This week, Google unleashed one of its biggest algorithm updates in the company’s 15-year history. Called “Hummingbird,” the revamp will affect 90 percent of search results within Google.
How big is it? “Really big,” says Google search exec Amit Singhal (via USA Today). The update allows the engine to more closely align itself with shifting consumer search behavior that favors longer, more complex queries. Per Google, Hummingbird has been live for a month, but wasn’t formally announced until yesterday.
The news comes on the heels of Google’s decision to hide 100 percent of keyword referral data from web analytics platforms such as Google Analytics and CoreMetrics, supporting the notion that Google is heading toward a semantic model that relies on a better understanding of concepts and synonyms rather than merely keywords.
This shift, combined with Hummingbird, underscores the need to maintain focus on content of quality that should be measured by how well it resonates with consumers via metrics such as pageviews, bounce rate and time on site.
Under the hood of Google’s new algorithm
For years, Google has been slowly improving its engine to account for searchers submitting more complex or indirect queries. As Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan puts it, being able to understand deeper meanings will “help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.”
Here’s how this might look in-action from a brand standpoint: Consider a query such as, “pay bill through Bank XYZ,” which in the past would direct to the general homepage for the bank. With Hummingbird, the top search result could end up being the actual billing page for that bank. Likewise, searches for “Pizza Hut calories per slice” used to deliver nutritional information from third-party sites; now, the top answer comes directly from the horse’s mouth.
In short, Hummingbird is expanding the Knowledge Graph so that Google may provide more answers within context (as opposed to simply providing relevant links). The update also allows searchers to more easily conduct comparison searches across topical entities (example: “pug vs. beagle”).
What Hummingbird means for brands
Any update to Google’s algorithm is worthy of marketers’ attention. And while past updates like Panda and Penguin marked revisions to an existing model, Hummingbird represents an entirely new one.
Since Hummingbird has been live for about a month, unless you’ve noticed dips in your organic traffic, you’re likely not to see any moving forward. And because the focus of the update is on longer, more complex queries, “head” queries are largely unaffected by the update.
The introduction of Hummingbird marks an important milestone as Google pushes forward an era of semantic search. In addition to having rich, original content that meets your consumers’ needs – as specific as they may come – brands will also need to ensure that their content is structured for success in Google. This means utilizing the appropriate Schema.org markup, organizing content within a strategic hierarchy and incorporating rich snippets where possible.
SEO is an evolving practice by nature since the engines are in a constant state of flux. The revision of current best practices and the adoption of new ones are nothing new to the search community. Moreover, with this change Google’s cornerstone SEO tenet remains intact: rich, custom content is critical to success in the engine.
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