know I exaggerated but the man had a pair of scissors near my head.
More seriously, it is important to understand that Hummingbird is the first version of a whole new algorithm. Yes, it has parts of the older algorithm within it, but it is the first version of a much more sophisticated form of searching. It is the beginning of a process whereby Google is going to become much better at addressing the specific wants and needs of users.
What does Google Hummingbird mean for your SEO?
Basically, you should be fine if you have been doing the right thing in relation to your SEO by:
When it comes to keywords, you might think about focusing on long-tail keywords, since they are likely to perform well under Hummingbird’s emphasis on conversational searches.
Be warned: the dark arts of keyword stuffing and link farming are going to become even more useless and counterproductive under Hummingbird.
You also might consider integrating questions into your website. For example, a FAQ page might work well under Hummingbird, since it has the ability to answer very specific searches.
If you have a blog, think about how that blog can help answer potential users’ queries and integrate those possible queries into your copy.
When you write your copy, think about how the headings, subheadings, phrases and expressions that you employ correspond with possible user searches in Google.
There is no doubt Google Hummingbird is the biggest change to the algorithm in more than ten years. The great thing about it is that, if you’ve been beavering away at SEO in a white hat kind of way, you shouldn’t have been adversely affected.
Nevertheless, anyone who is concerned about their SEO needs to be aware of the implications of Hummingbird. It is the beginning of users conducting much more sophisticated searches and, if you don’t want to be left behind, you need to make sure that your website content is compatible with the new direction in which Google is heading in.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, the Pink Rottweiler will undertake another Facebook case study.
Are you too busy running your business to think about your SEO? Would you like someone to look after it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at email@example.com.