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Google Hummingbird: What Does this Mean for Your Business?

Another day, another animal update. The night before its 15th birthday, Google announced the release of a new update that has some marketers in a frenzy. It seems that these updates are becoming more frequent, which may actually bode well for your business…if you’re doing things the RIGHT way. Little did people know, this update has been silently fluttering its little wings for about a month prior to the announcement. For some, this may be an outstanding addition, while for others, not so much. 

This new algorithm is designed to provide faster query results, in a more precise manner, focusing highly on what the user’s intent is rather than just the keywords provided in the search term. This differs greatly from Panda and Penguin because they were only updates to the pre-existing algorithm already set in place. Google Hummingbird, on the other hand, is a brand new algorithm that attempts to interpret exactly what the user is looking for from the phrase they typed in instead of focusing on specific keywords. Google’s crack team of SEO specialists believes this will help enhance the user’s search experience by returning higher quality search results. 

This sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo, so let’s see if we can break it down in a more understandable fashion.  In May, Google put out a new update that created what we call “conversational search.” This allows users to speak through their microphone, and have the words appear in the search query, and also have Google respond back. In order for this to be applicable, Google would have to actually understand what you are talking about. For instance, if you asked Google “How old is Simon Cowell?” it would comprehend the meaning of what you are trying to say and show the age of Simon Cowell instead of showing you a list of web pages that have the same keywords in the search query. Now, how does this apply to the Hummingbird? 

The conversational search was severely limited by its pre-existing Knowledge Graph answers. Google Hummingbird takes this “meaning” technology and applies it to literally billions of web pages. As an example of how this has improved search ability, at their press event Google representatives used the phrase “acid reflux prescription.” Prior to the update, the resulting search would turn up a list of drugs. This may not even be what the person using the query was looking for.  Now, since the update, the same search will result in pages that explain treatments for acid reflux including information on possible drugs. Needless to say, this is pretty cool. 

How Does this Apply to Your Business?

The new update hasn’t really changed SEO per se; it just reinforces what the previous updates have tried to accomplish. More emphasis will be placed on great content that helps the user instead of content that is stuffed with keywords and offers little value. So this update may actually make the practice of optimizing pages for specific keyword phrases obsolete unless Google believes that your content is going to provide the answers that the user is searching for. 

Here’s another example of how this update has affected search results. Several months ago, if you searched the phrase “pizza hut calories per slice” an overly optimized page that uses that keyword phrase throughout the content was ranked at the top, despite being a secondary source that may or may not be accurate.  Now, the same search query will bring you to Pizza Hut’s nutritional information page. It gives the user exactly what they were looking for.  

So the answer to all of this madness is to have a sound strategy that incorporates outstanding and helpful content for the users. Mashing keyword phrases into text is no longer a viable option as Google moves toward improving the user experience.

From here on out, building quality content should be a priority. 


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About Sean Donahoe

Sean is one of the most recognized industry leaders in business and marketing. As a popular speaker, author, consultant he has helped over 50,000 students world wide find success in their businesses and has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and businesses of every size grow and thrive...

One comment

  1. Hi Sean,

    Great summary of the Hummingbird algorithm. I do disagree with your assessment that keyword-based page optimization will go the way of the 8-track player. The Pizza Hut example is related more to the human touch behind the SERPs and has more to do with authority rather than keywords. For example, if Pizza Hut didn’t list their nutritional values, a secondary authority would return the results.

    The keyword issue will remain. An interpretation of language is required to return results. Keywords are derived from language. I think search will move more toward the relationship of words on a page to the relevant keywords.

    Great post!

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