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How to Handle Hummingbird: Google’s Huge New Advance

Posted On: November 21, 2013

Hey, Google has something new! Yes, you’ve read this before in Ring Ring Marketing Newsletters. Google always has something new.

But this one is big, one of the biggest innovations of the year. And in typical Google fashion, the innovation — a new algorithm called Hummingbird — was launched silently, with nary an announcement, well before Google even acknowledged its existence.

So, what’s Hummingbird? Well, you’ll recall that we’ve referred in recent newsletters to alterations in Google’s search algorithm intended to give searches more relevant results. Named Penguin and Panda, those tweaks improved results for sites that focus strongly on original, relevant content while penalizing sites that had used less savory methods of improving Web traffic and rankings.

What’s different about Hummingbird? First off, it’s not a tweak to Google’s algorithm: it’s an entirely new algorithm. The old one is gone. Now it’s just Hummingbird.

How does Hummingbird work? In theory, it’s intended to better understand “complex questions” from users. Essentially, that means that when you use voice search or Google Now — or simply do a standard Internet search — this algorithm will far better understand what you’re looking for.

Instead of using a few key terms in the search, it will take the entire inquiry into consideration and use that to give you the most relevant results possible. This obviously is driven in large part by the massive propagation of mobile devices and Android applications that you use by simply asking questions — just like Apple does with Siri.

In essence, presuming this algorithm does all the things it claims to do — and it’s frankly too early to know that yet — Google is now getting much better at answering people’s questions and directing them where they want to go.

While that could be good for sites in some ways — more on that shortly — it also has potential negative ramifications. If your site derives traffic from answering questions or providing information Google couldn’t easily answer before, you could be looking at less traffic. Your site needs to solve real problems, not just answer questions/provide information Google already has covered.

Understanding Intent
Google’s changes somewhat go hand in hand with its recent decision to encrypt all free search term data (keywords people are searching for) in organic searches, which we’ll touch upon later in this newsletter.

Ultimately, Google is getting away from interpreting what people are looking for through keywords used in searches and focusing on the intent behind it. By taking the entire search inquiry into consideration, it can deduce (or at least hopes to deduce) what you’re looking to accomplish.

Hummingbird is focused on conversational questions, not just a few terms punched into a search bar. This is obviously huge for voice search and Google Now, because people use these options to ask questions, just like you’d ask someone in a town you’re visiting for directions to the closest gas station. (Which presumably you’d only do if your phone battery was dead, but just play along.)

Google is saying this is the first time since 2001 that its algorithm has been so drastically rewritten. Let that sink in. Twelve years is a long time for any company, but it’s an eternity for Google, which essentially reinvents huge portions of its services several times a year.

So that’s how invested Google is in Hummingbird, and that’s how important you need to take this news.

Smart Moves
Exactly how Hummingbird will affect websites — particular sites for brick-and-mortar local businesses still has yet to be determined, but certain practices should be helpful in staying ahead of the competition.

For example, consider adding more real-world, question-specific queries into your site content. This could be in the form of blog posts, FAQs and more. If your site is providing on-point answers to complex questions relevant to your business, that should minimize any damage Hummingbird could do to your site traffic.

Also, try to get direct feedback from people who visit your site about the natural language queries they use to get to your site and navigate it. That will help you optimize the site by understanding what voice search questions they’re using.

Make sure your site is as mobile-friendly as possible. We’ve harped on this many times before, but we’re not going to stop: as we enter 2014, it’s essential that local businesses are optimized for mobile searches. Hummingbird is designed for mobile users. Mobile visitors are quickly outnumbering desktop visitors. You must focus your efforts here.

Add more relevant video content to your site. It’s much harder for Google to generate this sort of content in response to inquiries, so this type of material will be insulated, at least for now, from negative effects of Hummingbird.

The Good News
Remember that when Google makes one of its big changes, that change affects everyone. For example, if a Google change led to a 10 percent reduction in relevancy for every single site in the world, nothing would essentially change: every single site would still be ranked in the same order.

The key when Google makes a big universal change is to understand how to improve your position. As with every revision Google’s made over the past few years, the sites that sites that will benefit are those that provide high-quality, relevant content for users — and have responsive sites that are easy for mobile users to navigate.

If you have these areas covered, Hummingbird should not hurt you — and it actually will help you, because it will hurt competitors who do not have these areas covered. If you don’t have those areas covered, get to work immediately. As always, Ring Ring Marketing is happy to help you with this process. For now, just keep in mind the most critical issues:

  • Understand how semantic/conversational search affects your business and how to take advantage of that.
  • Provide answers to complex questions relevant to your business.
  • Identify what your potential customers are looking for. Provide solutions and answers.
  • Make sure your site is as optimized for mobile search as possible.

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