You could hear virtually every SEO company in the world take a sharp intake of breath this week as it was revealed that Google had introduced a brand new search algorithm. Given the name ‘Hummingbird’, early reports suggest it is likely to be the biggest update in three years. But how much do we know so far?
What is ‘Hummingbird’?
The first thing to report about the new change is that it’s not based around content, like the relatively recent Panda and Penguin update. Instead, Hummingbird is focused on increasing the quality of the results provided to the user.
Essentially, it is designed to appeal to the latest technology. With voice recognition software becoming more common, enquiries to search engines are becoming more natural. For instance, where a user might once have typed in ‘Indian Restaurants Manhattan’, a post-Siri world has led to an increase in enquiries like ‘Where is the nearest Indian restaurant to me?’. Hummingbird is designed to respond more effectively to these types of queries by taking into account all of the words in a phrase, rather than one or two main ‘key’ terms.
The previous update of this kind, ‘Caffeine’, was focused more on increasing the indexing of websites, so Hummingbird is obviously a step away from the technical.
How will it work?
During the presentation to announce the algorithm, one of Google’s executive carried out a voice search through her mobile, asking simply for pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Once the pictures had been presented, she then asked how tall the building was, and then asked for pictures of the building’s construction. All of her requests were completed with apparent ease. This increased accuracy of results is a step up for Google, although as with all algorithm updates, we’ll just need to wait and see what the long-term effects are.
In an interesting evaluation on the Search Engine Land website, Danny Sullivan noted that some results have differed, with the search query “acid reflux prescription” previously leading to a list of drugs, and now presenting information about suitable treatment in general. “Pizza Hut calories per slice” was another example given, one which previously returned a third party website but now presented the information directly from the Pizza Hut website. The changes aren’t astronomical, but they are noticeable.
How does it affect your SEO?
As with any form of algorithm update, it seems hard to imagine that Hummingbird won’t have some sort of effect on some SEO campaigns. However, it’s worth noting that upon the announcement, Google did specify that the algorithm change had already been rolled out around a month ago. This means that as long as you haven’t seen any drastic changes to your SERPs results in the last couple of weeks, the chances are that your site has come through unscathed.
Inevitably, some industries (particularly the ones hostile to web marketing) might use the algorithm update to proclaim from the rooftops that SEO is ‘dead’. Needless to say, that’s not the case. In fact, at the official presentation itself, Google noted that the brief for online publishers should stay the same: create and share original and high quality content. The only difference is that Hummingbird should be able to process that content in a more effective manner, and provide more relevant results to the user.
So, we just carry on doing what we were doing?
More or less. If your brief prior to the Hummingbird update was to create excellent content to create natural, organic traffic and to increase social shares, then keep on doing so. If any part of the SEO process is affected in the long run, it will probably be the initial meta strategy, which may well develop to encompass complete, natural sounding key-terms in order to better match the requests. However, as of today, you can all let that breath out – Hummingbird isn’t something to panic over.