Google’s Hummingbird Adjustment, More Impactful Than You Know

Google’s Hummingbird adjustment represents the most impactful search algorithm shift since Caffeine in 2010.  While it will have less effect immediately on SEO than the Panda and Penguin updates the long-term effect is difficult to grok.

google's Amit Singhal on Google's Hummingbird AdjustmentAmit Singhal, of Google, said 90% of searches have been affected by this sea change. It was interesting to note, however, that very little was said within the industry about affected rankings prior to the announcement .

The details of the Google Hummingbird adjustment is provided below: what has changed and how it impacts SEO strategies.

In general , Google’s Hummingbird adjustment is closer to the algorithm acheiving ‘AI.’  Google’s intent is to to serve content based on what the querent seeks and not solely the keywords that are used.

Google's Hummingbird Adjustment approaches AI its that smart

A big  indicator of this development is the number of searches a user makes in a short space of time (the higher number of searches denoting that the content is not relevant to their query) and also the number of pages a user visits per search term.

Geoff Ian Parker at Site Pro delves into Google’s Hummingbird Adjustment –

8 years ago 30% of searchers would look at search results past page one of Google. Today, it is only 10% and it is likely to decrease as Google improves the indexing of searches against the real intent of the search (thus making it even more significant to increase SEO rankings).

So let’s have a look at Google’s Hummingbird adjustment in detail. What are the changes and what does this mean for search marketers and website owners.

Semantic Search

Semantic search will be discussed more and more in regards to SEO over the coming years, particularly as search devices change, search queries evolve with the technology, and Google and information retrieval technology adapts to changing hardware.

Semantic search is where an algorithm, like Google’s, retrieves information based on the meaning of the search as opposed to matching the content against the search term. Google’s aim is to index all content based on semantics and it will continue to improve in this regard.

Before Hummingbird, Google was indexing content by using pattern match to marry up content within its database against the search query.

Today, Hummingbird is more intelligent, and now indexes content based on the query intention. This includes some key elements such as the context of the search and the searcher’s requirements. 

Website Content

As Google continues to improve its semantic search algorithm, websites will need to continue improving content for end users.

Providing the best content for basic brochure websites may be the hardest since a large majority are relying just on textual content.

Gone are the days when SEOs could focus on keyword density and target keywords within alt tags, meta tags and H tags. More granular research is needed into multiple keyword variations, although this recommendation isn’t a result of the Hummingbird update.

Another important factor to help serving content against intent is schema markup, specifically for videos.

All of these elements contribute as signals to Google to say “Hey, this page is very relevant to that search term”.

Material Searches and Application Searches

Material searches are searches for a certain product based on what it is – so for example, a search of “cardboard boxes” is a material search. The searcher is clearly describing the product that they are looking for in the search term. Similarly, a search for “coffee table” is someone looking for a very specific item.

Application searches, on the other hand, are queries made by users who are looking for something or someone to do a required job, but the searchers are not sure exactly what they are looking for. For example, the search phrase “packaging material for moving house” may be used by someone wanting to find packaging solutions to meet their house moving requirements, but the searcher may not know exactly what is needed. The searcher is, in effect, asking Google to provide the answer. This is where Hummingbird is enhancing its semantic understanding of search queries and improving the indexing of content for each user. 

Knowledge Graph Tap In

Google is also ranking sites based on information in your Knowledge Graph. This is probably more relevant to larger companies or brands. Do not, however, underestimate the significance that local search and Knowledge Graph are likely to have on impacting rankings.

Use of Mobiles

More and more people are speaking searches into mobile phones which is where Hummingbird determines the meaning of a search. These spoken searches are invariably longer search phrases and mainly contain a question. Google’s search results need to be able to answer these questions so the focus for Hummingbird is to understand the semantics of the search term, be it by location, device and/or search intent of the text query, to serve the most relevant results.

Use of Local Searches on Mobile Devices

40% of searches made on mobile have local intent. Therefore, think about the content on your website and how it appears on mobile. Does it format correctly? Is it easy to use? By this I do not mean is it responsive and built in HTML5 because that is only a temporary solution. Consumers on mobile are in a different buying mode, so content on your desktop website may not be relevant to a consumer on a mobile device.

Long and Short Tail Keywords

We are going to see Hummingbird have a more significant impact on long tail search terms (longer string search terms where there is a question or element of uncertainty within the searcher’s mind) than on head terms (short tail). Head terms and generics may be affected within certain industries, but greater variations will be seen for longer terms.

This is because of conversational search.

Conversational Search

Use of voice search creates longer search query strings and it is important to serve content to match these searches. Think about user guides and how-to guides, if you have products with multiple applications.

Ikea is a great example of a website that has good video content showing how to put together each furniture type. This is great content to index for conversational search.

Some people recommend making text content more conversational. We do not, however, see this making a difference in regards to ranking effectiveness.

In Summary

Ensure that your content is slated towards a seeker’s intent. Consider not only what is being searched for, but also what searchers are trying to find based on factors such as location, search device and time of search. Match your content and increase semantic signals to assure better indexing.

Hummingbird is the start of some new bigger shifts in content indexing. Google will continually improve at determining user intent and semantic meaning, and with changes in consumer patterns across diverse channels – particularly mobile – SEO providers will need to adapt as well.

Leave a Reply