A Search Geek's Thoughts on Google Hummingbird
Yea, I'm going there. Normally I don't jump on the bang wagon that is the flailing of the SEO industry each time Google rolls over in the night. The reasoning lies in that we generally don't know much early on and it takes time to digest things. Today, I am breaking that rule.
While I don't really have any hard insights into Google's new Hummingbird algorithm change, we have been talking amongst ourselves about some things over the last month, that are now making some more sense.
Changing how they deal with queries
A while back Terry and I were looking at some query spaces we were intimate with and noticed that something was indeed changing in how Google was doing their query classification. Of note, there seemed to be a different mix of transactional and informational results in spaces that had previously been transactional heavy. Something was afoot...
Over the last 10 years we've seen how shorter queries have given way to longer ones. I have on occasion take my laptop to the local pub and asked people to find something (on Google). Everyone goes about it in different ways as far as the queries they use to get there. We also see that people have evolved with search and tend to use more words and be far more specific in how they query Google.
This can be a problem for a search engine that relies on keywords. Some of the elements we are seeing with the latest update do indeed seem to be dealing with query analysis. I have been talking about it in terms of 'synonymous queries'. Meaning; that while the words used in a query might differ, the goal is the same. Google might be looking at treating different queries as being the same as far as the goal of the task.
Consider queries like;
- [where to get blue widgets]
- [where can I find blue widgets]
- [where to buy blue widgets]
- [where can I buy blue widgets]
You get the idea. In the past, the subtle differences in the wording might actually produce different results. From what I am seeing so far, treating these kinds of queries the same, or as being more closely related, could be part of what has changed with Hummingbird.
The Conversational Search Connection
This I think is one of the more important elements as far as where Google seems to be headed. Obviously the foray into Android and eventual purchase of Motorola was the writing on the wall as far as Google's interest in the world of mobile.
The obvious evolution there of course is voice search. Who wants to sit there typing queries into Google on that small screen? I know I don't. So it makes sense. Now, let's also consider the recent work they did with conversational search, including voice abilities. With this they really highlight how connecting natural language and search tasks are being taken to a new level.
- [how old is Barack Obama?] - which returns a knowledge card with age and birthday
- [who is his wife?] - returns knowledge card for Michelle Obama
- [where was she born?] - returns a knowledge card for Chicago
Originally this was just pulling from the knowledge graph bits, but is now apparently available for the entire search core.
With this we can see how the previous search was extended into the new queries in the search task chain. And the obvious implications of natural language processing in the voice elements. People simply don't speak in keywords. Which will be key in dealing with voice/mobile search in the years to come.
As noted in this Forbes article;
“After the event, Scott Huffman, a key engineering director at Google currently working on natural language, told me that part of the impetus for the change was that as more people speak searches into phones, they’re doing so in a more natural way than they type in queries–which is to say more complicated. So Google’s search formulas needed to be able to respond to them. “
The Nuts and Bolts; Things not strings
If there's one thing we've been talking about here in the Dojo for the last while.... it's about keywords. Or, more succinctly, the end of them.
Over the years search has become less and less about keywords and more about concepts. The days of keyword stuffing are long gone. Using synonyms, is not what 'semantic search' is all about. Modern search engines seek to try and understand the concepts and relations of the content on a page. This post from 2010, shows how long I've been rambling about it...sigh...
It's not a huge leap for us to start to see this manifesting more with Hummingbird. Through a combination of natural language processing, query data and semantic analysis, there is a far more implicit behavioural element that is becoming part of the natural evolution.
Bill had a great post the other day about one patent that might be part of this evolution. It deals with some elements (via query analysis) that can surface content that satisfies the user, although they maybe used different approaches (queries and query reformatting) to reach the same end result. The old Google would, for the most part, see the words in the query, not really trying to establish the implicit elements of the search task being performed. This does seem to be changing.
Again, this all plays back to the concepts, not keywords, approach to how they're understanding pages as well as the queries users are implementing. To extend this, we need look no further than the knowledge graph
The Knowledge Graph Connection
While I am not entirely sold that Hummingbird is really about the ol' KG, (which was also apparently updated recently as well) it is probably is worth looking at. One thing we do know is that this is another more recent commitment from Google in the evolution of the results. And indeed we can see the knowledge base 'cards' showing up in conversational search, a stated goal for the Hummingbird implementation.
Google has become a destination, not just a search engine. One such example we've seen recently include queries such as;
As you click around these results they produce further refinements and plenty of knowledge graph elements. Next let's look at a bunch of examples Stephen Watts shared, using Google conversational search;
Again, while I don't believe there's a direct connection with Hummingbird, it does further highlight the concepts and named entity aspects of the evolution. Not to mention the madness happening in the display changes.
What does it mean for SEO?
That's the the big question right? That one's hard to answer. We really don't know enough at this point to really make any assumptions. For those that have already been evolving, getting past keywords, then I doubt a whole lot would need to be changed. On the other hand, if the loss of keyword data recently was a crushing blow, you might have already been behind the times.
Start thinking of things in the form of concepts and semantic baskets, not keywords. In the past you may have created multiple pages to target multiple terms... you know, the ol eHow approach;
- [how to fix a vacuum cleaner]
- [how to repair a vacuum cleaner]
- [how do I fix my vacuum cleaner]
In the past, we might actually target a page to each of those terms. Due to the fact Google was so keyword centric, this type of approach was often quite successful. Given that we could start seeing more implicit predictive results towards potentially synonymous queries, that might not be the case in the near future.
When we're creating content for pages we need to get beyond simplified keyword centric approaches. Google sure is. My instinct is that there will be less meat on the bone for overly targeted pages focused on a given term. Changes in query analysis means that your content should be strong on the concepts and related concepts (as well as citations etc) contained on them.
I would also venture to say that those involved in markets that are heavy in mobile, that you will have to also consider how the queries will be formatted, compared to reg desktop style searching. If you read this post (for mobile) that looks at geo-location and behavioural elements, you can start to see where something like Google's Hummingbird, could play a prominent role.
Beyond that, I am not entirely sure how it will affect things beyond targeting and page mapping. It's far too early for that. Many of the same signals used in rankings are still in play. In fact, probably most of them. It is more about the query analysis and by extension, the results returned as far as I can tell so far. I would imagine that semantic mark-up will be more prominent, but I am not convinced that has anything to do with Hummingbird itself.
Early days. As I get more time to think and play with things, I shall post some more. Feel free to drop your own theories in the comments, all are welcomed.
And as you go, it bears reading this post from Google on it, there's a TON of mobile phone pics... Coincidence? He he...