At Google’s 15th Birthday event yesterday we were given some juicy tidbits about the changing world of search and how it might effect us - the users. Aside from some great strides towards Semantic Search including further developments in “conversational search”, richer answer, and even a shiny new interface or two - then we get to something pretty massive for the SEO world…
Introducing Google Hummingbird, one of the biggest single changes to Google since 2001, similar in principal to changes caffeine brought about, just far larger. Amit Singhal, when he joined Google over a decade ago began with a splash, rewriting a great deal of the algorithm then - now it looks like he’s headed up the same again through the release of Hummingbird.
Much the same as our existing understanding of Google’s ranking algorithm, Hummingbird is said to be made up over 200 factors (including PageRank) and aims at delivering faster and more precise results - presumably the reason behind the new name. Although unlike Penguin and Panda, which are parts of the ranking mix, Hummingbird looks to change results served far more fundamentally.
What does this mean for the user? Well we hope that results will get better, although considering it was rolled out a month ago (and despite 90% of searches being effected, there haven’t been any huge changes that have been noticed), it’s harder to judge if there has been any marked difference so far - but this could well change over time as they tweak and change how it works. The main change, is said to be in how complex searches are served, in particular boosting the potential of the “conversational search“, focusing on the meaning behind and the context of the words. This is another significant shift towards semantic search and all that brings.
When I reached out to David Amerland, author of Google Semantic Search, he believes that Hummingbird…
“Is a really important change that both deepens and broadens Google’s semantic search by introducing two new tools: comparison and Knowledge Graph-based prediction to significantly expand the end-user’s information horizon. The beauty of it is that Hummingbird introduces a more complex synthesis of data: it understands much more complex search queries, better and uses them to better understand the end user’s intent and then bring back to him a much richer lode of information, and it does all that seemingly in a much more accessible way than ever before. Affecting some 90% of all search queries globally, Hummingbird is a clear signal that semantic search is accelerating.”
Despite the fact that it was only announced yesterday, we had seen fairly sizeable spikes of top 100 flux nearly a month ago, around the 18th/19th and 29th/30th August, either of which could have likely been Hummingbird.
Did Google give a date on “Hummingbird” beyond “about a month ago”? I wonder if that’s the 8/20-ish algo flux?
— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) September 26, 2022
Considering the size of the update and what it means for HOW Google now delivers search results, you have to hand it to them as to how smoothly it all seemed to have been rolled out. Of course, this is the only Hummingbird related announcement we’ve ever had, this doesn’t mean there haven’t been related updates in the past, the mystery updates pre-Penguin in May and even in January could have been a test or a precursor to this (or it could be one of the other hundreds of updates Google rolls out in a year - we just simply don’t know).
Whether or not the spike in flux highlighted above was the roll out of Hummingbird, the message Google wants to convey to webmasters is still the same as before - their focus needs to be on quality for their users. Considering the move towards “conversational search” and Hummingbird’s apparent strength at returning more complex, or nuanced queries, it again highlights the importance of correctly marking up your content and doing what you can to utilise the power of semantic search.
Wait, notice something prophetic? Does the iconic book “The Art of SEO” released 2009 by Rand Fishkin et al give away more than it intended to? Maybe they knew?