Hummingbird, the latest “big thing” from Google was introduced in late September. What was most striking about the announcement was not the fact that there is a new algorithm, but that it has been live for at least 30 days, with no prior announcement.
In fact, after a lot of activity in the search signals about a month ago everyone was speculating that either a Penguin or (rolling) Panda update had run. When asked about it at the time, Google said they had nothing to report and nothing was up. Guess they just weren’t ready to introduce their newest little friend.
So what exactly is Hummingbird?
For starters, Hummingbird affected 90% of searches worldwide. To put things in perspective, Penguin only impacted about 3% of searches. Since Hummingbird isn’t designed to weed out spammy sites, even though the number of searches impacted was large; the actual falling out afterwards was minor.
Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird is not a filter, it’s an algorithm. This particular algorithm focuses on artificial intelligence, and how data is accessed and presented to users.
Google’s Amit Singhal said, “With more complex queries, the algorithm can better understand concepts vs. words as well as relationships between concepts.”
To sum it up, Hummingbird is focused on natural language processing. SEO is no longer about using phrases on your site in hopes of ranking for those precise phrases. It is about providing quality content that is organized around a theme and that answers questions and offers valuable information to your site visitors.
Hummingbird is new and different, which inevitably causes confusion and questions. I think the best way I can explain it is to say: Google is now better at understanding the theme and topic of your site when they crawl your content. They are now paying attention to the meaning behind a query, rather than just a few words within the query. This is a rare good move by Google! It actually opens things up to deliver you more traffic. You see, once Google understands the theme of your site, the potential traffic is almost limitless. Searchers also benefit from this change, since the goal is to deliver results that offer the info the searcher actually needs and not just a page that happens to have a precise phrase on it.
Tip: think about the questions your site visitors may have, think about their problems and think about the solutions you offer and make sure your content clearly conveys all of this.
In conjunction with the introduction of Hummingbird, other changes have been happening at Google. You’ve probably heard the recent talk about Google no longer providing keyword data in Analytics or Webmaster Tools. So, while there is a definite move away from keywords, it is still a good idea to know what language your potential customers will use to search for you and implement it naturally within your site.
One last note on Hummingbird before I break down what this all actually means.
According to Danny Sullivan, Hummingbird continues to rely on link analysis as one of 200 “ingredients” that Google uses to rank sites. He also claims that Panda and Penguin will continue to run as filters and these filters will very likely continue as components of Hummingbird.
What Does All Of This Mean For You?
Content creation and optimization continues to be as important as ever and the focus on quality is more important than ever. In addition to that, here are some other important tips:
- Build authority links naturally (create a strong Social strategy to spread your content)
- Offer solutions to your site visitors and make sure your content clearly and concisely conveys the information
- Optimize for mobile
- Be active in Social
- Focus on semantic analysis when doing keyword research
- Understand that “context” is now a part of the equation, meaning Google will do the best they can to determine the full meaning of the query and the intent behind it. In addition to analyzing the words, they will use any other data they can – typically local info, personalization info and device and platform info. User intent is going to matter more than pure keyword matching.
- Authorship and Structured Data are going to be more important going forward. Authorship because it connects you to your content and Structured Data because it’s a good way to feed specific details to the crawler.
This has been the most volatile couple years in the history of the engines, in my opinion. Arguably even more so than the old days of the Google Dance. The best thing you can do is actively create and work a content strategy and stay informed.