We've had Google Panda and Google Penguin and now it’s time to meet Google Hummingbird; which is the largest overhaul of Google’s search algorithm in a long, long time. If you haven’t heard of Hummingbird, you're not alone - it was not so much launched as quietly ushered in under the radar.
Hummingbird was somewhat of a birthday gift from Google to Google; they turned 15 on the 27th of September and Hummingbird was implemented on or around the 30th of August and finally announced to the public on the 26th of September.
What is Google Hummingbird?
Basically, Hummingbird is Google’s new search algorithm - the system it uses to sort data when you search for something from the Google homepage. While Panda and Penguin were specifically built to reduce the effectiveness of webspam tactics, Hummingbird is a fundamental refactoring of the way Google analyzes and understands search queries. For example, consider the difference between the way most of us conduct online searches at the moment:
“Buy Nokia Lumia San Francisco”
to the way Hummingbird has been designed to facilitate search:
“Where can I buy a new Nokia Lumia in Haight-Ashbury?”
All well and good - after all, it’s nice to chat, even if it is with Google, but what does that mean for you as a small business owner? In our opinion, it probably won’t mean a great deal in the short term; however, it does give us a clear indication of the direction in which Google intends to go.
Google wants to open a dialogue with its users, and by showing a preference for natural speech, it is obvious they’re embracing the rising trend for mobile device searches. Think about it, when you're on the run do you type in a search query or do you speak into your phone? As smartphones become almost scarily sophisticated and allow for spoken searches Google needs to stay one step ahead.
The change is also sending a clear message to those who employ spam tactics to manipulate search results. And if that’s going to affect your small business, don’t tell us as we really don’t want to know!
Seriously, we’re not suggesting any of you are master spammers but when Google introduced the Penguin and Panda updates, business owners were freaking out all over the Internet claiming that their previously top ranking website selling sunglasses for dogs was now on the tenth page. (The injustice!)
Therefore, it would be naive to think that Hummingbird, no matter how softly it was launched, could escape the same fate. So let’s cut to the chase and take a look at what really matters.
What effect will Google Hummingbird have on my small business?
Long tail keywords (specific words that are searched for less but that combine to produce greater search results than the top keywords) have drastically increased in importance: pre-Hummingbird, Google ignored certain words in search queries. Now they take into account all words and the relationships between them so they can better understand the exact intent of the search.
What it means for you
If a web page matches the meaning of a search query it will rank higher than a page that only matches a few random words in the query. Hummingbird has the ability to return results for more complex questions.
If you’re targeting long tail keywords in your site’s content that answer any specific questions your target audience may have, you have a far better chance of ranking highly - and grabbing their attention.
As a knock-on effect of this, good quality useful content is now more important than ever before. Google has always loved content and now that it can understand questions, it means content that yields answers is now crucial when taking ranking into consideration.
What it means for you
It means you need to start thinking about how you’re going to implement a content strategy that offers value to your readers. You need to refresh existing pages - and add more.
More pages. More content. More blog posts. And not just any old content but that which answers questions that your prospective clients might have. After all, you’re the expert in your chosen field so you should be offering high-quality information on your subject.
Google is now a lot more mobile friendly. As mentioned before, the swing towards web searches conducted on mobile devices - be they smartphones, Kindles, iPads or tablets - is a shift that should not be ignored.
What it means for you
As we’ve seen, Hummingbird shows us the route Google is headed down. This, and countless headache-inducing, mind-bogglingly lengthy industry reports, indicates that mobile devices cannot be ignored. Indeed it’s estimated that mobile search will have eclipsed desktop search by 2015.
Don’t ignore the warning signs. You need to proactively ensure your website is as mobile device friendly as possible. Smaller screens work better with larger text and images should grab the attention and be the right size for cell phones and tablets.
It’s time to take a look at your website and evaluate how easy it is to navigate on a handheld device and how optimized it is in terms of valuable content that speaks to your customers.
Not everything is changing
The Hummingbird engine incorporates both the old and the new of Google, so while Hummingbird will be much better at interpreting complex queries, the fundamentals of SEO like building quality links to your site, placing the right keywords in the right locations on your site, writing great content and ensuring that your site structure can easily be crawled by search engines are still crucial parts of SEO success.
We said earlier that short term at least, as a small business owner, you probably won’t see much, if any, difference due to the Hummingbird implementation. However, making sure your website is the best it can possibly be will not only help search engines find and rank you, but will reflect positively upon your business. And let’s face it - who doesn’t want to shine online?