Volcano_Hummingbird_RWD9You may have heard the news by now: Google has rolled out a new algorithm for all search results. The algorithm, named Hummingbird, has been live for about a month now and is meant to improve search results -- especially for long tail queries, or “semantic search.”

What is Hummingbird?

According to those at the launch announcement last week (held in the Menlo Park garage where Google was founded) Hummingbird is “the biggest overhaul to their engine since the 2009 ‘Caffeine’ overhaul (which focused on speed and integrating social network results into search) and that it affects ‘around 90% of searches.’ The main focus was that the new algorithm allows Google to more quickly parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches word-by-word), and to identify and rank answers to those questions from the content they’ve indexed.”

Apparently its name comes from the speed and precision it shares with its animal counterpart.

Will my search results suffer from it?

Hummingbird has been live for several weeks now, so if you haven’t noticed any dramatic changes in traffic recently, you're probably in the clear. It seems that “short tail” key phrases with one or two words won’t be affected much by the change. 

Then why the new algorithm?

Hummingbird is focusing specifically on searches that are, shall we say, more human. So when someone enters “How do I fix the chain on my Trek mountain bike?” Google now understands that you’re nieither shopping for a bike nor a bike chain, but you're looking to FIX said chain. They are now prioritizing the context of the query as much as the content. By emphasizing the intention of the searcher (“I want to fix this”) over merely matching key phrases (“Trek mountain bike chain”) Google will be delivering more relevant results -- and that’s the name of their game.

If you look a layer deeper, however, things get more interesting still. These long-tail searches are the kinds of things you might say into your phone (or Dick Tracy watch, or Google glass, or any other futuristic piece of wearable computer you may have). Google is laying the groundwork to maintain its dominance in search for an increasingly mobile world. As smart phone usage increases (it now comprises 47% of email opens and 24% of site visits), so too will voice search. 

How can I benefit from Hummingbird?

I’m so glad you asked. In response to the onslaught of “what should I do about this?” questions, Google’s response has been the ultimately measured “have original, high-quality content.” SEO signals that mattered in the past (e.g. inbound links, social shares, descriptive page titles) are still relevant. Hummingbird simply allows Google to manage those results more effectively.

So if the announcement turned out to be rather ho-hum, why am I so excited about it? Because it gives a huge advantage to the inbound etailer over businesses who are stuck in the past!

Seriously, one way to look at Hummingbird is this: if you blog about topics your customers are interested in, Google will help you get found. You will become a resource for your community. You will develop a relationship with your ideal buyers and that relationship could lead to a sale or a referral down the road.

That’s inbound commerce! Be helpful. Create remarkable content to attract the right people. Respond to their needs with relevant information when they ask for it. 

A word about mobile

As mentioned earlier, Hummingbird is part of today’s shift to a “mobile-first” online landscape. So if you want to capitalize on this traffic, how ready is your site for a mobile audience?

Are your product detail and checkout pages responsive? Is your blog design responsive and optimized for social? If the answer to either of those is no, then you’re actually providing searchers with a negative experience when they find your site. We all know the frustration of wanting to access a page but needing first to blow it up then scroll back and forth like a drunken snake to actually read what it says.

Next actions

I’m a consultant, so I always like to give homework after pontificating!

So here it is: Write your next series of blog posts (you do have a blog with your store, don’t you?) to answer questions you hear from your customers. Come up with a list of the 5-10 most frequently asked questions—either about your products or how to use them, or topics tangentially related to them—and create one or more blog posts that answer each of those questions. Include a relevant call to action at the end of each post, guiding people to the next step in their customer journey with your business.

Writing this series of posts should help you see some love from this new update, both in terms of traffic and conversions. 

What have you noticed from the Hummingbird update? Share it in the comments below.

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Image credit: Wikipedia

Originally published Oct 1, 2013 8:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023


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