Recently, Google rolled out the single biggest algorithm update since Caffeine in 2010. Codenamed Hummingbird, this update aims to return meaningful, highly relevant search results by understanding long and complex search queries semantically.
Why is this important? Google has seen a rapid rise in long and specific queries. It also identified that traditional, dictionary-based algorithms tend to work less effectively for today’s complex and conversational type searches. Users are increasingly asking questions such as “How can I order pizza from home?” instead of just “pizza delivery”. The previous algorithm tried to match content in Google’s index with words or combination of words typed in as search terms and order results based on relevance. Hummingbird now attempts to understand the meaning of what the user is searching for better. Using the pizza order example again, it actually locates the user’s home address and produces a list of pizza delivery companies in the neighborhood, together with menus and phone numbers.
The conversational search algorithm provides a customer experience similar to that of Apple’s Siri. It is however more advanced as it is designed to apply meaning technology to the billions of pages Google has indexed. As this algorithm develops it will underpin Google’s voice search as well, which is increasingly popular amongst mobile users.
The Hummingbird name illustrates the precision and speed of the new algorithm, which affects 90% of search queries across the globe. According to the search company, it has been around in a test phase for about a month. Hummingbird is expected to shake up existing results and drastically change the search landscape around competitive phrases.
What does Hummingbird mean for search marketers? First, they need to measure the impact this update has on their website rankings and traffic. Once they recognize the impact, marketers must come up with solutions on how to provide more relevant content for existing long-tail searches as well as exploit new keyword opportunities.
Search marketers must understand content on their sites and utilize more structured data (also known as rich snippets). Structured data is designed to be searchable and its most common format is databases. When applied to SEO it means organizing and tagging content on sites, so that they stand out and can be categorized (i.e. products, reviews, price tags – on an ecommerce site). By tagging websites with rich snippets, marketers can help search engines understand and structure content better and display these in more customized ways for search engine users.
Depending on how fast marketers react to the new update, this could make or break their success on Google in the long term.