As Google celebrated their 15th anniversary in September, they also announced a major update to their search engine algorithm, or as Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land said, “Replaced a 1950’s car engine with a new modern, high speed, and smarter engine”. They did this switch so quickly and swiftly, that people didn’t even notice. Google is saying that this is the biggest and most comprehensive update to the algorithm since 2010’s Caffeine update.
Like with every algorithm update that Google has come out with, we find ourselves asking, what is this update, really? What do I have to do differently? How do I react to this? But if you are truly immersed in SEO and are constantly furthering your skills in the field, then this update shouldn’t have come as a surprise at all. Why?
The update itself is based around the concept of the search engine better understanding long and complex search queries. The idea being that Google’s search engine should understand natural conversation. People are frequently using smartphones to conduct search queries, and they use such apps like Siri to which you literally speak to. Google Chrome now offers voice search for desktop, tablet and PC as shown below. This results in more of a natural language search query which Google now recognizes and takes into consideration. The hummingbird update is expected to affect 90% of all searches and can better understand the longer,more in-depth queries that people are asking (not just typing).
We can expect for pages and sites to begin ranking better when focused more on relevant, authoritative, comprehensive, and overall in-depth articles/content. The signs were all there for this update to arrive in the near future. We had signals such as the release of the Knowledge Graph this past year and more recently the “in-depth articles” that Google now recognizes and encourages people to aim for because Google now can comprehend and understand such complexity. Similar to what SEO’s should emphasize, the update focuses on the needs and intents of the searchers, not the actual search engines. Hummingbird is here to help the searchers find what they are looking for in a more efficient and intelligent form. Simply put, it is here to make searches easier for the people.
Where You Will See These Updates
Because this update heavily concentrated on the search queries, the language of the search, and the results that the search produces, we will now start to see more exact matches of pages that match with the query. For example, before the update a search for “closest place to buy L.L. Bean hiking boots to my house” would have produced results with pages that focus on “buy” and “L.L. Bean”. Now however, Hummingbird should focus more on the language of the search and the meaning of the word. Google will instead take into account that you said “ closest place” meaning a physical address and will use your location (provided you’ve turned on location services and allowed Google to use your location). Google should even calculate in “L.L. Bean” with “hiking boots” and recognize that those are particular items and only pull results with sites that match those terms.
As a whole, Google is not only recognizing certain words in the search, they can understand the full structure of the sentence or question and pull results according to what you asked. Although they were already doing this type of “conversational search”, Google has upped their game with recognition of speech, longer queries, location-based results, and Knowledge Graph answers.
A Natural Evolution in Search
Although no one could actually foresee this update coming or predict when it would be implemented, the launch of Hummingbird is a product of user behavior. More and more people use smartphones every day. This Nielsen report claims that over 60% of mobile phone owners in the U.S. now own smartphones. Smartphone users are more apt to use voice search and to need location specific search results. Knowledge Graph data, displayed on cards (also being used by Twitter and others), is easier to read on any device and also provides a better user experience.
In my mind, this is the best version of Google–which is already the best search engine by far–ever made.
What SEO Implications Will the Update Hold?
As we’ve discussed in early posts, the nature of SEO is changing. Hyper-localized search results, longer search queries, and the use of cards are going to change the way people process data. And all of these are good things. Our hope is that these updates make it even harder for spammy black hat SEOs to scam Google for short term gains. The nature of content, a long standing component of good SEO, is changing. Content must be easily digested across multiple devices and absolutely better look good on mobile devices. Content with context and timeliness is more important than ever. And of course, as mentioned in Danny Sullivan’s article, Page Rank is still important. This means links, that tried and true backbone of SEO, is still an important component in Google’s ever changing algorithm.