Hummingbird: A Significant Update on Silent Wings

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
kthomson
SEO

Google rolls out another algorithm update that’s actually been in practice for a fair few months yet Google only just released the details recently. It gives us something new to blog about. Penguins and pandas have become boring; my inbox is continually flooded with notifications and suggested remedies for Google search issues and why SEO is or isn’t dead. In a break with recent algorithm updates, Hummingbird isn’t designed to penalise websites for manipulation, but rather to better understand a user’s query to serve up the very best, most relevant results.

Hummingbird is a realisation; it’s something that tries to pull together all the data that G knows about you to give context to your searches and provide you with personalised and accurate results. Start to think about you; what devices you search on, when you search on those devices, where you search from, what content engages you, the nuances and typos you regularly make, the adverts you click on, the websites you go you after searching or opening emails, the browser you use, the smart phone, your social profiles, your friends, who you follow, what circles you are in. I’m sure you’re getting the picture; most of us are telling the world what we are up to, even when we aren’t even thinking about it.

The End of Number 1

Google claim Hummingbird will affect approximately 90% of searches with the inevitable potential for it to grow even further. So what kinds of search queries are affected by the update? To answer this correctly we need to go beyond the PC / Laptop and start thinking about the emerging technologies; smart TVs, smart phones, Google Glass, gaming consoles, voice based search applications, high street check in points, wi-fi hotspots and eventually fridges and central heating systems. All these devices can or will be touch points that connect you with the digital world.

In days of old, searching for ‘favourite restaurant’ was a subjective affair. How would Google know my ‘favourite restaurant’? It didn’t, SEO would convince the algorithm that a specific optimised page was the most relevant result. Now, through understanding and monitoring what I have clicked on previously, what I may have said or scored on a review and what others within my circles and other local reviewers have said, it gains a picture of what the most relevant result could be.

For example, before Hummingbird, the #1 result for the search query “pizza joints” was a page titled “Best Pizza Joints in America – 33 Pizzas in 2013”. Post-Hummingbird, we see the following results for the same query:

The update has allowed the algorithm to understand that “pizza joints” = “pizza restaurants”, that “restaurants” could also mean “places”, and that “places” searches may be best satisfied with a localised result using a user’s IP address.

We commonly use search queries that end up being 6 or 7 words long, but normally revert to using a number of shorter queries to filter and refine what we are asking for. As we start to use voice based search operating systems, conversational based search queries will become more like the norm. Similarly, the semantics of how we search is now being understood.  We still have a long way to go, but this is the end of ‘being number 1’ for many search queries to the entire world, or a country or a city or a postcode (unless you’re willing to pay for an advert).

Hummingbird is the realisation that personalised search and advertising is a reality that is here to stay and evolve.