Google’s algorithm has undergone numerous iterations since Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched the search engine in September 1998. Its latest update, dubbed Hummingbird, is reportedly the most sweeping.
Just how sweeping?
For a start, Hummingbird affects 90 percent of searching. It also marks a departure from previous updates insofar as it doesn’t just involve weeding out spammy content, indexing websites, and improving information gathering. The latest update is designed to make Google more conversational and semantic—if not altogether human.
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How does Google Hummingbird work?
Hummingbird partly works through its Knowledge Graph, a project that lets Google deduce relationships between things, places and people from its stock of 570 million unique concepts. Through Knowledge Graph, Google can establish connections between words in the search string and correspondingly provide insights on the results page.
So the next time you query “chocolate vs. vanilla,” Google automatically returns with a comparison table of their nutritional value, above the customary search results. Cool, huh?
Sum of its parts
Which brings us to the next feature of the update: Hummingbird enables Google to look at a query as a whole rather than the sum of its keywords. In other words, Google can interpret the context and intent behind an entire question, as opposed to parsing it verbatim. The ensuing search results are more relevant and meaningful to the searcher.
Say you want to search for “gyms near my school” while logged in to your Google account. In the past Google would analyse each word individually, perhaps yielding a dictionary entry about gyms, your location on the map, and a famous university. With the new algorithm, Google automatically runs down a list of gyms near you.
This bodes well for long-tail keywords, i.e. very specific queries. Search engine optimization (SEO) experts have prized long-tail keywords because they convert really well. This is because searchers who type long-term keywords are most likely to make a buying a decision; besides, long-tail keywords have lower competition than general, one-word queries. The wider perspective brought by Hummingbird to Google will definitely reward pages containing long-term keywords.
One of the most breathtaking improvements brought by Hummingbird is the ability to recognize pronouns like ‘it.’ In effect, Google can now not only parse more convoluted queries but remember their thread.
For example, if you queried “show me images Flatiron Building” and followed it with “how tall is it,” Google responds with the height of that structure. Such capability for sequential searches lays groundwork for a more mobile.
Hummingbird must be the natural progression of mobile’s dominance. Google Android is the choice operating system for the bulk of the world’s mobile devices. Incidentally, Android runs voice search functionalities, which could only increase as succeeding generations demand a more humanlike interface of their devices. The ability of Hummingbird to intelligently reply to questions, imperative sentences, and other complicated queries prepare Google for this future.
Will Hummingbird Kill SEO?
There it goes again: someone ringing a death knell for SEO. Hummingbird is essentially just the next step in Google’s rewards system for websites and pages optimized for high-quality, well-rounded content. The onus now on SEO more than ever is to develop content of superlative authority, and regularly at that. The content must also be marketed in a way that is conducive to social media streams and networking in general. Conversion and bounce rates are at stake.
When all is said and done, keywords won’t be made irrelevant by Hummingbird. Far from it, because Hummingbird will swoop in on keywords, albeit those organically created in the process of building expert content.
In sum, all of this leads to the emergence of sentient machines only glimpsed in sci-fi.