More About Google Hummingbird and What It Means To You

You’ve probably searched on Google before. If you’re like me, you do it at least 50 times a day. Google searches continue to grow, as global traffic increasing thanks to technologies like fiber-optic Internet.

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Each Google search pulls up hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of results. But did you ever think about just how those results get there?

Google indexes sites and ranks search results using an always-changing search algorithm. Google ranks pages based on relevant and original content, ads, links, keywords and tons of other factors. Sites with quality content get ranked higher in Google search results – while sites with bad content rank lower.

Google updates their algorithm hundreds of times each year, with major changes every year or so. In 2011, there was Panda, which penalized sites with stolen or duplicate content. In 2012, Penguin targeted spam factors like keyword stuffing, “cloaking” (presenting different content to the algorithm than to user’s browsers), unnatural links and content spinning.

Now, there’s Hummingbird, which launched in September 2013. Hummingbird targets content – but it targets the meaning behind the content, too. So what’s different about Hummingbird, and what does that mean for sites trying to rank on Google?

What’s different?

Panda, Penguin and other past iterations of the Google search algorithm have focused mainly on site content, aiming to improve search results by penalizing low-quality content. Hummingbird focuses more on the search query itself in ranking results.

Hummingbird implements something called “conversational search” to better understand what users mean when they type or speak a search query into Google.

Take the query, “Where can I buy a smart TV near my home?” Pre-Hummingbird Google would have prioritized search results that match individual words in your query – like “buy” and “smart TV.” But with Hummingbird, Google can better figure out exactly what you mean by your query. It may know your exact location and be able to find smart TVs near you. It may be able to determine that you want a brick-and-mortar store instead of an online retailer.

Hummingbird essentially focuses on the meaning of your entire search, rather than just a few key terms. That allows Google to provide more accurate results with better site rankings.

What does this mean for marketers?

Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird isn’t a huge change for search engine optimization (SEO). It’s more about the search itself than the content of sites – that means it changes results for individual queries, not general traffic. And so far, Hummingbird hasn’t seemed to negatively affect rankings.

But that doesn’t mean that marketers and site owners are off the hook. Hummingbird is part of Google’s continuing push toward higher-quality, more relevant websites and search results. And that means there’s an even bigger focus on better writing and content. Better-quality, more relevant pages still rank higher than poorly-written sites with spammy content.

What do you need to do to stay ahead of Google?

  • Become an authority. Hummingbird’s smarter search result rankings prioritize the sites that provide the most relevant, authoritative answers to queries. SEO expert David Amerland recommends identifying the unique selling point of your business and becoming an authority within it.

  • Build high-quality links. Help boost your authority by gaining shares of your site on social media platforms and other sites. High-quality links improve the legitimacy of your site in the eyes of Google’s algorithm and help you climb in the rankings.

  • Create good content. Just say no to black-hat SEO tactics like keyword-stuffing, content spinning and cloaking. Instead, focus on good, clear copywriting and design to stay ahead – and don’t forget about mobile sites. Consultant Jenny Halasz at Archology recommends thinking less about keywords and more about engaging with customers and readers.

Succeeding in Google relies on the same high-quality content, shares and links it always has – plus a little bit more insight into what your target customers are looking for when they search.

Michelle Smith is a freelance writer with a focus on social media and marketing. She can be found typing away on her laptop in sunny Boca Raton, Florida. Michelle welcomes your feedback via email.

Photo credit: Kathy and sam