The impact of Hummingbird on the SEO industry

By Danielle Middleton topicIcon Weekly Wrap

How has Hummingbird changed SEO so far?

Google has launched its first algorithm in more than a decade, and it is set to change how we use the search engine in a big way.

In September 2013 Google announced Hummingbird, but the algorithm had in fact been born a month ago and we had all been experiencing the changes already.

Hummingbird is the first new algorithm from Google since 2001, affecting 90 per cent of all searches. Arriving shortly before Google altered the way SEO professionals access keyword data, Hummingbird has caused widespread discussions within the industry as to how Google is changing the way we use the search engine.

Unlike Panda and Penguin updates, the changes that come in with Hummingbird operate on a query by query basis, impacting complex searches rather than where websites rank for a keyword.

What is Hummingbird?

Hummingbird has been designed to provide a more intelligent response to users' queries such as 'who', 'when', 'where' and 'why', rather than producing a series of URLs that correspond to a sequence of keywords. This will be particularly beneficial when compiling long tail search terms, as it means Google will recognise the concept of the longer phrase not only the keywords included; which should reduce the time it takes for your desired result to appear.

Amit Singhal, senior vice president at Google stated:

"We've always believed that the perfect search engine should understand exactly what you mean and give you back exactly what you want. And we can now sometimes help answer your next question before you've asked it, because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for."

The algorithm is one more emphasis from Google that it is putting less importance on PageRank and more on the relevance and quality of the content on that site. Google has also acknowledged the rise in voice searches via mobiles and tablets; these searches use natural, more colloquial language than that used when on a desktop. This is an important issue for Google to recognise, as the competition from Apple's Siri becomes ever greater.

How does Hummingbird change what we see on Google?

With the introduction of Hummingbird, Google is encouraging semantic searches in its ongoing effort to become the 'answer engine'. As well as integrating voice queries into the search box, users will be able to:

  • Compare two items - this appears to work for specific grocery items such as butter vs. olive oil, or spinach vs. broccoli, but has yet to encapsulate all queries.
  • No need for third party websites - when searching for an author, band, actor or similar, users can use the search query 'books by Virginia Woolf', to be presented with a list of Woolf's novels below the top bar. By clicking on the image of the book cover users will be directed to another Google page, rather than IMDb or Wikipedia which has previously been the case.
  • Knowledge Graph - As well as images and titles, the search results will bring up information within the knowledge graph. For instance when a user types in Charles Dickens they will find a paragraph of basic information about the person of interest. Similarly, if a user types in 'how tall is the Burj Khalifa', they will find an extract in the knowledge graph as well as the heights of the closest three buildings to it around the world.

Hummingbird and SEO strategy

Hummingbird is another step further away from keyword heavy content and a reinforcement that SEO professionals will no longer be able to rely on knowing what keyword is bringing visitors to their websites.

Google needed to ensure that its Search product had a competitive edge and is equipped to answer the conversational based questions in the same manner as Siri, if not better following its long-term investment into mobile.

The search engine has been making advancements into its capacity to accommodate the large number of mobile searchers during the last year. In July Google launched AdWords Enhanced Campaigns, making a clear statement that learning the consumer habits of mobile users, and being better able to target ads was a priority.

SEO professionals need to be more aware than ever of the importance of quality content, as the volume of short tail searches declines and long tail conversational phrases become more prevalent. SEO is going to become more about being able to provide a reliable, high quality answer rather than the frequency of keywords as Google rewards websites for being asserted as an authority in their industry.

Rachel Hand, head of content at theEword said: "We have always worked on the premise that good quality content is the best way to get Google to love your website, although it hasn't always been a popular SEO practice.

"At theEword we have demonstrated our commitment to content by hiring journalists to work in our content department, which means our work is always original and exceptionally well researched. I am happy to see that the Hummingbird algorithm reflects our approach to SEO practices, and hopefully this will mean that our clients will experience more and more benefits over the course of the next few years as a result of our content."