By now you have probably heard that Google has released a new algorithm called Hummingbird. No? Look here. The Hummingbird Algorithm was officially announced on Thursday, but has been active for a little more than a month. The algorithm change isn’t causing anyone to declare that SEO is dead, unlike that pesky “not provided” change, but it is a bit of a rebirth for Google.
Google used their 15th Birthday Event to make the announcement, going so far as to bus press to the garage that Google first rented from Susan Wojcicki. The rebirth of their algorithm is a vast source of pride for Google and has caused a number of Googlers to post blogs and engage on forums and comment sections touting the speed, accuracy and user experience being delivered by Hummingbird.
On Hacker News, Ryan Moulton wrote, “Looking at it from the inside working on search, I see the returns as actually getting bigger and bigger. As Google gets better, people get more confident in issuing more complicated queries, which ups the bar again for the types of things search has to be able to do.” With Google making the announcement on their birthday for a product that was already live, taking press back to the garage, and a Google engineer describing the change as providing returns that are “bigger and bigger,” it is clear that Google feels like they have made a significant improvement. While the improvement doesn’t necessarily change much immediately about ranking factors or the mechanics of SEO, it does reinforce the larger need behind SEO, a strategic approach.
If you think about what Hummingbird is focusing on, the two main points are conversational and contextual search. With conversational search, Google is reacting to the way that many users actually use search, and that Ask and others have tried to take advantage of providing relative answers that take into account natural language, semantics, and more to provide a relevant search result.
In the case of queries that are not questions, Google has done a more impressive job of using queues throughout the search query, versus targeting just the subject of the query. For example, “where can I purchase a new TV near my house?” would traditionally focus on “television” results, Wikipedia and Amazon. The promise of conversational search is leveraging additional queries and recommending geographically and retail related results.
In the case of contextual search, Hummingbird is doing a much better job of relating recent search queries to new queries and understanding the relationship between prior searches, not to mention often incorporating relevant mixed results via video, images, etc. In the case of a query like, “where is mt everest,” Google provides the answer. If you then ask, “how tall is it,” Google immediately understands the subject is still your previous “mt everest” query and provides that result. A cohesive search strategy comes into play more than ever in this situation. Whereas the former approach might have been making pages hyper focused and relevant to a query, conversational search takes advantage of using MicroData like Schema.org and social indicators to help define content and make it relevant to searches.
In the case of contextual search, that same hyper focused page might receive less traffic, as it doesn’t put close variations, or related tangential searches in context. In that case your page targeted for something like “quality used cars” likely misses on the next query a user might make like business hours, ratings of your business, reviews from users, or your business location. In all those cases, using MicroData and a strategic approach to presenting and maintaining data on your pages would increase your relevance and ability to show in the results for those similar queries.
Failing to consider user behavior, and more importantly thinking through both the problem a user might be trying to solve and how your product solves that problem leaves you simply chasing keywords versus chasing user engagement. Google Hummingbird doesn’t mean that SEO is dead, but it does mean that Google has reinvented itself again and risen up again.
Gregg Holtsclaw, Digital Strategist