Google’s had a busy year. The company rolled out an innovative new service, Google Helpouts, and continued to expand its presence in the fiber-optic Internet market – despite the fact that providers like Verizon have stopped their own rollout. Google+ reached 1 billion users. And the search engine released yet another update to the algorithm that finds and ranks search results.
Google Hummingbird, which the company quietly released in September, is the latest iteration of Google’s search algorithm. The algorithm is complicated, secretive and well-guarded by Google. But we do know that it includes factors like the age, content and domain authority of sites.
Google Hummingbird is part of their continuing effort to provide high-quality, highly relevant search results to users – but it works differently than past algorithm updates. In fact, according to Google VP Amit Singhal, Hummingbird is the biggest change to the Google algorithm since 2001.
Here are three things you should know about Hummingbird, now that it’s here to stay:
1. It focuses on input
Google’s search algorithm traditionally pays more attention to how it ranks output – the millions of search results that stem from every query. But Hummingbird switches the focus to input – the queries that users search for on Google.
The old Google algorithm read queries in terms of individual keywords. For example, a search of “Where can I find the Xbox One in Chicago?” would return sites that included the keywords “Xbox One” and “Chicago” anywhere on the page.
But Hummingbird uses something called “conversational search” to better understand the meaning underlying queries. Instead of basing results on individual keywords, Google now takes into account the meaning of your whole query.
It may also know your location, so it can provide results that are more useful to you. And if you’re using voice search, it remembers your previous searches – more like an actual conversation.
2. It means more mobile
Morgan Stanley analysts predict that mobile will exceed desktop usage by 2015. “Conversational search” is Google’s attempt to recognize this shift – it mirrors how queries are changing as mobile and voice search becomes more popular.
Hummingbird allows Google to better understand long-tail and natural-language queries – how people search when they’re on the go or on mobile devices. That means that to rank in those searches, sites need to bolster their mobile online presence.
To continue to succeed in Google, site owners need to make their pages more mobile-friendly – whether that’s building a unique mobile site, creating a mobile app or using responsive design. And they should incorporate mobile into their content marketing strategy.
3. Content is still king
Hummingbird represents a big change to how Google understands search queries. But unlike past updates, it’s not a major issue for marketers and site owners. Hummingbird mainly targets individual searches, not general Google traffic. And so far, it hasn’t seemed to adversely affect site rankings.
That just means, in terms of ranking, new Google is a lot like old Google – and content is still king. Sites that have relevant content, excellent writing and high-quality links still rank higher than low-quality sites that use spam, keyword stuffing and spun content.
What do marketers need to do to continue to rank in Google? More of what they’ve been doing – high-quality, authoritative content – plus a little bit of intuition into what their target customers really mean when they search.
Author: Michelle Smith is a freelance writer with a focus on social media and marketing. She can be found typing away on her laptop in sunny Boca Raton, Florida. Michelle welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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