Google gave itself a present for its 15th birthday. And it seems like there are a lot of people unhappy about it. 

For those that follow the SEO world, I’m sure that you have heard by now that the new Hummingbird algorithm update is out. Google is in the business of returning the best possible search results for what Google users will be looking for and Hummingbird is next in a long line of algorithms and updates created to help that process. Hummingbird is the latest Google search algorithm in which the monster company seeks to better cope with the longer, more complex search queries continuing to come in across the web.

Hummingbird primarily targets the goal of giving Google’s search engine the ability to better understand concepts as opposed to just a few keywords. This, along with the last major switch to “Caffeine” (in 2010), have caused shifts in the search world and turned things upside down. Currently, about 90% of the search world has been impacted by Hummingbird and SEOs are scrambling.

Why did Google call it Hummingbird?

Let’s answer this one first, because I was curious about this as well. Google said that it has given it the name Hummingbird because the new update is “precise and fast.” And this of course is the job of any good search engine. Wait…aren’t ninjas also “precise and fast”? Why no Google Ninja update?

How is this going to affect my website?

Well, apparently Hummingbird has been in use for about a month already, Google said. However, Google only announced the change late last week. It was fairly seamless, and most of us wouldn’t have noticed unless they told us. There are some possible side-effects being felt but we’ll discuss that later in the article.

How is Hummingbird different then Penguin and Panda and other “updates”?

It’s different…very different. Penguin and Panda were changes to the old Google algorithm. Hummingbird, in all actuality, is a new algorithm on which all of Google search is built, and is the first time since 2001 that the Google algorithm has been so drastically rewritten. In essence, Hummingbird is essentially a new search engine, though it continues to incorporate some of the old (and still relevant) aspects, like Penguin and Panda.

What exactly are the differences between Hummingbird and the “old” Google?

One of the biggest things that Google said that Hummingbird does differently is in regards to “conversational search.” While Google search had done a pretty impressive job of this already, Hummingbird is designed to apply “meaning technology” to the billions of web pages out there. The idea is to take into account the entire sentence, or entire search string, rather than just particular words typed into the search bar. The goal of this, of course, is to bring progressively better results. Combine this with search helpers like Apple’s Siri and Google Now and you can see where this is going. Search is getting more conversational and search technology is trying to keep up. 

So how is it all working so far?

Right now it isn’t possible to tell if this will work the way that Google says it will, especially combined with other recent changes at Google with the “(not provided)” section of Google analytics that is steadily rising and will one day hit 100%. Irrespective, I’m imaging Google wouldn’t publicize the release unless it was returning the kind of results it was looking for, but this will become more and more difficult to tell.

Google however did offer a few “before and afters.” A search for “acid reflux prescription” used to give a list of drugs which weren’t necessarily the best way to treat the disease. Now, Google says that the results return information about treatment in general, and whether you even need drugs for treatment.

Another example was a search for “pay your bills through Citizens Bank and Trust” which used to bring up the homepage of this bank. Now this search actually returns the specific page for “paying bills.”

The goal for Google is to make their service better and better. In their announcement, Amit Singhal, Senior VP at Google, said, “You should not be spending your time searching, you should be spending your time living.”

Amen to that!

What are the takeaways?

First of all, most companies out there (and the websites that they’ve created) shouldn’t have many problems or penalties from this. Like we’ve written before in our blog Content Driven, there are a few basic things that make all websites, and their pages valuable: good, rich content that is regularly updated, that take into account the questions that searchers will be typing. Websites should be educational and pull together a set of resources that users will want to see when they get to your website. Therefore, SEO is still valuable. People do not need to fear that “SEO is dead!” There will always be unethical people that try to “game” the system, but doing things of quality and character will always get better long-term results and will always build a better business.

And… if you haven’t seen it coming yet: MOBILE, MOBILE, MOBILE! Every business that hasn’t already geared itself for mobile search is going to see itself fall further and further behind. This is a great time to get your mobile strategy going if you haven’t yet.

Have you seen any impact over the last month to your website’s search results? Let us know if you’ve lost or gained significant traffic!

Also let us know if you need any help navigating the changing world of SEO!