Sydney Opera House on Google

Hummingbird: Google’s newest algorithm update

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It seems like it was only yesterday that Google released its Penguin algorithm update, a change that left plenty of webmasters scrambling to get rid of bad links from their sites. But Google is certainly not one to rest when it comes to improving the way their search tool works.

Enter Hummingbird, the latest update from the search engine giant.

What is Hummingbird and what does it do?

Officially released at the time of Google’s 15th birthday (at the end of September), Hummingbird has really been ‘live’ since late August. Senior-level executives at Google claim that it’s actually the largest update in the past three years, affecting about 90% of all online searches, and is therefore much bigger than Panda or Penguin.

In general, the idea behind Hummingbird was to make online searches more ‘human friendly’ by better understanding complex phrases and language. For instance, if you type a full question into the search box instead of just a few keywords, Google will show you sites that are most likely to answer that question. Therefore, Hummingbird focuses on all the words in a query and how they connect, rather than only a few terms within that query.

The Knowledge Graph

Hummingbird also makes more use of Google’s Knowledge Graph. Google has been using this knowledge base since 2012, which returns answers to “semantic search” questions. For example, if you type “How many seats in Sydney Opera House” into the search box, you’ll see something like this pop up at the top of your results:

Google Knowledge Base

Google uses the Knowledge Base to answer your question before listing any other sites relevant to the performance venue.

In addition, on the right side of your screen, you’ll see more information about the building appear, including the address, the names of the architects, opening date, a Google map, etc., like this:

Sydney Opera House on Google

By providing this information, Google is working to anticipate what other needs and questions you may have, and there’s more of this to come. Google executives have stated that anticipating the needs of searchers is a big part of their future work.

Also, with the explosive growth and use of mobile devices, Google has been working on ways to improve voice search (since, of course, they want to make sure it’s easy for you to get results using your phone). Therefore, Hummingbird better understands phrases that are spoken, rather than just typed.

What do these changes mean for your website?

As we said when Penguin came out: Don’t panic. Having good content on your site is still the most important thing you can do, and the use of keywords in your site still matters. However, anticipating and answering your visitors’ needs will become increasingly important, so keep that in mind as you create new content.

Have more questions about all of this? Need some help? Let us know and stay tuned for future posts on SEO!