By now you might have heard some buzz about Google’s latest update, called “Hummingbird”. Even if you haven’t heard about it, you’ve probably seen it because Google says that it affects 90% of all searches.
Hummingbird is a completely new search algorithm, not just an update. To give an idea of how massive and complex this new algorithm is, Google filed the first patent for it in March 2003 and it took them until late September of this year to get it ready for public consumption (Google only revealed that it was up and running last week, almost a month after making the switch).
Google Wants to Process “Real” Speech Patterns
Hummingbird looks at a searcher’s intent such as the question they ask or the problem they are trying to solve and tries to provide them with the best response in the shortest amount of time. Granted, this sounds like what Google has always tried to do, but rather than focus on individual keywords as Google’s old algorithm did, Hummingbird now focuses on the entire query and can include additional factors like location and time of day. Google calls this “conversational search”.
If you haven’t yet seen Jean-Louis Nguyen’s “Google Voice Search Revisited” video, go watch it; it’s a great example of what Hummingbird can do. The rise of mobile devices and voice-enabled searching on those devices has lead in large part to the renewed interest in natural language queries. Consider the difference between these two search queries:
- “cn tower pictures”
- “give me some pictures of the cn tower”
The first query is formed the way we’ve learned to enter search queries on a keyboard. Keyboards have been our primary input method since web search was born. But keyboards are not natural human devices, and even for fast typists they are a bit awkward to use, so we learned to abbreviate queries.
While many continue to type on their phones and tablets, the keyboards on these devices are even more awkward. Over time, people will gravitate towards voice search: press a button and say what you’re looking for. Voice queries are far more likely to be phrased like the second query above – natural language queries. As in all things search, Google wants to dominate mobile search too.
What Does Google Hummingbird Mean for Businesses?
For businesses that have created websites using keywords they actually have nothing to do with, it’s back to the drawing board. Hummingbird is designed to help users get specific answers for broad queries, so businesses will have to start thinking of more search queries that can apply to them, both locally and on a larger scale.
But some businesses are not thrilled about this update. When Google released the Caffeine update back in 2010, for example, many sites dropped in rank due to the new algorithm disconnecting the site from its keywords. Since the release of Hummingbird, site rankings have been shifting; it will settle down before too long, but businesses will have to adapt their search engine optimization strategies to survive this new arbiter of searching.
End-users will feel the change, but businesses will have to adapt to the change. For businesses, the path is reasonably clear: focus on becoming a recognized authority in your space. Blogging, social media, online video, and a content-rich website are all more important than ever to drive quality traffic to your website and your business.