In case you haven’t heard, the latest Google algorithm update (nicknamed “Hummingbird”) is online and ready for action.
Predictably, some marketers and search engine optimization experts are treating the news as a sort of virtual earthquake that couldn’t have been more devastating or unexpected; others are treating it as the next logical step in search engine evolution, which is what it actually represents.
To understand the difference, and why it’s important, let’s first take a look at what “Hummingbird” actually accomplishes. While the technical details might be dense, the reasoning behind the change is: Google wants to allow for longer search strings, and specifically, for users to be more conversational with the way they interact with the site.
As part of that shift, fewer words are being ignored within a search string, and Google is going beyond simple keyword matching to an understanding-based model. In other words, when you enter in a new search, you aren’t just asking Google to look for matching words and phrases, but also to decipher the intent of your search and deliver the appropriate results.
This falls strictly into the realm of what we predicted in our last e-book, Findability. As the web continues to grow, and people look for more and more precise and current bits of information, it’s up to Google and the other engines to go beyond traditional ways of evaluating content and look for matches between relevance, authority, and currency all at once.
Additionally, the increasing numbers of people who use speech-to-text search through mobile phones dictate that longer, more conversational queries are becoming the norm. Predictably, Google is changing with the times to better meet our needs and expectations.
So, how will Hummingbird affect you and your online marketing and search engine optimization efforts? Here are three quick trends and implications that are already becoming clear:
1. Traditional SEO and keyword emphasis have less value than they did in the past.
As we noted in our book, we are getting farther and farther from the “standard” of achieving search optimization goals by counting keywords and links. People don’t look for information that way, and search engines are adjusting to the reality that the most optimized pages are often the least helpful.
2. Having more content makes your site more searchable and more findable.
When you add content to your site, you aren’t just giving Google more information to crawl, but also putting together different combinations of words, answers, and ideas. So, with longer, more conversational search strings becoming commonplace, a site with lots of fresh and unique content has a much greater chance of matching up answers to a searcher’s real, underlying question. That’s becoming far more important than simple keyword and phrase matches.
3. Google wants its engine to think like people, not the other way around.
It’s easy to forget that, when search engines were first launched, they were designed to approximate the way people look for the information, not to invent new forms of stilted language. The more natural your website feels to actual readers, the more valuable it’s going to seem to search engines in the future. The moral of the story is to pay attention to potential customers first, and then put an emphasis on findability after you already have good content in place.
What will future Google updates and algorithm changes bring? There isn’t any way to know the details from outside the company’s walls, but you can bet it will be even more natural, nuanced, and refined ways of helping people find the information they need. In other words, good content is still going to be your best building block for search engine optimization.