As Google celebrated its 15th birthday on 27th September, it also rolled out the biggest change to the core search algorithm since 2010; Hummingbird and it affects 90% of all searches on Google.
The Hummingbird update has gradually been rolled out as part of the Google updates over the past month and could have a major impact on organic traffic to websites. The regular updates to the algorithm now include Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. However, unlike the other two major updates Hummingbird does not specifically target and penalise spam, it is designed to better understand long, complex queries.
“Hummingbird represents the most dramatic alteration to Google’s search engine since it revised the way it indexes websites three years ago as part of a redesign called Caffeine,” said Amit Singhal, a senior vice president for the company.
Essentially it has redesigned how Google perceives complex and long conversational queries. Google can now better understand the meaning behind each word in the query, ensuring that the results match the query not just a few important keywords.
This has been released before, but only as part of the Knowledge Graph not the actual Google algorithm. The latest Google update combines traditional search with the semantic search it has been using in the Knowledge Graph. Semantic search identifies the behavioral keywords and relationships between words in a sentence to prepare more relevant answers on the search engine results page.
A great example is querying “Compare butter with olive oil”. Included in the query is a table containing nutritional information and the actual search results also all include highly relevant answers. Beforehand, the results would have been more reliant on key words such as “butter” and “olive oil” giving the user results that were not what they were looking for on the internet.
Google is getting smarter at learning how to understand a query as a whole and can now respond to questions and statements as a human might.
This new update also strongly supports their Google Voice Query, see screenshot below:
As searching by voice (like you would with Siri) is much more conversational than traditional keyword searching, the new Hummingbird update greatly improves the relevancy of more complex queries.
The Hummingbird also improves Google Now. The Google Now Search App allows mobile users to voice search queries and saves your searching behaviour to better predict your needs. As mobile device users are using longer questions and complex queries more often, the Hummingbird update is essential to expanding Google’s knowledge of the relationships between words in a sentence instead of matching up words to webpages for the “relevancy” part of the algorithm.
So, fifteen years after Google started their search engine they have refined it to understand full sentences and queries as a human might. What else can we expect from Google search? I expect Google to keep working on developing and honing the Hummingbird part of the algorithm to give users more relevant results to their queries. Their mobile and Voice search is also sure to be a priority in the future as more internet users search via their mobile device using more “modern” search behaviours than the traditional keyword queries.
How will this update affect SEOs and website owners? If you haven’t seen any fluctuations in your organic traffic or rankings in the past month you may have been spared. It will affect some websites, specifically sites that depend on keyword repetitions throughout the website with a lack of context. To be relevant to searches your content needs to have meaning and context to important search queries, not just keyword stuffed. In other words, ensure your website has high-quality content that is useful to internet users.
As Google evolves it is getting better and better at giving the best answers to queries, as digital marketers we need to ensure our clients’ websites are sufficiently answering those questions!