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Everything You Need to Know About Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm

Google Hummingbird

This year was packed with interesting changes in Google’s algorithms. First there was the major update for the Penguin algorithm, and now, the Hummingbird was announced. Not only this, but many of the other hundreds of algorithms have been constantly upgraded and improved. But before you run for the hills, there are a few things you should know about the Hummingbird. First of all, it might not have a devastating effect on your site or blog, as long as you have applied ethical SEO practices for it. So for those of you who have been playing by the rules, the day of rewards has finally come. Secondly, it is the first major step, in what we hope will be a revolution in internet searches.

The name ‘Hummingbird” comes from precise and fast, according to Matt Cutts. Furthermore, although the information that the new algorithm was released might make certain business people nervous, it has yet to have negative effects on sites. As a matter of fact, although it was announced at the beginning of October, the Hummingbird has been up and running for over a month, and nobody noticed. Clues of its impending release were evident even in May, when Google announced conversational search across devices, and improvements to the Knowledge Graph (which we will discuss about later). Google has also announced several moonshot changes that were focused on the following areas:

Google Hummingbird

Matt Cutts at the PubCon (Credits)

– knowledge graph

– voice search

– conversational search

– Google Now

– deep learning

Understanding the Big G:

During an interview with Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan, Amit Singhal, the senior vice president and software engineer at Google, stated that the Hummingbird is the largest algorithm update since 2001. There has also been a major update in 2010, called the Caffeine update , but it was meant to speed up indexing rather than help the S.E. Sort through content. Also, it is not actually an update, but rather  a big change.

Google Hummingbird

SEO experts have compared Google to an old car that works with a good engine, the only problem is that the engine is quite old, and it has many shortages that make it inadequate for present times. Considering that the behavioral patterns of internet users have significantly changed, and technology advancements have made it possible for us to use smart-phones and other handheld devices in order to find information that we need, it was only a matter of time until Google came up with a coherent algorithm.

Before we begin, I would also like to add that while Penguin and Panda changed a few parts of the major algorithm, the Hummingbird has completely replaced the old one, and it is the biggest refresh yet. Furthermore, Google has announced that for the sake of privacy, all searches in the future will be secure. In other words, data will no longer be available in Google Analytics. 

panda-and-penguin

During a session of Q&A, at the PubCon, Cutts discussed links from press release sites and said that they would be discounted. He also advised sites that use infinite scrolling to have static links and pagination structure so that bots can access all the information. In closing, he also added that he will be keeping a close eye on the mix of organic search results and non-organic ones. 

Hummingbird at a Glance:

At the moment you are probably panicking because of the Hummingbird, but you shouldn’t. The Devil isn’t as red as he seems. Here are a few things you should know before going more in-depth on the matter:

  • Don’t stop doing what you were already doing to please the big bad Penguin. You are probably aware that Penguin 2.0 was updated in 22 May 2013 (and it brought with it many changes), so if your strategies are focused on pleasing it, you need not worry.
  • Although not as important as it was in the past, page-rank still remains an active ranking signal for Google.
  • According to Google engineers, approximately 90% of searches will be affected by Hummingbird though the full extent of its reach and effects are still unknown to many.
  • Google’s battle for returning the most acurate and relevant search results to users continues. Hummingbird is a leap forward, as it delivers results with the help of conversational search.
  • Keyword are no longer the most important part of SEO, but they are still of worth. Nevertheless, semantic meaning and long-tail-keywords are the ones that will be most successful in searches.
  • Hummingbird loves mobile optimized pages.

Now that we know all of these things, we might ask ourselves, what exactly can we do to be the result that Google wants to rank. In a recent blog-post, Kristina Kledzik tells us more on the matter, and I suggest you give this article a read.

1. What Exactly Does Hummingbird do?

The first and most important thing you must understand about Hummingbird is that it is designed to speed us into the future. It is a great move for search results, and it could greatly benefit websites that focus on the user and content first. SEO experts should actually be relieved because they can finally stop obsessing about keyword and links, and focus on creating a great experience for the user.

The most important thing about Hummingbird is the fact that it introduced a new type of search, called conversational search. Google engineers have understood that more and more people have started to talk to search engines. In other words, instead of typing in keywords, they ask things like “when will the next steam update appear”, “where can I find groceries close to home”, “where to go out tonight”. Conversational search is more frequent on handheld devices, and considering that they will outgrow desktop devices in the following years, it is essential to integrate them in your internet marketing strategy.

Google HUmmingbird 2

Another thing that you should understand is that conversational search means that keyword are no longer that relevant. Instead of wondering how you should rank for that-or-that keyword, ask yourself what you can do to answer the questions of an internet user, who may or may not know what exactly he is looking for.

The second questions “where can I find groceries close to home”, stresses the importance that local factors have for the internet. Nowadays, users can share their information, and receive answers relevant to their query. Obviously, this also means that the thing that they are looking for should appear online (meaning it should have a site, a facebook page etc.). All of these things ultimately mean that long-tail-keywords and local-keywords will be easier to rank, and more valuable. In order to identify them you should make good use of the SEO tools available online.

2. How does Conversational Search Work?

Instead of focusing on the words themselves, Google is now concentrating on the meaning behind them. This means that it can better understand what you want. If you type : “close to my home”, for example, it will be able to understand the actual location of your home, as long as you have shared it on google. By “place” it will understand that you are looking for a brick-and-mortar store.

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” (Source: SearchEngineLand)

Google Hummingbird

Conversational Search at Work

It is true that Google already started introducing conversational search a while back (if you are interested in this particular subject you should read “Google’s Impressive – “Conversational Search” Goes live on Chrome”) but at the time it wasn’t advanced enough to make a change. Furthermore, you could only find answers within Google’s Knowledge Graph. Hummingbird is designed to find meaning behind the words, and after it analyzes each word from a query, it tries to find the meaning of the sentence (or question, or long-tail keyword).

3. Does Hummingbird Work?

This question has pressed many online business people and entrepreneurs, and truthfully, we have no before and after examples, All we can do is take Google’s word for it. To be honest, I have sensed a few changes with Google, before the update was announced, but nothing particular. Google says that searches like “pay bills through citizens bank and trust bank”, which used to bring up the Citizens Bank homepage, now returns the specific page about paying bills, and the examples could go on forever.

Google Hummingbird

Conversational Search in Action

One thing we know for certain is that Hummingbird is not something that we should be afraid of. It might actually be beneficial for the future, as long as it is updated accordingly. The great thing about this idea, is that it focuses on people, and considering that nobody has complained since it was released, we can say that nothing bad happened (people usually complain when things get worse, and they say nothing when they become better).

Also, if you are one of the unfortunate souls that has lost traffic in the past month, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Hummingbird is to blame. As we mentioned earlier, there are tons of other algorithms and parameters that determine how you will rank on SERPs.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Hummingbird:

There are probably many questions on your mind at the moment, and this is natural. Sadly, many answers have yet to be given, and in order to understand the full-extent of Hummingbird’s reach we need more than information given by Google engineers. Nevertheless, there are certain frequently asked questions that might help you, as a publisher or entrepreneur:

Google Hummingbird Algorithm

  1. What happens to keywords and long-tail search?

Keywords will most likely loose their value as words, and become valuable from a semantic point of view. As far as long-tail-keywords are concerned, they will probably become more valuable, because they are usually contained in the user’s query, or they are considered relevant by the search engine itself. Nevertheless, in the future, long tails will be defined by human desires and needs, not by keyword strings.

  1. How Can I Anticipate the Prospect’s Possible Intents?

The same way that Google is doing. Rather than using a rigid system, based on keywords, it is trying to predict basic human needs and behaviors. Obviously, there is still a very long way to go with conversational search, and Hummingbird is only the first step. In other words, you will not register any dramatic drops in traffic or popularity. Nevertheless, as a publisher you will have to focus your attention on building pages for basic needs, pages that offers relevant services, content.

VIDEO: Matt Cutts on the Hummingbird (PubCon Las Vegas)

Another thing that you should keep in mind, is the fact that you must know your audience. Have you ever noticed that certain articles have more social signals than others? Have you tried to determine why they have gone viral? By understanding what your visitors want, and anticipating their desires, you will be able to please Hummingbird.

  1. How does Semantic Relevance Work?

There has been much talk in the past about content being king, and in a sense that is still true. Nevertheless, according to the bigger picture, it seems that semantic relevance will soon become more important than content. The truth is that you can no longer write interminable verbosities about your feelings and expect them to rank well in SERPs. Nowadays you must come up with content that truly addresses the needs and desires of the user. Furthermore, it is about much more than simply scratching the surface of a need. Are you knowledgeable enough to discuss on a certain subject better than anyone else, to give solutions? Back-links, domain authority and social signals may be important, but Hummingbird also focused on in-depth content.

  1. Will Hummingbird Affect Your Business, or Page Rank?

This questions is difficult to answer. Page Rank might or might not be affected. Considering that Hummingbird has been working for approximately three months, you can check your metrics to see if there was any decrease or increase. However, page rank isn’t that important, so you should not worry about it too much. Depending on the type of business that you are focusing on, Hummingbird will affect you in different ways. For example, if you are a blogger that also respects basic SEO penguin-pleasing rules, then the new algorithm might prove beneficial.

Google Page Rank

Google Page Rank

According to HubSpot, sites that are already involved with inbound marketing, or have established a mobile presence, are at huge advantage. Furthermore, people who write about things that the audience is genuinely interested in, once again have an advantage.

Now that we have managed to understand a little bit about how Hummingbird works, let’s take a look at a few terms, and strategies that you should integrate in your campaign, or at least have knowledge of in order to progress in the right direction.

#1 Mobile Search Trends

Keyboard are not natural to use, not even to the most skilled typist. The truth is that it can be a bit awkward to write words from a keyboard if you aren’t a frequent computer user. With mobile phones, things become even more weird, because the screen in smaller. Chances are that people will try to use environment and voice in order to dictate their queries. This will most likely translate in conversational speech.

In addition to this, mobile use is very popular nowadays, and it feels that everybody has a smart-phone. Obviously, major websites have already optimized their pages for mobile use, and this means a major advantage. In order to do this you may want to learn more about responsive design (which arranges the elements of a page according to screen width), or dedicated mobile sites. Mobile devices are also closely related to SoLoMo strategies.

#2 Knowledge Graph

The first step towards successful conversational search was the Knowledge Graph. In it you could insert natural queries and benefit from the language search benefits in real time. This means that certain phrases within the Knowledge Graph were analyzed in depth, piece by piece, put into context and returned the most relevant reply.

Google Hummingbird

Knowledge Graph

The basics of the Knowledge Graph have been implemented in the Hummingbird algorithm, but with the major difference that the later applies to all search queries. There is still talk whether or not Google is still a front end translator for search queries, or if it is really capable of understanding what the user desires. All we know is that Google wants to understand what people are trying to say.

#3 The Mind Reading Algorithm

The mind reading algorithm is somewhat related to the prediction queries from search engines. The fact of the matter is that Google wants to know what you are thinking, before you type it in, in order to speed up a process. Google Now, has also become a point of interest. Although queries like “what time is dinner and were?” will not work at the moment, wouldn’t it be awesome if they did in the future? 

Wrapping Up…

Although most algorithm updates were scary for SEO experts in the past, because they meant huge plummets for certain sites, the Hummingbird has not affected sites that were created with the use of ethical SEO practices. As a matter of fact, the only changes that have occurred since its release were minor fluctuations in Domain Authority, and better rankings for certain long-tail keywords. For the first time in a long time people are actually looking forward for the changes implemented by the big G. For more information on the matter, you should follow Matt Cutt’s personal blog.

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