Google’s Hummingbird Update: What to Know

Google released Knowledge Graph last year to improve the quality of its search results. By clustering specific information about a subject based on people’s search queries, Knowledge Graph helped Google’s search engine to understanding the meanings of search terms and how they relate to other search terms. Google’s ultimate goal is to do a better job of returning the results that people want.

Recently, Google also released its Hummingbird update to take full advantage of Knowledge Graph. According to Amit Singhal, Google’s senior VP, Hummingbird is the biggest change to Google’s search algorithm since 2001. Hummingbird will have a major impact on search engine optimization because it’s designed less for specific keywords and more for conversational searches. The change is largely driven by mobile technology and speech recognition software.

How Hummingbird Works

Speech recognition technology is becoming one of the fastest growing market segments in the world. According to TechNavio, the speech recognition applications market could grow by over 15 percent annually through 2015. Google has recognized this segment’s growth and has adjusted its search algorithm by developing Hummingbird.

google's hummingbird update

Hummingbird makes searches more conversational by attempting to understand the user’s intent. For example, if someone asks Google, “What are the most popular cat breeds?” then Google will pull up a list of the most popular breeds. You can use a filtering tool to narrow them down to “short-haired breeds” and a comparison tool to compare “Siamese” to “Scottish Fold.” If users then ask Google, “Which is most popular?” the Hummingbird knows that the searcher is still talking about cat breeds even though the question doesn’t include “cat breeds” as a keyword.

How Hummingbird Hints at the Future of SEO

With Panda and Penguin, Google reduced the power of keyword-stuffed content and worthless inbound links. Then, Google updated AdWords, nixing its popular Keyword Tool. All organic searches became secure, meaning that Webmasters could no longer get search query data for inbound users. The company also stopped updating PageRank, meaning that the metric could be disappearing as a measurement of website prominence.

Along with all of these other changes, Hummingbird is part of a larger paradigm shift for Google. People and organizations that have websites now need to focus more on website relevance, authoritativeness and user experience. Establishing authority through authorship tools and guest blogging, understanding target users and designing easy-to-navigate websites are more important than finding keywords and getting inbound links from just anywhere. Schema and other markups matter, as does local SEO. However, the best way to place high in the search engine rankings is to demonstrate industry expertise and to cultivate visibility on many different sites.

Surviving in the Post-Hummingbird World

SEO in the new world order will demand more time, but you can still get results by following some of these guidelines:

  1. Create with mobile in mind. Mobile device usage will outpace desktop computer usage in the near future. Therefore, you need to create a website that is mobile-friendly, either by incorporating responsive design or by creating mobile-specific versions of your site. This Google Developers blog covers some common errors that Google spots in mobile websites, which could negatively impact SEO.
  2. Learn about long-tail keywords. Imagine that you run an appliance sales business. Instead of optimizing your website for “washing machine,” you should think about long-tail phrases such as “best new washing machine of 2013” or “best washing machine value.” Instead of just jamming keywords into your Web pages, think about the questions that may lead customers to those pages. These questions should help you to design your long-tail phrases.
  3. Build relationships. Although some sociologists claim that the Internet and mobile devices are destroying our relationships, they have actually become essential tools for developing both personal and business connections. If you develop relevant content about your specialty or industry and your connections share that content, then you’ll develop more authority as an industry expert. Building relationships online, as in real life, takes time. However, it could improve your search rankings and expand your network in the process.

Quick-fix SEO may be over, but timeless SEO principles haven’t changed. You should provide high-quality, relevant content and seek to have it shared through multiple channels.

About the Author: Maddie Rockwell writes blogs and articles about search engine optimization techniques for a number of publications.

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