It’s Google’s 15th birthday, so instead of expecting lots of presents themselves, they’ve given us one instead. This brand new shiny gift is called Hummingbird and it’s the internet search giant’s newest algorithm update, their largest since 2001. But before you think ‘why should that matter to me?’, it’s worth considering what this means for you and your business. The way we search online has been reborn.
The Hummingbird name is no coincidence as it offers us a ‘faster, more precise’ way of searching. And the way Google has managed to achieve this is to completely redesign the way it indexes websites. If you’ve heard the names ‘Penguin’ and ‘Panda’ bandied around, they were mere drops in the ocean compared to Hummingbird’s impact.
So what is Hummingbird?
Hummingbird essentially means not just one change to our search results but two. Firstly, instead of traditional keyword searches, it uses conversational searches to deliver results that are more relevant to what people are looking for. Secondly, it also displays search content right on the search pages themselves, making it easier for users to find the information they need.
You might be asking why Google has gone to all this trouble. And it all comes down to one thing – keeping us all connected, and doing it the ‘Google way’. Google wants us to keep using them as the primary internet search engine, and they ensure we do this by giving us what we’re looking for. And by learning more about us through their connected systems of Gmail, Google+ and YouTube (yes, this belongs to Google too!), it then understands more about the underlying reasons behind our search query.
So instead of websites appearing on our search pages according to the keywords they rank for, this new algorithm looks to what we actually want to search for. What do we mean by this? Well, it’s looking at the whole phrase we type into Google, rather than just picking out individual keywords. Everything is considered and therefore the results returned are relevant just to you, the searcher.
To give you an example: say you were on your mobile and you typed in ‘best place to buy a 45 inch TV locally’. Before the Hummingbird update, Google would have taken ‘buy’ and ’45 inch TV’ separately and perhaps directed you to play.com or PCWorld’s site. With this new search functionality, the whole search query is taken into account, with Google recognising ‘place’ and ‘locally’ as you wanting a recommendation for a store nearby.
The future of search
We’ve all become a lot more internet savvy and the way we search has therefore changed. Google has just taken this shift in the way we search more conversationally and responded. They’ve now got enough information to sift through the millions, if not billions, of websites to offer you relevant search results.
If you weren’t aware of it already, Google has removed keyword data in Google Analytics. This shows that the emphasis of searching has moved away from keywords, forcing us to think that websites should do the same.
Although the Hummingbird update has changed the way sites are indexed, one aspect of Google’s search principles still holds firm: good, relevant content is more important than ever in improving your website’s search rankings.
The winners and the losers
If your website has focused on great content, which contains useful information for your target market and encourages natural links (sites which you trust and that have linked from their site to yours) – then you will benefit from the Hummingbird update.
Those sites in not so great shape after Hummingbird will be the ones who have concentrated on unnatural links and rely just on keywords to drive their SEO.
So if you want to be a winner and make sure your business stays, if not ahead of Google’s game, then at least with them, what do you need to do?
Your website, first and foremost should be offering the visitor a great user experience. Make sure you have clearly defined your brand and that your web pages show this off. Clear and concise content on your products and services will be picked up by Hummingbird’s intelligent search, offering you quality traffic with a higher chance of conversion.
Change is constant….
It’s good to change, and this ethos is essentially what lies at the root of what keeps Google happy. It’s constantly looking for something new, something different – particularly in relation to what was there when its algorithm last looked in the same place.
It’s all too easy to get a little bit complacent and fail to see the necessity for change, even when it’s staring you in the face. Some of the bigger multinationals have fallen foul of this when they’ve failed to move with the times. Kodak is one example – once one of the most recognised names in the film processing and camera industry, in 2012 they went bankrupt as they hadn’t kept up with the digital revolution. Microsoft, although hardly bankrupt, have had major issues in realising they were several steps behind moving into the smartphone market. They’re trying to catch up now they’ve acquired Nokia’s handset business but it’s probably too late.
The marketplace is littered with companies who didn’t make the change and suffered the consequences. HMV, Woolworths, Jessops, Habitat – we could go on!
So what we can learn from this and make sure we all don’t fall into that complacency trap? Google is determined it’s not going to be one of those examples like Kodak who were once massive but then failed to make the change. It’s therefore constantly evolving - not only is it on the search for changes in websites in order to bring you the best quality results it can, but it also regenerates itself regularly.
We believe that the real winners of Hummingbird will be the smaller-sized businesses, ones just like yours. With location aspects now playing a much bigger part in Google’s search algorithm, this will see businesses with a local bias winning out against the larger generic sites. But this will only work if your content, and your social reach, is strong!