Google celebrates its 15th birthday this year and during their big party last week revealed a new search algorithm change, leaving search marketers wondering why they couldn't just hire a clown. The new Hummingbird update has been live for around a month now but Google decided it would be best to keep the big announcement quiet until they all had their party hats on. This was a big update affecting 90% of search queries; however, it Google says it didn't have a major impact on SEO and rankings.
What type of "new" search activity does Hummingbird help with?
"Conversational search" is one of the biggest examples Google gave. People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation. "What's the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?" A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words—finding a page that says "buy" and "iPhone 5s," for example.
Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you've shared that with Google. It might understand that "place" means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that "iPhone 5s" is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.
In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query—the whole sentence or conversation or meaning—is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
Does this mean SEO is dead?
No, SEO is not yet again dead. In fact, Google's saying there's nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Guidance remains the same, it says: have original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.
Does this mean I'm going to lose traffic from Google?
If you haven't in the past month, well, you came through Hummingbird unscathed. After all, it went live about a month ago. If you were going to have problems with it, you likely would have known by now.
By and large, there's been no major outcry among publishers that they've lost rankings. This seems to support Google saying this is very much a query-by-query effect, one that may improve particular searches—particularly complex ones—rather than something that hits "head" terms that can, in turn, cause major traffic shifts.
But I did lose traffic!
Perhaps it was due to Hummingbird, but Google stressed that it could also be due to some of the other parts of its algorithm, which are always being changed, tweaked or improved. There's no way to know.
To advertisers or publishers who are worried about this change, I'd take heart that if you haven't lost any traffic in the past month that is a good indication that Hummingbird did not change your rankings much. And let's hope that if our advertisers and publishers do see an impact that it will be a positive one.
Here are a few articles with more information on Hummingbird: