A few months ago, Google quietly rolled out the largest change to its algorithm since at least 2010, but it was not until a few weeks ago that the search engine started releasing details. Unlike the seismic Panda and Penguin updates, Hummingbird affects a far larger portion of queries but does not target SEO practices specifically. This means that its effect on search results are not easy to quantify, but its implications for the future of SEO are well worth looking into.
What is New in Hummingbird?
The Hummingbird update is part of an ongoing restructuring of the way Google processes queries and presents information. Instead of relying on short, exact-match keyword strings, the search engine is now adapting to the increasing prevalence of vocal and mobile search, which tend to favor natural speech patterns and answers to specific questions. By recognizing objects, or “entities,” and their relationships with other attributes such as location, nutritive value or shared concepts, Google can provide smarter results faster than ever before.
How Hummingbird Handles Queries
Hummingbird is designed to consider both the individual parts of a query and how their meaning comes together to form a whole question. It relies heavily on Google’s existing Knowledge Graph feature, using semantic search to categorize information on any one subject and predict user intent based on context.
This means that Google can now provide more precise answers to complex questions, such as comparing two types of fruit or listing the important details of a landmark in one easy-to-find location. A search for “best Chinese restaurant,” for example, returns a bar at the top of the results page full of restaurants in the area and their respective reviews. Beyond the expanded Knowledge Graph, these principles are also being applied to traditional page results, returning websites that are more likely to answer a question than expound upon a given keyword in general.
What Hummingbird Means for SEO
Hummingbird is an almost unprecedented shift in Google’s algorithm. Prior updates tweaked and perfected, but this modernized code scraps many outdated methods in favor of faster processes and redefining the way people interact with Google. The old rules of optimization still apply, but the game is changing.
Business owners should begin taking steps to optimize their domains for semantic SEO, if they have not done so already. Schema.org markup defines entities, making it easier for indexing bots to classify, store and retrieve information as needed. These “snippets” of information can appear on results pages, depending on the query, and dramatically improve click-through rates if not overall page ranking. Otherwise, Google claims that the same basic practice is still the best: Provide valuable information and the traffic will come.
What’s Next for Google?
This update is a major one, but it should not have come as a surprise to those following Google. It is only the latest in a long line of new applications and programs designed to make search more natural and integrated, and it will not be the last.
The initial switch may see some growing pains as webmasters are forced to reconsider how they present their data to search engines, but this progress is necessary to keep the flow of information online moving smoothly and according to 21st century expectations. Overall, once the dust settles and websites adjust, Hummingbird should be a positive step forward for businesses and users alike.
Author Bio: Paul Teitelman is a professional SEO consultant bringing businesses of all sizes to the cutting edge of online visibility. If you would like to learn more about how Paul can help your company reach its potential customers, visit www.paulteitelman.com/services/seo-consulting today.