Hummingbird Turns the Science of Search into an English Lesson

On September 26, 2013, Google officially introduced a brand new search algorithm—Hummingbird. The choice of this particular bird represents Google’s goal for this new technology, to be “precise and fast”, and it is the clearest signal yet that the mobile sector is now driving technology development. Hummingbird differs from other recent updates, like Panda and Caffeine, in that it is a complete replacement. According to Google, 2001 was the last time we saw this kind of update.

“Conversational search” is Google’s buzz-phrase for Hummingbird’s ability to understand semantics and context. In the past, searching successfully was about using keywords, and as users, we learned the language of search—instead of search engines learning our language. However, when we use voice search on our mobile devices, we go back to our old language. With a huge increase in voice searches, Google realized Hummingbird needed to understand words like “where”, “what”, and “how”, and how these words relate to the keyword content. Where previous algorithms delivered results, Hummingbird provides answers.

Danny Sullivan, a well established search engine expert, was able to pick the brains of Google’s Amit Singhai and Ben Gomes. After that interview, this is what Danny had to say:

          “Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words; it may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that ‘place’ means you want a brick-and-mortar store.” He continued, “Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words. In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words.”

WolframAlpha, while dwarfed by the search giant, was first to implement a semantic search algorithm, doing so in 2012. This made WolframAlpha the perfect choice for Apple’s search assistant “Siri.” There are currently more voice searches coming from Siri than from any other source. Google is well aware of this fact, and is actively working to remedy the situation.

Google’s new emphasis on Google+ and the updates to authorship and hashtag searches, had already shaken up the science of search strategies, with Hummingbird the changes are even more dramatic. Getting an experienced web developer in your corner is the key to success in this new SEO landscape.  Contact us and we can help you ensure that your business is ready for these and other big changes to the science of search.