Hummingbird: Google announce biggest change in years years…. but what is it?

Hummingbird is now live for 90% of search queries and is supposedly the single biggest change since Google Caffeine. So what’s it all about and why did such a fundamental change pass so discretely under the radar?

Google Hummingbird is all about semantics and context, and has been designed to cater for the more conversational way we now make our search queries, particularly via mobile. It is part of the ongoing effort to make search less about words and more about meaning. After all, many search queries are not simple key phrases looking for a precise piece of information, they are long and complex. In fact one in 5 searches is completely unique; it has never been entered before in the history of Google! That mind boggling statistic gives you an insight into the sheer randomness of human behaviour, and it is this randomness that hummingbird is trying to organise.

What does it mean for SEO’s?

In the immediate term probably not a lot (or there would have been much more noise since the change was rolled out), but as Google places less emphasis on words, so must we. Google is looking for the broader context; what lead the user to this point? Where are they likely to want to go next? That’s how we need to be thinking.

This concept in itself is actually not new. Around this time last year, Rand did a great White Board Friday on the growing importance of matching content to user intent, and certainly we’ve seen that play a huge role in our results. Gone are the days that of agonising over URL’s and 70 character title tags. Now it’s about a much broader and richer kind of relevance; what is it that’s going through the searchers mind when they make that search query? What are the many, many things they might be hoping to find and how can we structure that mass of content in a way that remains intuitive and digestible?

For example, when someone searches for “best criminal solicitors in the London area” it is not good enough to create a page on Criminal Law, throw in “Criminal Solicitors London” in the title tag and expect it to rank. As the potential client making that search, I may want to see the following:
– London address & Map
– Office opening hours
– London telephone number
– Evidence that you are “the best” – Testimonials, awards and certifications
– News links specific to criminal law
– Images of the London office
– A list of criminal law solicitors
– A million other things unique to the individual making the search query….

The best thing about this more user focused form of SEO is that not only do the rankings benefit (and believe me, they really do) but so do the engagement and conversion rates. It really is a win win win.


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