By now you should have heard about Google’s new Hummingbird update. Its new-and-improved self comes with Knowledge Graph updates, improved mobile searches, and an emphasis on natural conversation in search queries.
But here’s the catch: It was announced on September 26th.
It had been active since August.
And no one noticed.
This is the beginning of a new era for Google, the age of intuition. They released Hummingbird so discreetly that almost nobody caught on, and yet its features drastically change the way we interact with search.
“We want to get to a natural conversation,” said Scott Huffman at the event. And this is the closest they’ve come to it.
What Hummingbird can do, really
First, let’s look at queries. Keywords are no longer all that are being taken into account; the query itself is now treated as a complete unit. In the words of Danny Sullivan, “The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”
What does this mean? Hummingbird understands and makes use of natural language. For example, if I search “directions Golden Gate Bridge”, I’ll get a few results from tourist organizations, Wikipedia, and Yelp. The phrase is ineffective because it is merely two keywords: “direction” and “Golden Gate Bridge.” However, if I search “directions to the Golden Gate Bridge,” Google will draw on the Knowledge Graph pull up a map and tell me how to get there and how long it will take.
The other big change is the difference between stationary and mobile usage. By the look of things, Google has been involved in a lot of linguistics research, resulting in a more conversational mobile experience. Ask Google, “What are the best restaurants in Cincinnati, Ohio?” and it will give you the expected results. Search again for “What about Mexican restaurants?” and it will give you results for Mexican restaurants in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mobile Google searches remember context to make searching simpler and fasted, reflecting the way users search on-the-go.
Basically, it’s all about you. From Google Now to Hummingbird, Google is leading the revolution of the user-centric experience. The focus is on intuitive usage, giving exactly the right results instantly, or even before you need them.
What Hummingbird means for SEO
The fact that no one noticed Hummingbird’s release indicates that, really, not much is changing. According to Nate Dame for Search Engine Land, “Directly, it changes little. Indirectly, it changes everything.” Google wants to put the most relevant, most credible content in front of searchers. If you are pumping out great content, you’re golden. But if you are still hung up on building links, you’re missing the point. Links are still part of the equation, but they are by no means the most important ingredient.
In short, focus on creating great content that people want to read. Integrate links naturally, when they’re helpful. Encourage visitors to share the content on social media. This back-to-nature approach will let your content draw attention naturally, organically.
Additionally, with Google’s “not provided” decision, SEO seems to be going in a different direction. Greater value is being placed on content’s social shareability, especially on Google Plus. If your page is garnering +1s and shares, it’s probably going to do well in search results.
Finally, work with the queries. Do as Google does and try to understand the desires behind the words (this will become increasingly important as affinity data comes into its own). If you can anticipate what a user is actually looking for, you will be ahead of the crowd.
Photo courtesy of jeffreyw