Google Hummingbird is a search engine algorithm. Google started using the new algorithm in September of 2013 to mark the tech company’s 15th anniversary, claiming that now the search engine can be a more human way to interact with users and provide a more direct answer.
Hummingbird is the biggest change to Google Search since 2001. It isn’t just a tweak to the functionality of the search, it is a completely new search algorithm that affects 90 percent of all searches.
Google has updated its search algorithm several times over the past few years. However, previous updates were focused on making Google better at gathering information. For example, indexing websites more often to identify content that is spam and not beneficial to the user. Hummingbird is targeted for the user. The results are Google having better understanding of what searchers really want and providing them with better answers.
The biggest improvements involve longer search queries. Instead of examining each individual word in a search, Google is now examining the searcher’s query as a whole and processing the meaning behind it. In the past, Google used more of a focused approach to looking at the individual words in a search and returned results that matched each of those words or the phrase as a whole.
Now Google is focusing on context and trying to understand the user’s intent in order to deliver more relevant results and better answers. Google has made its search engine more “human friendly” by making Google better at understanding language and how people communicate.
Most people won’t notice a big change in the search results. However, for longer, more complex and conversational queries, Google now gives much more precise answers. For example, if a user searches for “Seafood restaurants near my house.” In the past, Google would analyze each word individually and provide results based on them. You might get a Wikipedia article about seafood, a map of your location and even home improvement websites with pages titled “my house.”
With Hummingbird, Google better understands what you’re asking for, and displays a list of seafood restaurants near your house (if you are signed in to Google and have provided them with a home address in Google Maps). The results match the meaning behind the search, not just the individual words.
A significant driving force behind this change is mobile searches. When users use their smartphones, queries tend to be shorter because users don’t type as many words as when they’re using a full-sized keyboard. However, when voice search queries are used they tend to be longer, more complex and more conversational. Google is positioning itself to be ready for when we move into an era of wearable tech so it can provide the best voice search experience around.
The users who benefit the most from these improvements are the ones who are signed in. This is the best example to date of Google tying all the information it has about its users together to improve their experience. In addition to the search query, additional information is pulled in from the user’s location (and saved locations), social connections (on G+), time of day and even previous searches.
Examples of previous search data take us back to voice search, and Google Glass. Google can now understand continuity in sequential searches, the often stated example is a Glass user asking, “When was the Empire State Building built?” and then “How tall is it?” Google’s Knowledge Graph, its database of 570 million unique concepts and the relations among them, helps power these kinds of interactions.
What Hummingbird means to websites
With Google Hummingbird, the usefulness of content becomes even more significant. The number of people searching in the form of questions is constantly increasing. As a result, creating content that answers those questions is more likely to appear higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Creating content that answers questions isn’t a new concept. But with Google focusing more on the context of the searcher’s question rather than bits and pieces of the search string, creating content that is a match for a specific question may outperform content that doesn’t.
This also goes for content that isn’t phrased in the form of a question. Creating content that focuses on something very specific (long-tail) and matches the user’s search intent could be presented higher in search results than content that matches only a few words. To take advantage of this, look for opportunities to create content that is more specific and speaks to search intent, when it makes sense to do so.
Ultimately, the driving force behind Hummingbird is to make sure Google is prepared for a future where its users interact with it constantly, quickly and verbally. By making its search engine better at understanding people, Google is paving the way for the future. There will come a time in the near future when the idea of typing a search on a keyboard will seem old fashioned.