What do Panda, Caffeine, Buffy, Big Daddy, Penguin and Jagger have in common? While they might sound like bizarre names dished out to a litter of puppies by an infant, they’re actually some of the names given to Google’s search algorithm’s updates over the years.
With the latest update, Hummingbird, Google have made their biggest algorithm modifications since 2001. This time, Google picked the name because the precision and speed of the animal apparently encapsulates their engine’s newly-honed capabilities. Although, I’m not convinced that past updates were named with such allegorical significance – I mean, Big Daddy?!
If the word algorithm is already sailing a bit over your head, and online definitions like this just make things worse, try to think of it as simply the mathematical way Google’s search engine does what it does.
In this article I’ll be examining how the search-giant unveiled the news, try to simplify and clarify what the changes mean for Googlers everywhere, whilst also taking an in depth look the impact it will have on marketers – and what they can do to adapt.
The mammoth search engine’s news was announced in typically quirky and enigmatic style. With a healthy dose of nostalgia and history, the company rounded up busloads of tech reporters at their Googleplex California HQ, before sending the confused journalists to a bland looking suburban address.
Inside the house’s garage Google revealed details of Hummingbird.
And it was in that garage, owned by Susan Wojcicki, that Larry Page and Sergey Brin built their revolutionary tech company during the winter of 1998. In an extra special nod to that era, Google had even recreated the co-founders’ workplace in the back of the house, complete with original desks and chairs!
What does it do?
Hummingbird already affects around 90% of searches, which shows how far-reaching the changes are – although currently fairly unnoticeable.
To put it in as basic terms as possible, the main goal of the algorithm is that Google will now be able to quickly analyse full questions – long-tail queries – as opposed to deconstructing questions word-by-word. Then it identifies and ranks answers to those questions from the context they’re indexed.
Hummingbird aims to sift out “fluff” content that is designed exclusively for snatching SEO, in its place delivering superior, pertinent search results.
The algorithm focuses on searches that are more natural than simply lists of computer-friendly keywords. For instance, if I was to search “how to fix the hard drive on my PS3” Google now understands that I’m not shopping for a new PS3 hard drive, and will find me pages with repair guides and other answers to the question before all of the retail results.
Context is prioritised as much as the content, so that Google’s results are more relevant by accentuating the intention over simply matching phrases.
Basically, Google’s becoming more understanding – and, crucially, more conversational. When you consider the emergence of voice-activated searching, such as with Siri on the iPhone, it’s a big step that Google can now better handle the sort of questions you’d ask verbally.
What does it mean for marketers?
Well, former SEO signals, like inbound links and social shares, are still relevant. And Google’s response to marketing concerns is that, “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.” Which is essentially the inbound marketing mantra anyway – good news for some!
In essence, if you blog about topics of interest then Google will now be even better at making sure you get found.
However, it’s important to comprehend these changes and start putting less of a focus on keywords and more of a focus on semantic SEO and semantic search (terms that are explained in detail here).
Content created just for the sake of getting traffic-boosting words on a page won’t have the effect it had before. With Hummingbird’s evolution, your content really has to answer questions that Google users might be asking. It’s vital that marketing objectives adapt to place a higher premium on content, but Google’s algorithm changes could also mean a new lease of life for forgotten content that may have lacked the SEO keywords before, but been undeniably worthwhile.
Even if you are placing a larger importance on your content, there are several methods to ensure Hummingbird doesn’t fly past you:
- Put yourself in your customer’s shoes
Consider why existing customers need or want your product in the first place. Check that your content answers questions that your audience might be asking, or create content on topics they will find relevant and interesting.
Even though you’re being helpful and informative, it doesn’t mean you can’t be hilarious. Or at least mildly entertaining.
- A blog’s not the be all and end all.
Content comes in many shapes and sizes, such as infographics, videos, whitepapers, games quizzes and more. Utilise them to increase your chances of Hummingbird sending users your way. The more variety in your content, the wider the array of Googlers that will stumble across your site.
- Analytics are your friend
If your site has a search tool, have a look at the data on what people are looking for on your site. If they’re often searching for existing content then it makes sense to produce further stuff along the same lines – but without too much repetition! If people are hunting for topics that you don’t have on your site, then it’s a pretty clear indicator that there’s demand there and you should produce something related, pronto.
Hummingbird or no Hummingbird, this goes without saying; make it easy to share your content! Don’t stop at Facebook and Twitter, consider the whole range of social media – Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, StumbleUpon, Reddit etc. It’s easy to get the codes for simple and quick input of the buttons on your site, and it will really boost sharing potential by making it as easy as a couple of clicks for users to share – whatever their desired platform.
As explained earlier, a lot of Google’s changes are designed with mobile and voice searching in mind. So ensure your content’s language is clear and intelligent, while carefully thinking about sentence structure, to perform properly. In a brilliant development for content writers everywhere, now Google recognises synonyms! So you won’t end up reading articles that repeat the same words over and over and over again for hits, and Google will identify that even though you searched “incredible deals” you may have meant “great deals” etc.