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The Future of Search: Google’s Hummingbird

google-hummingbird-temp-small2014 will be another big year for advancements in search and changes in how SEO is practiced.

And it’s Google that will continue to drive the SEO train, steering it toward a better search experience for their users.

So what’s in store for 2014 in SEO?

Well, before we look into the future of search, it’s important to take a look at the past and understand how far search has come since Larry Page met Sergey Brin on the Stanford campus in the mid-90’s.

Google’s Algorithm Updates

Google has issued many updates to their search algorithm since their inception in 1997.

Google Search Timeline Infographic

They have improved the user’s experience by adding features and conveniences we didn’t know we even wanted.

2001: “Did You Mean?” made it easier to correct any errors by suggesting what we may have been searching for so we don’t have to re-enter the search term. That was cool!

Google Local Pin2004: Local Search results made it easier for users to find local businesses, restaurants, etc., based on their current geographic location. Local search results are noted with a unique symbol. (Obviously, if I’m in Nashville, I wont be looking for a pizza place in Chicago).

2005: Autocomplete allowed users to type the beginning of a search term. Then Google fills in the remainder of the search term by ‘guessing’ what you are looking for based on what they already know about your individual search habits and popular searches by other users.

2007: Universal Search put everything at our fingertips at the same time. This update combined news, videos, images, and local search results with information Google obtained by crawling websites.

2010: Google Instant predicted what users were searching for and showed those results in a dropdown box that appeared below the search bar. Ideally, once the user began typing, suggestions would start to appear in the box allowing people pick from the list below. This update used Google’s Autocomplete technology as the basis.

Google Instant SERP

Other notable Google updates over the years include:

  • No Follow tag in 2005
  • Suggest in 2008
  • Caffeine in 2010
  • The introduction of Google Plus in 2011
  • Search + Your World in 2012

Panda and Penguin

Most website owners have heard about the recent Panda and Penguin updates. These updates were designed to make significant improvements in Google search results by rewarding high quality websites and by punishing manipulative attempts to trick your way to better rankings.

While they impacted many high profile websites, Panda and Penguin were simply updates to the existing algorithm. Google has not done a complete rewrite since 2001.

Until now.

Hummingbird: A New Engine for the Hot Rod

No publicized update has received as much attention and commentary prior to the last quarter of 2013 as the Hummingbird update.

Google named this latest update ‘Hummingbird’ to illustrate the accuracy and speed of the new system. It was a complete rewrite. A fresh start. A new beginning.

In the article in Search Engine Land ‘FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm’, Danny Sullivan compares the new Hummingbird update to an engine in an automobile.

“Think of a car built in the 1950s. It might have a great engine, but it might also be an engine that lacks things like fuel injection or be unable to use unleaded fuel. When Google switched to Hummingbird, it’s as if it dropped the old engine out of a car and put in a new one. It also did this so quickly that no one really noticed the switch.”

Some of the benefits of Hummingbird include:

  • Faster searches
  • More precise/accurate results
  • Better focus of the true meaning behind each search

One of the biggest changes that come with Hummingbird is the ability to handle conversational search. More about that later.

Progression Of Language = Transformation Of Search

The evolution of search is much like the maturation of language itself.

When the spoken word was brand new, people spoke in short words and phrases. Tarzan, King of the Apes, can help us understand the progression of how search has changed.

Tarzan spoke in a primitive fashion…’Me Tarzan, you Jane’. That’s exactly how the early search engine trained us to interact with them: ‘Repair Shop, Nashville, Water Heater.’

Why have people searched this way? Because search engine have always been keyword centric. By using a primitive version of conversational language, we got better results from the search engines.

Me Tarzan You Jane

Photo courtesy houbi on flickr

However, our language has developed into much more than disconnected words and phrases.

Today, most people speak in complete sentences. As Tarzan gets a little more sophisticated with spoken language, he might sound different:

“Hello. My name is Tarzan. You must be Jane. It’s so nice to meet you. That’s a beautiful fig leaf you’re wearing.”

It seems clear that Google’s “language” is doing the same thing.

With the advent of Siri and Google Now, mobile search is evolving. When’s the last time you said ‘Siri… Me want pizza’? Nope. That would sound silly and unnatural. We don’t speak like that.

Most people use everyday conversation to find what they are looking for on a voice search. It’s more like ‘Siri, Where’s the best place to get pizza around here?’ Thanks to the new Hummingbird updates, conversational search queries make sense to Google and we get better search results.

How Does Hummingbird Work?

With the Hummingbird update, Google does a better job at understanding us. In order to do that, Google’s working hard in the background to translate what we say into Google-friendly terms.

natural language search queryFor example, when we ask Google (or Siri) ‘Where’s the best place to get pizza around here?’, the Hummingbird effect might replace the word ‘place’ with the word ‘restaurant’ behind the scenes.

The word ‘here’ is being translated to your current geographic location (aka – local search results) which produces a more personalized outcome of ‘Nashville’ (more specifically, pizza restaurants within a reasonable distance of your GPS location).

However, much like KFC, Google does not give out their ‘secret recipe’.

No one knows exactly how Google’s algorithms work. But there are many SEO professionals who study how Google SERPS behave and the information that is returned from searches. And this is our best guess. All evidence points to a rewriting of search terms behind the scenes.

Hummingbird is also designed to understand the meaning of the search in its entirety, in context, as opposed to individual keywords and phrases, making great, unique content more important than ever.

The Future Of Search

Because of the advancements Google is making, the Future of Search is approaching faster than ever.

Conversational Search

In the article ‘6 Major Google Changes Reveal the Future of SEO’, Eric Enge shows how Hummingbird allows for conversational searches.

Have you ever asked your friend a question and then asked them a follow-up question? Sure you have.

With conversational search, you can now do the same thing with Google. Eric Enge has a great example:

Google Show me pictures of Fenway Park

On Google, you can enter your search as:

“show me pictures of Fenway Park”

In the past, search engines might have looked for the actual words:

“show me pictures of Fenway Park” or at least “pictures Fenway Park”

Then they would have shown links to the web pages that contain those words even if the pages didn’t include any pictures.

Google’s smart enough now to actually show you pictures instead of links to sites that have words about the pictures.

 

Once you’ve seen pictures of Fenway Park, your follow-up question might be ‘Who plays there?’

Google previous search example

That’s a simple enough question for your friend who understands that you’re making reference to your last interaction about Fenway Park. But it’s a pretty big leap for a search engine to understand a search query in context with your previous searches.

The Hummingbird algorithm changes allow Google to understand these more natural interactions.

Personal Connections

Google also knows who you are connected to on the internet. This allows them to take personal search results to unprecedented levels. You may be able to get recommendations of things, services, and places that your friends like.

For example (using the scenario above), you will likely be able to ask ‘Hey, Google…Where should I go for pizza tonight?’. The results could be:

‘Your friend, Joe, loves Five Points Pizza. He gave it 5 stars, and it is within walking distance of you. Just 400 yards, north, on Woodland Street.’

Your mobile screen would likely display a Google map with directions on how to get there from your current location, as well.

That explains the ‘how’ we search. But on what will we be searching?

Mobile Trends

Consumer trends already point to mobile becoming the majority of web access.

It is predicted that in 2014, mobile will overtake desktop as the most popular form of web access. In The Golden Triad Of Search Marketing: How To Leverage It For Massive Success, the trend of increasing mobile internet access was recognized in 2012 and continues in the same direction with no end in sight.

Google Glass: A New Kind Of Mobile

I mentioned earlier how conversational searches are increasingly being performed on mobile devices. It’s important to remember: phones are not the only mobile devices.

Google Glass is a mobile device and it’s got the potential to change the way we interact with technology.
Google Glass
Google Glass is more about access to information vs the traditional concept of search which is focused on finding specific web pages.

Forbes cites the potential of Glass in the article How Google Glass Could Boost Small Business. Author Natalie Burg mentions everything from self checkout in retail environments to putting your virtual meetings on steroids.

Meeting reminders and agendas are displayed right in front of our eyes. Conversations could be recorded. The methods by which companies do business on a daily basis could change forever.

Even the way you connect with friends could shift.

The original focus of Glass was on local search results. This early concept video shows the ability to connect with friends, find various businesses close to the user’s location, information about various objects and artwork in the user’s visual field, weather conditions, etc.

In the article Google Glass Diary, Part 4: Local Search & Navigation by Matt McGee, you can see various tests conducted with Google Glass. His searches were directly linked to his geographic location.

We don’t know if Google Glass will be widely accepted or if it will just be the next Segway.

But it’s breakthrough technology that reminds us that search and marketing are always changing.

The question for business owners stays the same: How do you get your business to show up when people are looking for your products and services?

So…What Does It All Mean For Small Businesses?

A few years ago, it would suffice to insert keywords into your website and be successfully found on Google. Making sure the right words were in the right places was vital to ranking well in the SERPS.

But search has changed. User’s search tactics changed and Google’s algorithms got smarter.

Either way, with searcher behavior evolving and Google becoming more sophisticated with Hummingbird and Glass, it’s not enough to simply rely on keywords to get your local business noticed.

Yes…Keywords are still important.

You still need to have the right words in the right places on your website. Google has always wanted to provide relevant results. What better way to demonstrate relevancy than by incorporating the words, phrases, concepts and topics that searchers are using?

But keywords are not the only factor. Google is looking at your website as a whole entity. And they’re looking at alot more than just your website.

For many web owners, 2013 was a year of penalties… of learning their SEO “best practices” were actually just widely used tricks. Many came to the realization that Google didn’t like the shortcuts they had used in the past.

There will always be a strategies and tactics that will help some websites become more optimized, more visible than others. But if your digital marketing strategy is built upon loopholes and tricks, you’re fighting a losing battle.

In 2014, SEO and Digital Marketing is all about the big picture.

One last word on shortcuts: It’s much more difficult to fool Google than it used to be. My best advice…Don’t even try. Create a valuable online presence.

If you’re thinking about how you can rank #1, you’re already approaching Digital Marketing from the wrong perspective. A better approach is to think about how you can deserve to rank #1.

Learn About The Future Of Search

Want to learn more about how Google’s Hummingbird has affected your web presence?

Curious about what new opportunities does the future of search hold?

Come learn what you should be doing right now to take full advantage of Hummingbird.

Join the Nashville SEO Group for our FREE meetup on Thursday, January 30, to learn how to prepare for the future of search and how you can benefit before your competition does.

We’ll be meeting on campus at Belmont University in McWhorter Hall, Room 114.
We’ll start at 6:30pm so show up early to get a good seat!
>>> RSVP Here <<<

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