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What is Google Hummingbird?
Hummingbird had an estimated release date of 20 August 2013. Unlike the previous Panda and Penguin updates which were initially released as add-ons to Google’s algorithm, Hummingbird has been cited as a complete overhaul of the core algorithm.
While it’s believed that many preexisting components or the core algorithm remain intact, Hummingbird signals Google’s commitment to an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the intent of searcher’s queries with the goal of matching them to more relevant results.
Google announced Hummingbird on September 26, 2013, but it actually already been in place about a month prior. Whereas previous algo updates such as Panda and Penguin sparked significant reporting of lost traffic and rankings.
Hummingbird, on the other hand, did not appear to have drastic negative impacts on the general web. It was largely understood as having a positive influence on the accuracy of Google’s knowledge base known as the Knowledge Graph.
How does the Hummingbird update impact SEO?
Hummingbird (which Google said was so named because it was precise and fast) does a number of things no search engine had done before. First, it takes the entire search query into account—not just the keywords, but every word.
Second, it looks at who is carrying out the search. Suddenly, variables such as past search history and search patterns are important in delivering the right results, at the right time, to the right person. Thirdly, it also factors in how the search itself is being conducted.
Device type, time of day, and location now are also important parameters affecting the search results. With linguistic sensitivity (i.e., the ability to better process natural language) Google’s Hummingbird is also better at understanding the relationships between queries and between bits of data.
It is in this space that real magic happens. Semantic search, really, is about relational connections and contextual content. In order to deliver “the right results, at the right time, to the right person,” semantic search needs to understand the importance of the query to that person and the importance of the query in relation to the data it already holds in its index and the data it is currently indexing.
Every single item of data that is on the visible Web needs to be crawled, indexed, and evaluated against all the other items of data and then weighed against a particular search query. The net result of this approach is that the traditional first page of Google everyone strove to rank for in the past has now largely disappeared.
How to optimize content for Google Hummingbird?
Optimizing pages for Hummingbird is really simple. All you have to do is create great content that your audience wants and finds useful, and also enriches the overall experience. You should probably be doing the following anyway, but if you’re not, now is an excellent time to start and make your website Hummingbird friendly.
To give you some actionable steps, here are three things you can do.
The first is to diversify the length of your content. We know that long-form content can work exceptionally well as part of a wider content strategy, but if every single post you publish on your website is a 5,000-word monster article, you may not be meeting your reader’s needs.
For this reason, and to get something done rather than write a mammoth blog post, mix up the length of your content. Add shorter articles among longer ones, and don’t be too pedantic when it comes to word count.
Remember, there is no perfect post length, only the length an article needs to be.
Second, use topic appropriate language. Something that sites first takes advantage of is using industry appropriate language in their content. This is something done out of fear of alienating potential readers who may not be familiar with a certain topic or area. However, writing content that includes appropriate terminology, can demonstrate to Google that your site is authoritative and valuable.
Number three, implement schema microdata. Implementing schema microdata can only be a good thing, especially with Hummingbird’s heightened focus on semantics. As we discussed in a technical SEO section, schema makes it easy for Google to understand what your website is all about, making it more likely for Hummingbird to place your content in searches for wider categories.
Implementing schema can be a bit of a pain, but it could be worthwhile in the long run. In addition to making a site friendlier to the search engines, you’re also providing Google with an opportunity to get your website featured as a Google snippet, or in the Knowledge Graph.