Google has changed. The Internet has changed. The combination, while putting the responsibility on the search giant's algorithms, fundamentally affects how we shape our efforts at content discovery, simply because of the ubiquity of Google's use. This change can be scary, but knowing how the change works, what to expect, and how it affects you will make all the difference as these revisions hit your site. In this post, we’re outlining 5 things you need to know about Google Hummingbird.
1. The Search Query Has Changed
In the beginning, search engines indexed information based on a rather primitive method of keyword indexing. These indexes did not understand human language, they simply represented an amalgamation of terms associated with locations, weighted by popularity and inbound links. In order to appease this format, those searching for information were required to truncate full, intelligent sentences into keywords and phrases that rubbed the algorithm the right way. Doing so would yield results, but with limited success.
Hummingbird throws that playbook out the window. Many of the old factors still exist, including keywords and PageRank, but these contribute to a formula that accounts for 200 different factors when returning results. In doing so, the engine works to incorporate long-form queries and human speech patterns to influence the relevance and quality of search results. What this means for you: no longer will your pages be judged simply on primitive factors. Relevant, original, and interesting information is, for the first time, being revealed and shuttled forth to interested eyes in dynamic new ways.
2. Blame Fluff For The Changes
The changes are not baseless; this isn't simply a revision for revision's sake. Google's efforts are born of an era of Internet content where traditional methods could be exploited, placing unoriginal, uninteresting, and un-engaging, though keyword dense, content in front of curious viewers to the detriment of their search efforts and the reputation of websites offering compelling work.
3. Hummingbird Works in a Series
In this fact lies, perhaps, the greatest change to Google's underlying engine. Previously, queries were submitted and results were returned based on a number of factors. However, each query represented a new effort, effectively limiting the ability to drill-down information when further insight was sought. The Hummingbird engine takes a new approach to the process of search, incorporating human behavior as a central tenant.
Continued searches are now viewed with a combination of order and context based on previous searches. If this sounds confusing, here's a breakdown: each search in a series is understood by the engine in a different way. Initial queries are viewed as browsing, offering surface information and broad responses. A follow-up search related to the topic reveals more in-depth information. This series continues, retrieving information to a greater degree of specificity based on the search order and length of specific queries. In doing so, the engine emulates the human research process, seeking broad concepts and then working down to the details, in order to facilitate knowledge acquisition.
For commercial firms, this procedural search opens new doors for information previously buried in the hierarchies of corporate websites. Until recently, pages needed to have carefully crafted keywords to delineate their use as a more robust and authoritative resource. However, the series now cuts the guesswork out of the process. Those searching for "umbrellas" will receive several firms, delivered and ranked. A further search of "canvas umbrellas" will offer product pages and information matching the description, understanding the greater refinement of the request. Another search for "waxed, canvas umbrellas for under $100" will narrow product recommendations and provided information, comprehending that, at this point in your journey, you are likely ready to buy a specific product. Beyond this step in the funnel lies information for present customers involving tech specifications, how-to instructions, and maintenance references, just to name a few.
4. Original, Informative Content is the Future
This series of steps and refinement of keyword comprehension means one thing: original, engaging content is the future. No longer are rote, keyword dense answers aimed at currying site traffic the ringleaders. In particular, Hummingbird favors authoritative, information-rich sources that piggyback off of Google Plus authorship and publisher-ship to tailor results to a fatigued and discerning public.
Since the engine is based on the promise of delivering answers to questions, this, above all else, should drive future content efforts. Offer FAQ pages, Q&A blog content, how-to posts, and interviews that focus on questions and answers to assert your authority in a particular avenue. Offer industry debates and "ask the expert" posts in order to drive your traffic as a firm that offers valuable information. In all things, remember that users are asking questions. Your job is to have the answers.
5. SEO is Evolving
In this way, SEO isn't disappearing, but, instead, evolving. As mentioned, Google's revision comes largely at the behest of users desiring to find more relevant content, tired from disappointing front-page entries that simply "played the game". Traditional methods of link-mining, keyword stuffing, and cheap, overly sensationalist titles will receive less reward than ever before.
In place of these methods is a combination of traditional keywords and long-tail keywords. When embedding information in your page, your prior expertise in researching relevant keywords will still play a part, but stuffing the box will not. Simply focus on integral terms that hone your page down to its proffered expertise and value. In addition to these one-word, keywords, incorporate longer terms that effectively answer questions. In particular, observe the algorithms treatment of single keywords as indicative of broad information, 2-3 word-length keywords as more in-depth research and learning, 3-4 word-length keywords as detailed information, and 4+ word-length keywords as specialist information for customers and experts.
Hummingbird's changes are unlikely to lose you traffic, but the science behind search engines has changed profoundly, necessitating adaptation. Gone are the days of gaming the system and here is an era of authority and originality. Series of queries will yield more robust results, as unearthing helpful content and answers are the goal. Optimize your site for the new format by including single-word terms and longer, more robust keywords in tandem. The combination may hurt impostors, but as a genuine vendor of valuable information, consider a ticker-tape parade and a bottle of Champagne.