Google Hummingbird: A User Experience Perspective

Google’s latest search algorithm, dubbed Hummingbird for being precise and fast, has sent marketers and business owners into a panic over their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts and search traffic. However, this Google algorithm update extends beyond just that of organic search. In an effort to maintain its dominance as a multi-use platform, the Hummingbird algorithm affects several of Google’s products – all of which are aimed towards improving the user experience. (Lead image source: Ellen & Tony)

Users Use Mobile Devices And Voice For Their Searches

Google developed the Hummingbird, in response to increased mobile and voice searches. The original algorithm was designed for how people searched for things a decade ago. Search patterns have since changed. Even with Penguin (which addressed poor quality links), Panda (which addressed poor quality content), and Caffeine (which updated the indexing) updates, the search algorithm no longer reflected the increasingly long and complex queries people were entering into search. Hummingbird tries to take context into consideration, instead of just focusing on keywords, which finally addresses the growing complexity of questions searched by users. More than ever, user intent drives the search results, rather than through keyword matching.

Google announced the update at the end of September during a press event for their 15th anniversary, Hummingbird is designed to respond to “natural conversation” queries instead of the less sophisticated “keyword” search.

Voice searches on desktop and mobile devices are partly responsible for driving the development of an algorithm that responds to longer conversational searches that touch on many elements, rather than keyword or keyword groups. Mobile searches in the United States grew 26 percent in the nine months between March and December of 2012; and with technology like Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Search, more people are speaking their searches rather than typing them. Hummingbird is Google’s way of making sure that they provided the best voice search experience around for users.

As more and more people rely on mobile phones for on-the-go searches, a streamlined, effective and accurate search experience is key for maintaining a stronghold on the mobile market. The development of Hummingbird to respond to conversational searches will Google stay at the top of the heap. According to comScore, the number one visited property on smartphones — both Apple and Android — were Google Sites. And Google apps were numbers three through six of the most used apps.

Hummingbird Set To Improve Overall Google UX

Hummingbird affects Google’s other products. Users who sign in will reap the greatest rewards from the new algorithm, as Google starts tying together all the disparate pieces of information scattered throughout the web. For example, when a signed-in user enters a search query, Hummingbird pulls additional information from the user’s location, saved locations, Google+ profile and network, time of day, and previous searches. This multi-prong information gathering allows Hummingbird to return more exact results, tailored to the user’s interests and location.

Google+ is one of the products that will be affected by Hummingbird, as the new algorithm was also designed to address the increasingly social aspect of search. Google+ is considered to be an element used to improve search user experience, and the roll-out of Hummingbird may be a way to compete with Facebook’s Open Graph search. For example, Google+ integration into Google search gives weight to the Google+ profile of the author, ensuring that the articles pulled to match a query are from reputable authors, who are acknowledged experts in their field. This helps cut out the fluff or spammy articles, improving the results for the user.

Google Glass, a major mobile product, is another product that Hummingbird was designed with in mind. Glass users will be primarily, if not singularly, using voice search, often time with sequential questions that relate to each other. Google’s Knowledge Graph, which plays a major role in the new algorithm, helps create links between the topics. The new algorithm allows Glass users, who will be primarily searching via voice, to easily and readily find accurate information from their initial query, and coherent, applicable results from subsequent follow-up questions.

For businesses wondering how to best to use tap into the powers of Hummingbird, Google+ Local pages will become an increasingly important source of information for search. As mobile search increases, more people will be searching for local product and services. Hummingbird is designed to use user location to help return results tailored to a mobile format—with maps, directions, click to call, etc. A Google+ Local page will also garner your business a Knowledge Graph style panel in the search results with your details.

No Negative Impact on SEO

Google assures marketers that businesses with sound SEO practices will not be dramatically affected by Hummingbird. As long as they provide original, high-quality content—Hummingbird should not disrupt their SEO performance. All the previous factors that helped improve search ranking, like high-quality, relevant outbound and inbound links, engaging, shareable original content, and keywords and phrases, will continue to be important in the new Hummingbird algorithm.

Building authority via Google+ will also influence your SEO results. The more your site is linked to and shared by reputable websites and social media outlets, the more likely Hummingbird will view your page or pages as being relevant to searches. Joining Google Plus Communities and building an audience by answering questions, providing video content, and implementing hashtags, will improve your visibility and ranking in the new Hummingbird algorithm. Optimizing for mobile is key, due to the increase of users accessing Google products through smart phones and tablets, as that appears to be one of Google’s primary targets.

This new algorithm also helps improve ranking sites by relevance through implementation of Google’s comprehensive Knowledge Graph. In an effort to move away from keyword search, Google has made all keyword data encrypted, so marketers can no longer see traffic driven by keywords in organic search. Content value will increasingly have an influence over how your page will rank in terms of particular keywords and searches. So, if your business’s SEO practices have focused exclusively on keywords, it’s time to adapt to semantic search and learn more about Knowledge Graph, which helps provide users on-topic and related results. If you have content that is closely related to each other, the algorithm change can help improve overall pageviews.

In Conclusion

While Hummingbird appears to be a dramatic change in Google’s search product, most businesses have not reported a major change in their traffic or ranking. Users, however, have benefited from the improved user experience due to more accurate results. If you consistently produce quality, linkable, content increasingly tailored to mobile search, your pages should continue to perform well—or even better with the new Hummingbird.

  • Si Shangase

    Essentially there is an evident shift in to ensuring that websites are optimised and mobile friendly. The only problem at the moment is that Google + still works in isolation to external social platforms.

    The question still remains, if users will interact with the platform the same way they do with Facebook? General mass audience adoption has been rather lack-luster.

  • Daniel Furze

    A really interesting post, thanks. It’ll be good to see what happens with this update and how it;s going to affect our SEO strategies!

  • Adam Gorbahn

    this will affect many SEO Strategies in so many ways.