Google turned 15 on September 27, 2013, and as part of its birthday celebration announced an update to its search algorithm. Affectionately named Hummingbird, this is the latest change to the way Google’s widely used search engine works.
For those who use Google but are unfamiliar with its inner workings, the ‘algorithm‘ is the method used by the search engine to sift through all available web content applicable to the terms typed in the search box, and then present ‘search engine results’ — links to those web pages deemed to have the most relevant, unique, and valuable content. The goal, of course, is to improve user experience by insuring as much as possible that Google’s search engine users find exactly the information they are looking for.
Those more familiar with Google — everyone from novice internet marketers to veteran online marketing agency employees — will be more concerned over the impact these Hummingbird changes will make on the way the search engine works.
The success of online marketing efforts, which includes the increasing use of an online presence to drive customers to brick-and-mortar offline businesses, depends in large part on prominent positioning within Google’s search engine results for applicable search terms.
There is a level of concern among the online marketing community whenever Google makes a search engine change, but there is a heightened interest this time, since Hummingbird is thought to be the biggest change since 2001. Whereas previous Google search engine changes — Panda, Penguin, and others — made some significant changes to the existing algorithm, Hummingbird can be looked at as more like the implementation of a whole new algorithm.
At least one online marketing agency has stated that a key element of the Hummingbird changes is to shift the focus of searches away from one or more single keywords and instead focus more on search phrases. Since Google, like any other company, aims for increased customer satisfaction, these changes have a goal of better ascertaining user intent and subsequently providing more targeted search engine results. In short, there will now be more focus on the meaning behind words. Hummingbird was, at least in part, driven by changes that have occurred in the way users make search engine queries. The rise of Siri and voice-activated iPhones has led to users entering search terms that are more in the form of questions, as opposed to typing keyword search terms at a PC that less resemble an entire phrase or sentence.
The shift of focus to better handling of more phrase-driven Google search engine queries is just one aspect of the Hummingbird updates that may be good news for smaller businesses. The question-style search queries for which Hummingbird is designed are more likely to rank pages for smaller businesses higher when compared pre-Hummingbird results geared toward the entry of one or more simple keywords. Additionally, the Hummingbird updates will cause search engine results to automatically take geographic location into account whether or not the user specifies location in their search terms. This by itself should be a great help to small local businesses in improving the effectiveness of their online presence.
Most online marketers will be rightly concerned over the effects of Hummingbird on SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the sum total of all activities engaged in by website owners to ensure that their site appears as high as possible in the search engine results when search terms applicable to their site are entered. Early indications are that Hummingbird will have less impact on SEO than what might be expected.
For ‘on page’ SEO
that is, the quality of content contained on a website — little should change. The aim now, as was the case pre-Hummingbird, should be to populate the site with as much quality, unique content as possible. There are no indications that the Hummingbird algorithm will be any less receptive to quality content, and approximately one month following the implementation of Hummingbird there does not seem to be any revolt against Google by owners of quality sites. After all, the aim of Google’s search engine is to provide users with what they are looking for, and that is, almost without exception, valuable, targeted information.
For ‘offsite’ SEO
Offpage SEO is largely concerned with the management of links to a website. In short, it is generally thought that the more links pointing to a site and the better the quality of those links, the higher the target site will appear in the search engine results. While it may be yet too early to ascertain its effect on the use of links, the known characteristics of Hummingbird may provide some clues. Since it is geared toward satisfying search engine queries of a conversational tone, it makes sense that the most valuable links are those that ask the same question. Moreover, the target site itself might benefit from including certain forms of relevant questions, as well as the answer to those questions, among its onsite content.
True SEO is not about trying to fake out the search engines, whether this is attempted by creating spam links to your website or posting relatively useless content that is stuffed full of supposedly relevant keywords. Google’s previous search engine changes have made these techniques less effective as a means of SEO. The Hummingbird change will do nothing but make this type of pseudo-SEO more of a thing of the past. Hummingbird will make it even more necessary to not only provide valuable content, but also better comprehend the manner in which potential customers or website visitors might seek it out.