Without a lot of fanfare, Google has gone ahead and released a new algorithm. Not just an update, but a whole new algorithm (though to be fair, it uses a lot of the same signals as the old one.) During their 15th birthday celebrations, Google announced the new algorithm from the Menlo Park garage where the whole Google empire first started. Was the garage used as the location to signal how big and significant this change would be – a new beginning? – or was it just done that way because it was their birthday? Google first started using Hummingbird a month ago, but only announced the change on 26th September.
Despite being in place for over a month now, most sites haven’t experienced a big fluctuation in rankings during its rollout. How could the change be seamless if it’s a whole new algorithm? Probably because the new algorithm is focussing on identifying intent of peoples searches rather than changing the ways it evaluates websites (like Panda and Penguin). So the new algorithm will mostly be changing the way Google understands what is being typed into search. Since they are drilling into intent, this would have more impact on longer worded searches, commonly known as long tail search queries. Since most companies and agencies generally record the rankings and traffic of only the biggest search terms, you can see how this could fall under most SEO’s radars.
Wondering what the name is about? ‘Hummingbird’ came from the idea that the new algorithm should be ‘precise and fast’. While it has been in place for a month without people really noticing, it has apparently affected around 90% of searches. Hummingbird is another step in the ‘Semantic Search’ evolution, otherwise known as ‘conversational search’. The algorithm is aiming to look not just at the separate words that make up a search, but more trying to understand the intent of the search. Google says their advice to site owners hasn’t changed – and we haven’t noticed a big change in search results, so we think we should believe them. In the longer term, we imagine that as semantic search evolves, people will start to use longer search terms, and the value of individual or ‘main’ keywords will start to diminish. Therefore, creating high quality, relevant content which answers the commonly searched for questions and terms that your audience use, will still be a valuable way to optimise your site for search engines.
We can also infer that with a growing number of long tail terms, and the increase in proportion of ‘not provided’ by Google, that individual keyword reporting is soon going to have to evolve into something more broad. Reporting is likely going to have to take more time, to get a similar amount of insight.