Apparently something happened with Google…

In the past few weeks there’s been a distant rumble in SEO land. Something seems to have been afoot but no one’s really quite sure exactly what it is. Some rankings have been uncomfortably nudged, but the general apocalypse hype which usually surrounds the updates has remained distinctly thin on the ground, leading to half the digital marketing sphere smelling a rat (or panda, penguin etc. etc.) and the other half attributing any changes to natural fluctuations.

But those predicting an impending animal update turned out to be smug as Google revealed the latest ‘Hummingbird’ update on the 26th September. Not just a tweak but a brand new algorithm, Google claims that the update took effect ‘around’ four weeks ago in the aim of making Google smarter, more intuitive and ultimately more ‘human’ than ever before.

It’s fair to say that, so far, the digital marketing community is far from quaking and just like the wake of all the other updates, SEO yet again isn’t dead; it just requires a little more tweaking on top of those fundamental principles hammered home by Penguin and Panda.

So what does Hummingbird mean for going forward with your online marketing campaign? Will any practices need to be fundamentally changed and how will Hummingbird ultimately affect the way we search?

Precise and fast

The underlying principle of Hummingbird is to achieve more intelligent means of providing users with the results they’re looking for. By understanding conversational search terms over traditional keyword orientated results, the new Google update aims to retrieve precise results quickly. Hence, ‘Hummingbird’.

The same principles apply

So what will Hummingbird mean for SEO? The expert opinion is that nothing has fundamentally changed, rankings still orbit around the homage to quality, original content and this will continue to apply. Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird isn’t spam related and isn’t designed to penalise, rather it’s centred on more intelligent ‘naturalistic’ searches which often tend to be dominated by long-tail phrases.

This is likely to account for why most haven’t really seen changes in site rankings; the general consensus is that if sites survived Panda and Penguin then the effect of Hummingbird shouldn’t really have had any negative impacts.

Essentially, Google has focused on this more intelligent, conversational style of semantic search in the hope of effectively responding to realistic voice searches and more directed, personal search terms.

Semantic search

Hummingbird is primarily about smarter searches, understanding what users will be directly searching for as opposed to a relevant guess based on a mish-mash of keywords. Natural conversational search terms will be the crux of Hummingbird (building on Knowledge Graph) with Google stating that 90% of searches are likely to be affected.

The increased focus on collective meaning over individual keywords aims to both deliver more relevant searches and respond to voice-based search terms such as those channelled through Apple’s Siri.

Google will now place more emphasis on questions, context and location (if you allow it) in order to intelligently deliver the user’s needs. More focus will be placed on terms such as ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘where’, so in theory if a user searches for ‘where are Italian restaurants near my house?’, Google will focus on the collective meaning (focusing on terms such as ‘my house’) as opposed to individual keywords.

Hummingbird will also focus on more conversational slang words such as nicknames and technically should now have a better understanding of ‘multi-requests’. For example our Italian restaurants search should take into account our location and restaurants in that genre.

So far, putting Google to the test doesn’t really evoke any of the ‘fast and ‘precise’ elements we should expect to see from the Hummingbird. Asking about location specific services “where are Italian restaurants near my house” will currently bring up places 100miles from your house before including a relevant Google Places list halfway down the page. General searches seem to be the same as they’ve always been, even when trying really, really hard to throw Google a conversational search bone.

But maybe we’re being unfair. Maybe the bottom line is that content is not yet being tailored to respond to the needs of long-tail searches and conversational requests. As SEOs move towards more enriched ‘key-phrase’ linking, we may see improvements in relevancy and precision. For now though, be prepared to continue digging through the SERPs until Hummingbird’s caught up.

Victoria Browne
  • Written by on 4th October 2013 at 13:14
  • “Victoria Browne is a copywriter & social campaigns manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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