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Google’s Hummingbird Takes Flight: SEOs Give Insight On Google’s New Algorithm

Sep 30, 2013 at 8:05am ET by 

google-hummingbird2-featuredOn the eve of its 15th birthday last week, Google revealed a new search algorithm namedHummingbird. Designed to be more precise and provide faster query results, the algorithm is based on semantic search, focusing on user intent versus individual search terms.

As Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan explained in his FAQ: All About the New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm:

Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

While the official Hummingbird announcement was made last week, most reports show it began rolling out a month ago. Unlike Google’s Penguin and Panda updates to its existing algorithm, Hummingbird is a complete replacement. Google’s search chief Amit Singhal told Danny Sullivan that Hummingbird represents the first time since 2001 a Google algorithm has been so dramatically rewritten.

With more than a month since the new algorithm’s initial release, I asked a collection of SEO practitioners their opinions on Hummingbird now that it has an official name.

“Hummingbird is a definite expansion of Google’s semantic capability evident at the search interface level that reveals, significantly, two things,” said David Amerland, search engine expert and author of Google Semantic Search, “First, Google has increased its ability to deal with complex search queries which means that it also has got better at indexing entities in Web documents. Second, it has got a lot better at relationally linking search queries and Web documents which means that its Knowledge Graph must be considerably enriched.”

Amerland goes on to explain how Google’s move toward semantic search will benefit SEO practices:

From a strategy point of view this opens the horizon for companies and webmasters considerably. From a practical perspective, the need to identify the USP of each business and become authoritative within it is now a key criteria for continued SEO success. The comparison element that has been integrated suggests that semantic mark-up may begin to confer an advantage now when it comes to helping index information in products and services.

He emphasizes the importance of content not being left in isolation, but instead shared across social networks via identified influencers. “This is not something that can or will happen at the drop of a hat,” said Amerland, “It requires time and commitment to building a relationship with influencers and sharing with them content that is of real value to their network.” Quick SEO, according to Amerland, “Is now firmly in the past.”

Christy Belden, vice president of marketing and media at LEAP, agrees that Hummingbird’s focus on semantic search will continue to drive SEO in the right direction. “Google has been talking about semantic language and understanding the meaning behind search for quite some time,” said Belden, “With more users searching via mobile and voice, the Hummingbird update makes a lot of sense.”

Belden confirmed her agency has not witnessed any changes to their client’s search results during the last month Hummingbird has been running. “We don’t anticipate making any dramatic changes in what we are doing,” said Belden, “What we are talking about is how we create quality, engaging, shareable, linkable content. It has become a core piece of our SEO strategy.”

SEO consultant and president of Archology Jenny Halasz commented on Google’s recent decision to make search term data ’100% not provided’ and how it relates to the new Hummingbird algorithm. “It’s becoming less and less about the keyword and more about the intention behind it. We see that with all the recent changes, but especially with Hummingbird,” said Halasz, “There’s no doubt that not having keywords provided will make it a little harder to discover customer intent, but there are a lot of other ways to get clues about that, including actively engaging with your customers on social media and such.”

Halasz believes SEOs have become so keyword focused that they’re putting emphasis on the wrong things, explaining that many are, “Trying to reverse engineer data that really isn’t actionable.” She thinks SEO should be less about keyword data and more about customer engagement.

“People who’ve been doing things like looking at their bounce rate on a page and trying to match the people who bounced to what they searched are missing the forest for the trees in my opinion,” said Halasz, “It’s not the specific keyword they used, it’s what they were looking for on that page. Did the page deliver? Clearly not since they bounced. So what could be better about the page? Or your information architecture overall?”

Trond Lyngbø, a senior SEO strategist and partner at Metronet in Norway,  is excited about Hummingbird and has been forecasting Google’s the algorithm updates since December 2012. “It’s a good thing. Google is trying to find the intent behind the queries, and offer a solution,” said Lyngbø, “I look forward to seeing how it evolves as Google’s Knowledge Graph expands, especially how successful Google will be when it comes to local searches via mobile devices.”

In a post by Lyngbø on SEOnomics.com last December, the SEO insider wrote, “Trust is now king,” explaining, “The primary goals of semantic search is weeding out irrelevant resources from SERPs.”

Even though the post was published ten months before the new search algorithm was announced, Lyngbø’s tips for SEOs are especially relevant in light of the Hummingbird release:

• Businesses must understand and adapt to semantic search and the knowledge graph.

• Positioning yourself to be the provider of answers that people are seeking.

• Identify intent, needs and problems. Provide solutions and answers. Look at queries and what they really need. Give them what the people behind the queries want.

More about Hummingbird will be discussed during this week’s SMX East Search Marketingshow in New York City. The conference includes an entire track devoted to “Semantic Search” with The Coming “Entity Search” Revolution session scheduled on day two (October 2) of the conference.

Until then, check out the following Tweets in response to the Hummingbird update: