Google announced at their 15th Birthday bash a brand new algorithm – Hummingbird. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Hummingbird algorithm had been in use for a month prior to the announcement and no one seemed to notice…
Unlike the now infamous Google algorithm updates Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird is not an update but a new and improved algorithm. It is designed to return search results based more on search intent and context rather than specific keyword phrases. Google claim it will quickly parse entire questions and complex queries and return relevant answers rather than looking at queries on a keyword-by-keyword basis.
You may have already noticed a type of semantic search when Google returns Knowledge Graph results – it answers your question. You’ll see Knowledge Graph results for some branded searches like this search for Google.
Earlier this year Google introduced “conversation search” to Chrome that allows you to ask Google a question rather than type it. It was and still is rather amazing because this stuff isn’t easy! We humans understand language context and intent, it’s part of who we are.
As technology moves on, from smart phones to Google Glass and back to the good old fashioned computer, the way we search has changed. No longer do we type in one or two words into a search box, we use phrases and questions. Not forgetting on a mobile you are more likely to actually ask your question with a voice search than type.
Just last week I was sat in an office with one of my lovely clients shuffling papers and circling and starring sections as she sat at the computer muttering.
“How much do you reckon a helpline would cost?” she asked
“No idea, Google it and get some baseline prices.” says I
“Is it normal to ask Google questions?” she asked as she typed in her query…
Answer Searchers Questions
I mentioned this because it is a perfect example of how “normal” people use search. By normal people I mean people not like me who sits all day in front of a screen searching!
To answer her question here, yes it is normal to ask Google search questions and Google are actively encouraging it.
Before the Hummingbird update we already witnessed Google trying to understand intent, particularly on a local search level. Personalised results based on your location and platform are not new, it’s one of the few things local businesses can take advantage of (and often don’t in my opinion!) Even if you are not logged in, Google knows where you live and if you are searching from a computer or a mobile device.
And yet small businesses are still loathe to share information! Your website isn’t a brochure, it’s not there to look pretty and talk about you and your family owned business since the year dot.
Every business has questions they can answer about their product or service; from price, to comparisons with other models, to how their product can be used, to when is it available, where you’re located and far, far more.
And yes, people do type this stuff into a search box!
How will Hummingbird affect your local online presence?
Keywords are no longer the be all and end all of search. Google wants to try and understand the searcher’s intent. It’s now about context too.
- Where are you?
- What device are you using?
- What have you previously searched for?
In his article From Keywords to Contexts: the New Query Model over on Moz, Tom Anthony says Google uses 57 other signals to work out context too. This can work wonderfully for local searches.
All isn’t wonderful in local search land with the new algorithm though.
It would appear that Google still hasn’t got the local search right with the appearance of spam listings. Mike Blumenthal covers the issue of spammy local one box results since the Hummingbird update – as yet I haven’t seen anything quite that bad here (that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening though!)
What to do now…
Local businesses who listen to their potential customers and provide online content to answer those questions and make it known they are a local business are no doubt singing and dancing in the streets at the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm. OK, that’s probably a slight over exaggeration…
I can see you are not dancing in the street either.
Google estimates that the Hummingbird algo will affect about 90% of search queries worldwide and the focus has shifted from providing results to providing answers. Your job online now is to understand who your visitors are and what they want from you. Provide information and answers rather than buffing up your ego.
To be fair, if you haven’t noticed a traffic drop by now your site is not likely to have been affected by Hummingbird. The new algorithm has been live for over a month, oddly without much wailing and gnashing of teeth!
You can make it easier for Google to know you are relevant to searchers:
- Use rich snippets so Google knows who you are, where you are and what you are talking about
- Also use authorship and publisher mark-up on your website and blog
- Provide useful and timely information – a blog is a great way to do that!
- Ensure your site is mobile friendly
- Build up your online connections and encourage sharing
Ultimately, while everything appears to have changed (again), nothing has changed. Google still wants to provide the most relevant results (or answers to questions). People are still searching for local information.
What’s your view? Will the new Hummingbird algorithm change the way you operate online?Google Hummingbird – Will Hummingbird Affect Your Local Website? by Jan Kearney