It’s not news to the search engine marketing world (at least it shouldn’t be) that Google announced their latest algorithm upgrade, Hummingbird, last month. In case you missed it, the Hummingbird upgrade is the largest algorithm change since 2001 and is said to affect 90% of search queries, which may cause many of you to panic. However, Google has stated that you don’t need to change anything with the condition that you have been doing what you should have been doing all this time. The signals Google uses are said to remain the same; say it with me, “Original, high-quality content,” but what is changing is how the search engine will process the content – hopefully for the better…hopefully.

What Makes Hummingbird New and Improved

The quick and short answer is that the Hummingbird upgrade will put less emphasis on matching keywords and more emphasis on understanding the context around what the user is searching for to better answer the search query. For the extended, unrated version you can read the patent published by Google on “Synonym Identification Based on Co-occurring Terms”. Here is an excerpt for those of you who are like me that don’t enjoy the reading:

For example, the user may enter the search query “What is the best place to find and eat Chicago deep dish style pizza?” In determining whether the term “restaurant” is a synonym for the query term “place”, a synonym engine may evaluate the query term in the context of adjacent terms, such as “best” or “to,” as well as non-adjacent terms, such as “Chicago” and “pizza.” Such an evaluation may result in the decision that, in the context of the non-adjacent term “pizza,” the term “restaurant” is a synonym of the query term “place.”

Why is the Hummingbird Upgrade Needed

As I mentioned in my previous post, Google is relying more and more heavily on their Knowledge Graph. They are tapping into this encyclopedia of ~570 million concepts and relationships to better rank sites on relevancy even further. Amit Singhal, Google’s Senior VP of Search, has said that, “the algorithm can make use of more complex search requests and has a better understanding of the concept of human language, rather than a few scattered words. This new algorithm is a big step forward in the Internet history as searches will be more ‘human friendly’ than ever.” In addition, Scott Huffman, Engineering Director at Google, says, “We want to get to a natural conversation between people and Google search on whatever devices they’re using.”

Hummingbird TheoryCraft

Please feel free to take everything that is said from this point on with a grain of salt as the points I will be making going forward are based solely on my own personal observations.

It has been said that “the key to making the right decisions about SEO is to understand where Google is going.” I don’t claim to know where they are heading, but I feel like over the past month I have seen the vapor trail of the trajectory. I think a trend starts to develop when you start to question why this type of upgraded is needed and look to the answers that are provided in conjunction with the changing hardware landscape.

The Mobile Conspiracy

With innovations such as Apple’s Siri the case can be made that more users are moving towards voice search on mobile and that a new algorithm is needed to accommodate this trend.

Let’s be real, Siri isn’t that good (full disclosure: I’m an Android user…haters gonna hate). It will probably be new and improved by iPhone 7s, but who knows if it will ever truly replace the phone’s touch interface. Maybe you out there have a different experience, but generally I have observed people typing searches into Google on their mobile devices. I think the case for the mobile user experience is more or less bunk, but there is the benefit of planning for the future.

Okay Glass

In my opinion a more viable interface that would hinge upon this type of an algorithm upgrade is Google’s own product Google Glass. Unlike mobile devices, Glass is a voice interface and the only touch actions that can be taken are swipe actions. In addition, Glass is available to a limited 8,000 Glass explores and I wonder if this test market is providing valuable search data to Google for fine tuning Hummingbird. Google Glass is slated to be available to the public in 2014 which is just around the corner.

Closing Thoughts

The SEO community will have to step up their game. I would argue that original, high-quality, and relevant content will not be enough if it is not also useful. Useful in the sense that the content answers those five little questions: where, what, why, who, and how. Questions add context around the reason behind the search that simple keyword strings do not. In addition, content will have to find its way into Google’s Knowledge Graph as they integrate it more and more with their products and features such as Maps, Carousel, and Display Banner Ads in SERPS.

If you made it this far and you got the Bob Dylan reference, I applaud you. Enjoy!