Hummingbird, Google's Latest Animal You Need to Know About

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The Hummingbird is the latest animal to become associated with Google thanks to their brand new algorithm.

Dubbed 'Hummingbird' (almost every major Google update is given the name of an animal), this algorithm helps to decide what results are presented to searchers. The obvious goal for Google is to have the most effective algorithms running their servers in order to give users the most relevant results.

The Hummingbird update was actually released by Google a few weeks before they announced it. So, odds are you're search results have almost certainly already been affected by this change. Whilst most algorithm updates only touch a small percentage of search engine traffic, this whole new algorithm has more far reaching results - Google announced that it will provide results for 90% of all searches.

What does Hummingbird do?

Google's goal is to improve search results through interpreting longer and more complex search requests better. Hence Hummingbird. Rather than just looking for a single keyword or a collection of keywords, this new algorithm looks at the grammar used in the search, aiming to come up with more complex and dynamic results. Otherwise known as 'semantic' search.

Helpfully, Google has provided a few examples to demonstrate this goal:

  • A search for impressionist artists will produce a variety of images of relevant painters.
  • 'Oil vs butter' will bring you a comparison of their respective nutritional content.
  • Searches phrased as questions should be more likely to bring more relevant results.

But despite these changes, the effect from a user perspective hasn't been all that dramatic - after all, many of us have already been using it without even noticing.

So what does it mean?

Whilst the immediate changes to web rankings in the wake of Hummingbird haven't been staggering, they do represent the shift in how people are now searching online. More and more complex searches are being carried out, replacing the straightforward keyword or key phrases more traditionally associated with Google.

This means that search engines, and anyone working in SEO, have to ensure that they continue to provide the most relevant results.

The Hummingbird update also fits with many other recent announcements from Google, indicating they're desire to push businesses away from single key phrases when optimising their websites:

Google discontinued their Keyword Tool earlier in the year

Up until then, this had been an essential part of any SEO activity

Web Analytics data is labelling increasingly more keywords 'unknown'

When you search for which terms are driving traffic to your site, fewer and fewer keyphrase search results are being shown. This is an intentional mask from Google.

May's Penguin update started punishing unnatural linking techniques that use 'exact match' keyphrases

So for example, creating a link back to your website using 'Nike trainers' as the text for that link may well now indicate to Google that you're not writing helpful content but simply after a link for your key term. By noting this unnatural linking and punishing websites for it, Google has set a new precedent in search engine optimisation

As a website owner, what should I do?

If you're a website owner, when you create content it's worth spending some time thinking about how visitors may reach your site through more complex requests. Consider what kind of questions are likely to drive people to your site. These requests will differ depending on the nature of your business, but an FAQ page is a useful way of helping you rank for more specific terms relating to your website.

You should also get active on social media, if you're not already in order to increase interaction with customers and potential customers. Google+ in particular. And by interaction, we mean genuinely and actively engaging with them in conversations and sharing of information, not simply 'broadcasting' information.

However, aside from improving the content on your site and engaging as much as you can with your customers, there are no 'quick fixes' to get Hummingbird to particularly like your website. As with many of the latest Google updates, this is all about promoting natural and organic content that is interesting and relevant.

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