Google officially introduced Hummingbird on its 15th birthday. It’s a sign of the times that Google’s announcements on search algorithm updates get about the same press coverage as Ben Bernanke used to get for his Federal Reserve updates to Congress.
Bernanke should’ve made investors nervous but didn’t. Google has made marketers nervous for several years now, and it has done that with cute animals like Penguins and Pandas. Hummingbirds are the most nervous of animals: they hover in mid-air by flapping their wings up to 80 times a second. They can fly at speeds up to 50km/h, and they can fly backwards. Feeling nervous yet?
How is Hummingbird different from Panda and Penguin?
Panda and Penguin were algorithm updates designed to penalise websites that used bags of cheap tricks to attract more traffic, from dodgy links to spammy meta content. Panda and Penguin were tweaks to Google’s search engine that improved the relevance of search results for users. Google says Hummingbird is a whole new search engine, and this animal may turn out more friendly than the last two.
The name is meant to convey more speed and precision. Google says the new engine is better suited to serving the search demands of today, namely the question-based ‘conversational searches’ launched by smart mobile users – Where’s the nearest petrol station, or is there a Greek restaurant in the neighbourhood? Add to that the increasing number of people searching by voice functions on their mobile devices, and we can see why a new engine was needed.
What you need to know
What makes some of us nervous is not what Google tells us, but what Google doesn’t. Hummingbird has been humming away for weeks if not months. So far, few marketers or website owners and builders have seen any difference. That’s because Google hasn’t changed its key parameters for rankings. In simple terms, Hummingbird
- Brings semantic search closer by looking at the whole query rather than particular words
- Draws insights from a variety of signals such as location, social connection and your previous search habits and preferences
- As a result, Google claims that Hummingbird produces more specific results to queries
- Matt Cutts says the Google of the future ‘is about things, not strings’
- Loading your webpages with SEO-friendly keywords is fast becoming unproductive (Hummingbird doesn’t make SEO obsolete, but it’s yet another nail in SEO’s coffin).
There’s no obvious downside. ‘By and large, there’s been no major outcry among publishers that they’ve lost rankings,’ writes Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land. Watch the video below to better understand how search has changed:
The Message to Marketers is the Same
Only more so: Focus on relevant, original, high-quality content. Making sure Google can find you, Danny Sullivan says, comes down to ‘good, descriptive content, and … doing all you can be doing to tap into long-tail searches.’ He quotes SEO consultant Andrew Shotland, who says Hummingbird is forcing website owners to ask: ‘How can I answer questions that customers are asking Google?’
Trond Lyngbø at SEOnomics.com says that ‘the primary goal of semantic search is to weed out irrelevant resources from SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).’ Therefore, he urges that businesses
- should understand and adapt to semantic search
- must position themselves as the providers of answers that people are looking for
- must learn to identify intent, needs and problems, and provide solutions and answers.
How are Hummingbird and Google’s encryption of search term data linked?
SEO consultant and president of Archology Jenny Halasz told Search Engine Land: ‘It’s becoming less and less about the keyword and more about the intention behind it. We see that with all the recent changes, but especially with Hummingbird. There’s no doubt that not having keywords provided will make it a little harder to discover customer intent, but there are a lot of other ways to get clues about that, including actively engaging with your customers on social media and such.’
Yes, despite all the marketing automation we have at our fingertips, we may actually have to go and talk to our customers and prospects to find out what they’re really looking for.
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