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Hummingbird: What to do when this bird whirls up a storm?

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam, has already announced that the coming months are going to be eventful. Google has recently made a pretty monumental change to their algorithm with wide reaching scope. With Hummingbird, the search engine giant has pretty much renewed their algorithm completely and added to its search function a few extra features.

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam, has already announced that the coming months are going to be eventful. Google has recently made a pretty monumental change to their algorithm with wide reaching scope. With Hummingbird, the search engine giant has pretty much renewed their algorithm completely and added to its search function a few extra features.

With an alteration of this size, the level of unease is great: Who will this hummingbird be targeting? What will it do? And how should you react? Is it just a paradigm change in the Google search? Or is it not half as bad? It’s not possible to anticipate the exact outcome of this change, and there are still many open questions. That said, there are also some answers already.

Google’s aim: Semantic and Mobile

This new change from Google is made up of two essential main points: On the one hand, it’s about heading towards a refined semantic search; on the other hand, it’s about broadening of Google’s knowledge graph.

One of Google’s greatest plans is to optimise the “conversational search“. It’s through this verbal search that the user should interact with Google (via smart phone). The new algorithm recognises single words and their semantic connections much better than was previously the case. In order to acknowledge the true intention lying behind the search enquiries, words such as ‘why’ or ‘where’ will also be taken into account, as well as the individual words in the search. It’s through this that Google will understand complex searches even better.

In addition to this, it will also be possible for Google to relate different search enquiries to one another. If you ask how high the Eifel tower is, for example, then you don’t have to mention the tower in the next question. It should no longer be necessary. Example:

User: How high is the Eiffel Tower?

Google: The Eiffel Tower is 324 meters high.

User: Where is it?

Google: It’s in Paris, France.

The communication between the user and search machine will become easier, more intuitive and will enable more complicated searches through the semantic search. In this way, the business is preparing their search engine for mobile devices and gadgets for the future.

Bringing a new look to the search results

The algorithm change will be most evident in Google’s knowledge graph, which is now showing more information than ever before. It combines structured information from different websites and presents an organised overview of the results at first glance. Depending on the search enquiry, the knowledge graph will be shown on the desktop either next to the search results or above the first organic results.

With a search on a particular artist, the graph will typically present not only the main points on his biography, but also many further points; for example a list of his paintings in chronological order.

On top of this, comparison questions will be simplified: If you’re looking to compare the qualities of the different planets, or the nutritional value of different foods, Google can already display the most important facts and information – clear and structured, making it immediately understandable.

All this information is accessible without even having to click on a single search result. The knowledge graph presents the searched for terms directly in the SERPs (the search engine results pages). The graph is a perfect instrument for the semantic search and a ‘conversation’ between the users and Google.

Danger of reduced traffic

Even when Google stresses that the new algorithm doesn’t mean website owners should fear being penalised, as they did following the penguin and panda updates, the new updates do hide one or two dangers for website owners. “Google uses the search traffic for itself and keeps the users on its own pages. This means that many websites will actually get reduced organic traffic”, stated Nicolas Sacotte, founder and business manager of seedkind.de. Why should the user click on yet another search result when Google has already shown him the answer to his question in the SERPs?

How to react to the Hummingbird

Depending on the information Google intends to show in the knowledge graph in the future, a few website owners will have to come up with strategies to re-generate the loss in traffic. Here, there are a few different possibilities:

Online advertisements: One way to get users onto the site is with paid advertisements. These cover classic banners and innovative web formats, as well as affiliate programs and paid displays. “The website owner has got to reach to other sources, which in most circumstances means adwords”, states SEO expert Sacotte. That said, there are also other alternatives to Google.

Multichannel seeding: The traffic from social media sources is becoming increasingly important. The links from other websites, such as blogs and forums, are also an important contribution. But this isn’t just online; it even helps in the offline world when a company’s content is presented via multiple channels. Finding out from which channels users are directed to your site can give a few tips to optimising a website’s performance.

Brand Creation: Ideally, a website would be so positively anchored in its customers’ minds that when it comes to certain topics, the user doesn’t even bother to search beyond their bookmark. Making sure the users are engaged on a level that they’ll not find elsewhere is one way to ensuring this is successful.

Focussing on the longtail: With Hummingbird, Google is especially targeting long tail search enquiries, meaning those which are searched for less often or which contain longer keyword combinations. “Google is now at the stage of interpreting searches semantically. This could make longtail keywords even more interesting,” claims Andreas Bruckschlögl, co-founder of onpage.org. In order to benefit from specific longtail searches, business ought to take as many possible searches into account as they can and – most importantly – what exactly the searcher means.

Comprehensive content: “It is just as important as ever to offer high-quality content“, said Bruckschlögl. Next to good, semantically optimised content, it’s also about being thorough. A website with one or two bits of information, but very little else in terms of content, is really not useful. Comprehensive content which deals with a topic in detail is preferred by users, simply because the content offers more information than the few facts made available in the knowledge graph. Additionally, content like this will be ranked preferentially. In the example of a restaurant: “A landing page with a description of the restaurant is no longer enough. Google wants to see reviews and locations, too”, states Nicolas Sacotte.

The exact impact and effects Hummingbird will have in the long term have yet to be seen. “It will be so much more sensational when Google is ready to deliver a price comparison directly there in the search engine results – even with the option to buy the article directly via Google, with Google as a quasi-affiliate. That will certainly mean website owners are once again uncomfortable”, believes Andreas Wander, Head of Business Development D/A/CH at Textbroker. One thing is certain: Google really rewards good content. In spite of the Hummingbird, content remains king.


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