The biggest change to Google’s search algorithm since 2001 took place last month and, the chances are, you won’t have noticed.
But that was Google’s intention because, whilst Hummingbird qualifies as a completely new algorithm, it’s designed to contextualise long-tail searches, with the aim of delivering an improved user experience for voice search (Google Glass is just one device that will drive this increase in the coming months and years).
As the BBC noted in its coverage, quoting Google, “Hummingbird is focused more on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests, unlike its predecessor, Caffeine, which was targeted at better indexing of websites.”
Our initial thoughts on the impact of Hummingbird
Above and beyond providing a point of reference, we wouldn’t compare Caffeine and Hummingbird as one was structural (Caffeine) whilst Hummingbird is a fundamental evolution of the algorithm. Google notes that it provides “a more intelligent understanding of search requests“. Note search requests, not search results. So a big difference.
Hummingbird has been in effect for several weeks now so, if it required any major shifts in your website’s content and how Google is presenting it to users, we’d have known about it by now. So we can be clear that Hummingbird genuinely is about the processing of the search query/phrasing.
An example search query
Google’s legendary Kool-Aid provider and head of the Webspam team, Matt Cutts, gave a talk at Pubcon last week in Las Vegas where he referenced an example of a typical search query that should show Hummingbird in effect:
We tested this query in Google UK:
Result #1: A post that mentions the Matt Cutts Pubcon search query quote.
Result #2: A Tripadvisor.com page that reviews a Texan motel with the words ‘Oh my Dear God’ in its title and description.
Result #3: A dynamic page of a Texan law-related website.
Result #4: A Huffington Post page about state troopers confiscating women’s hygiene products.
There is no correct query result for the first 4 results pages.
Here’s the correct search query result:
You may be thinking that we’ve used a text search example when Hummingbird is designed for voice search, but the same set of results is returned with a voice search too.
So it’s still early days, and Hummingbird is arguably not taking effect in the UK to the degree it has in the US.
How should your SEO strategy adapt?
Should you now optimise your local Chinese restaurant homepage as a result? No, according to Google, but looking at the above examples it would almost make sense to have a landing page that is highly optimised for such queries.
It will be interesting to see how Google fine-tunes Hummingbird – whilst it’s still learning to fly in the UK, it’s likely to be a powerful development to prepare Google for a fundamental change in how people use their product.