While we’ve all been using it, unaware mostly (although we suspected it), for the last two months, Google this month officially announced its new Hummingbird algorithm. Hummingbird’s main focus is to make search, specifically verbal searches on mobile devices, more natural.
To accomplish this requires technology to become more ‘human’, which is what Google has done. Changes at Google always have SEO consultants questioning how they, their products, or clients can best be found online. And updates like this cause them to become concerned about the SEO tactics they’ve been using and wonderin whether they’ll continue to work. The short answer is both “Yes” and “No”.
To show up in the organic rankings, a keyword focus to SEO intends for the search engines to find sites with high density exact match words to direct people to. It treats words as data. Limited to keyboard search data entries thus far, our searches have mostly sounded like “Disneyland vacation discount” or “Applebee’s hours Mt. Pleasant”. With the evolution of technology and the way people use it, a change like Hummingbird was inevitable.
Hummingbird treats words as part of a whole query, understands context, and comprehends subsequent questions in a string of queries. Hummingbird understands spoken queries on your smart phone and aims to deliver more accurate results based on human-like conversations you have with it.
Keyword stuffing, the practice of hiding the words you want to rank for behind an image on your site, overusing them in the page URL, hiding use of a word that has nothing to do with your page but you think will drive traffic to it, and just generally stuffing words into articles and onto website pages in a way that makes it unnatural for people to read, has been dead for a while. Originally this was what people meant when referring to SEO. You run the risk of being penalized by Google for doing this.
What Hummingbird means for SEO is that while high quality, great content sites and articles will continue to be ranked well, there’s a higher emphasis on relationships. In the past SEO was very focused on keywords – their placement on page, their competitive ranking in the (now deprecated) Google Keyword Tool, their density on a page, etc. Now SEO professionals need to have more consideration for the relationships they are forming with their customers. It’s about customer engagement. Relationships and connections are what Hummingbird emphasizes. It recognizes and maps context and meanings. Social sites like Google Plus, responding to comments on your site, engaging your audience and providing tons of value to people is now the name of the game.
Hummingbird’s algorithm aims to allow technology to ‘understand’ better what we’re searching for by comprehending the context of our search. This will provide us with better search results.
And it keeps Google competitive with Apple’s Siri.
If you’ve always been practicing ethical SEO, then continue to do so, but just be aware of connections and relationships going forward. If you’ve relied heavily on keywords on a page in the past to rank or are just plain spammy with your use of them, this tactic alone will no longer be as effective.