Wow. Google snuck up on us again and released an update (correction: a replacement) to the entire algorithm in August without anyone knowing. In a flawless switch, the “Hummingbird update” refers to the brand new algorithm that Google is using to return better results than ever before. So, what does this mean for SEO today? And, more importantly, what does this mean for SEO tomorrow? Well, remember the onboard computer on Star Trek? That’s where Google is heading, in the robot-esque direction of mind reading and we couldn’t be more excited. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we must understand that Hummingbird is the first step down a very, very long path.
Many questions are raised regarding the implications of Hummingbird for some of the most basic SEO components we hold so dear. Keyword matches, long-tail search terms, and location-based optimization, could these things be going away? The answer is no, but it is far more complex than that. For SEO experts, this is good news. As Google continues its pursuit of getting better and better, we must bear in mind that the direction has always been the same: accurate, quick search results. Google is still hell-bent on making sure that when people go to their search engine they are finding exactly what they want, instantly and consistently.
These are exciting times, my fellow SEO-ers. Let’s take a look at Hummingbird’s current impact, and most importantly, its future influence.
A Soaring Hummingbird
As with every Google update, as soon as SEOs caught wind of the change the message boards went wild with “SEO is dead” accusations. However, most website owners will notice that in almost two months into the algorithm evolution, search results haven’t really changed. This is because Hummingbird is focused on the user and their search queries from a content and contextual perspective, not on-page optimization. As usual, Google has gotten even smarter, and we mean like scary smart. While this is certainly only the beginning, Hummingbird marks the first giant leap towards conversational search queries.
For a quick example, let’s take the search query “where can I find a new iPad case near my house?” Previously, Google would have picked up on keywords like “new iPad case” and “my house”, then display results that focus on those particular keywords, possibly with local results if the user was signed in to Google. With Hummingbird, Google is now looking at a query like that for their meaning as opposed to the specific keywords. So, Google is able to take into account the whole sentence or meaning or conversation, not just the particular words typed into the search bar.
Just an FYI, many are referring to Hummingbird’s capabilities as “entity search” in the overarching “semantic search” evolution. Verbiage aside, it is truly exhilarating to learn that Google’s focus is converging to better understand the meaning behind words.
Knowledge Graph on Steroids
Now, many SEOs are probably scratching their heads saying “I thought conversational search already existed with the introduction of the Knowledge Graph?” To some degree it has already existed. The Knowledge Graph is able to use conversational searches by searching billions of indexed pages and quickly creating connections between places, people, and things to instantly offer relevant, insightful results. The overarching goal is for Google to display search results that would mirror that of asking a knowledgeable human the same question. Previously, the Knowledge Graph has really only been used for in-depth research. Hummingbird is the combination of Knowledge Graph insights with Google’s abundant search capabilities that will benefit all users.
Long-Tail Keywords, Authority, & More SEO Basics
Just to clarify once again, SEO is not dead. In fact, it’s more alive than ever before. First, let’s discuss long-tail keywords and where your current website stands today. The concept behind optimizing with long-tail keywords is to capture search queries with a high conversion rate. From this conceptual standpoint, Hummingbird just further reinforced the necessity of writing high quality content which, naturally, contains long-tail keywords.
Next, page authority has not died either, but with Hummingbird, authority has actually become even more important. Now, Google will likely display search results pages that actually answer the query typed into the search bar, not simply the homepage or top level page. This means that each page on a website, especially deep-level pages, should be optimized to address a specific potential visitor’s needs and desires. Again, these are SEO basics being reinforced, not reinvented. Finally, Hummingbird’s objective is to display high quality sites, indicating that the best pages will display on the results page and by “best” we mean quality, authoritative content. SEO experts should feel a sense of relief because Google is on our side.
Flying High into the Future
Hummingbird has been referred to as the “mind reading algorithm” by some of the most prominent individuals in the industry and while that may seem far-fetched, it isn’t. Google has taken massive strides that must be recognized. With a heavy concentration on voice and mobile search, Google is setting the tone for the future of search and that future is bright, very bright. Google is preparing for a future where the average user is searching by saying something like, “where’s the closest coffee place with food options?” Seems crazy, right? Not so much. Google Glass has opened the doors to what could be: a world where information is accessible instantly, without clicking any buttons.
Bottom line fellow SEO-ers, the future is bright and exciting and mind-blowing…and we are on the cutting-edge of it all. Hummingbird is flying in a very specific direction. When the idea of typing keywords into a search box on a keyboard seems simple and old-fashioned we will have reached the destination the Hummingbird had in mind all along. It’s time to enjoy the ride!