Google is at it again! Last month they released their brand-new ‘Hummingbird’ algorithm which is set to (again) further improve the accuracy and relevance of search results. Updates to Google’s algorithm are nothing new (remember all the buzz surrounding the Panda and Penguin updates?) but this one is a little different. If panda and penguin can be compared to replacing a ceiling fan or window in a rental unit, Hummingbird is more akin to a full blown remodel. Sure, the supporting walls remain but the paint, carpet, plumbing and electrical systems have been completely removed and replaced with more technologically advanced and effective alternatives. So too is the same with the Hummingbird algorithm. The look of Google search will largely remain the same but many of the nuts and bolts have been replaced allowing for what Google says will be “better [search] results.”
So what’s different about Hummingbird? Google, in typical fashion, hasn’t gone into a lot of detail about the specifics of the new algorithm but they did reveal two main points of interest:
In response to the ever increasing prevalence of smart phones with voice recognition like Apple’s Siri, Google has been focusing on expanding their conversational search technology. This refers to queries like, ‘where is the nearest ATM to my house?’ Here Google looks at each word contained in the query as well as the way they relate to one another. Rather than simply pulling up results for major banks’ ATM Locator websites, hummingbird seeks to better understand the meaning behind the phrase as a whole. By understanding the meaning of ‘nearest’ and ‘my house’ Google knows to use any clues they have as to your relative location and filter results based on that as well. This should improve the accuracy of search results and fits in line with Google’s general push to emphasize local results where appropriate.
The other main point of interest is that Google is expanding the encryption of search results. While clicks and other data from PPC ads will still be available, organic traffic from Google users will soon disappear. I’m sure you have noticed that an increasing amount of your traffic in Google Analytics shows the keyword “(not provided)”. This is because in 2011, Google began encrypting search traffic for users that were signed in to Gmail or another Google service. They later added encryption to searches performed in the Chrome Omnibox whether they are logged in or not. Last month Google announced their plans to expand this encryption to more users who are not logged in citing ‘extra protection’ for users and their data as the reason.
So is SEO dead?
No, far from it. While many fear that losing access to keyword data will be a detriment to their web marketing initiatives, I prefer to find the silver lining: this will make the internet better as a whole! Google and other search engines have come a long way from the early days. Updates that wiped out dishonest techniques like keyword stuffing, scraping, etc. have improved the overall usefulness of search results and search engines themselves. They have done this by shifting the emphasis from keywords themselves to creating quality content and a user friendly website. Google has been telling us for years to write content with users in mind – NOT search engines. It would appear that Hummingbird is their way of giving us a firm nudge in that direction. Smart web marketers have seen writing on the wall and adapted accordingly. While you won’t be able to see which keywords people use to find your site, you still have quite a few useful tools at your disposal:
- Other Search Engines
Keyword data from other search engines will still appear in Google Analytics even when they encrypt 100% of their searches. This data, while from a substantially smaller sample size, can still be used the same way we use keywords from Google users.
- Keyword Planner and Latent Semantics
The Adwords Keyword Planner is still available for the keyword research process. While many in the industry believe this, too, will eventually be reserved for those with PPC campaigns, Google has yet to respond. You should also be using latent semantics to find relationships between words. These are the same relationships Google is looking for with their expanded conversational search technology. Planning campaigns around a family of related words provides a much stronger signal to Google what your website is all about.
- Webmaster Tools
Google’s Webmaster tools will still show how many times your website appeared in search results, how many times a search has resulted in an actual visit to your site, and your sites average position in search results. This information, while not exactly useful for planning a keyword strategy is invaluable to anyone running a website. This, it could be argued, is much more valuable data than the information gleaned from Analytics.
This is liberating, really. We are in a position to focus more on writing relevant content for our prospective renters! It will certainly take some getting used to, just like all the other major changes to Google algorithm. But once the dust settles and we’ve had a chance to test and adapt, Hummingbird will ultimately result in better websites with better content designed with the user in mind. And that’s something we can all benefit from.