What You Need to Know About Hummingbird - Google's Latest Update

You might have heard that Google recently released the biggest change to its search algorithm in many years. It's called Google Hummingbird Algorithm. It allows Google to handle "conversational search," meaning it can quickly parse entire questions and complex queries. It also means that entrepreneurs will need to make some adjustments to their online publishing strategies.

Since Google's Penguin and Panda algorithm updates had many business owners and webmasters scrambling, you might wonder what kind of change Hummingbird will bring. Here's a brief rundown on what entrepreneurs need to know about this important algorithm update.

Google has a new search algorithm

Google has a new search algorithm, the system it uses to sort through all the information it has when you search and come back with answers. It’s called “Hummingbird” and below, what we know about it so far.

What’s a “search algorithm?” That’s a technical term for what you can think of as a recipe that Google uses to sort through the billions of web pages and other information it has, in order to return what it believes are the best answers.

What’s “Hummingbird?” It’s the name of the new search algorithm that Google is using, one that Google says should return better results.

So that “PageRank” algorithm is dead? No. PageRank is one of over 200 major “ingredients” that go into the Hummingbird recipe. Hummingbird looks at PageRank — how important links to a page are deemed to be — along with other factors like whether Google believes a page is of good quality, the words used on it and many other things

Why is it called Hummingbird? Google told us the name come from being “precise and fast.”

When did Hummingbird start? Google started using Hummingbird in August 2013. Google only announced the change on 26th September 2013.

What does it mean that Hummingbird is now being used? 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.

What Hummingbird changed: People tend to speak their search queries when they're on-the-go, using mobile devices. As such, Hummingbird is an indication that Google is embracing the rapidly growing number of mobile users, which is predicted to overtake desktop usage within the next two years, according to a report from Morgan Stanley.

Hummingbird also presents a major change from Google's old methods of looking only at individual keywords. Prior to Hummingbird, Google would ignore certain words in search queries. Now Google considers each word in the query to get a better understanding of the intent. The importance of longtail keywords has increased tremendously as a result of Hummingbird.

Google Hummingbird got its name because it's "precise and fast," according to Amit Singhal, senior vice president and software engineer at Google. During an interview with Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan, Singhal was reported to have said that there has not been such a major algorithm update since 2001. "Our algorithm had to go through some fundamental rethinking of how we are going to keep our results relevant," Singhal said.

Related: Google Announces 'Hummingbird,' an Algorithm Change to Handle More Complex Searches

How Hummingbird works: Hummingbird uses Google's Knowledge Graph, which was introduced last year. The Knowledge Graph allows the search engine to better understand the relationship between concepts instead of individual keywords. Using this, Hummingbird was designed to focus on the meaning behind the words instead of just the words themselves. This allows webpages that match the meaning of a query to rank better than a page that matches just a few words.

While the new algorithm was introduced more than a month ago, most casual Google users probably haven't noticed a difference.

According to Singhal via a blog post, by using Hummingbird, Google will be able to answer queries that don't have simple answers. If asked, "Tell me about impressionist artists," Google search will be able to return a "broad set of appropriate facts" when using a mobile device.

The addition of the Knowledge Graph also allows Google to better understand follow-up questions. If you asked the Google search application for "pictures of the Washington Monument" and then offered the follow-up question, "How tall is it?" the search engine will know that you are asking for the height of the Washington Monument.

As Google continues to improve the Hummingbird algorithm, it will be able to answer more complex questions. This capability will become increasingly necessary as users shift toward spoken "natural language" queries that are input via mobile devices.

Related: Google's New Secure Search Means More Work for Online Business Owners

What business owners and webmasters should do differently: There are at least a couple of things entrepreneurs need to consider.

Be mobile-friendly

First, make sure your website is as mobile-friendly as it can be. Use large fonts (which are easier to read on small screens), attention-grabbing images and videos that are the proper size for mobile. Like all content, your mobile content should have a clear and concise purpose.

Some websites can be improved from a mobile perspective by using responsive web design, which causes your website layout to automatically adjust based on the device with which the reader accesses it. Optimizing the layout based on the device provides a better user experience, making it easier for your users to navigate your website, access your content and purchase your products or services.

Implement a value-focused content strategy

Google Hummingbird shows that Google has improved its ability to understand the meanings of questions instead of individual keywords. Content that answers specific questions will become more important when ranking with Hummingbird.

This means adding more blog entries and pages to your website, which help answer questions that your target audience is looking to have answered. Offering high-quality analysis and expertise on a specific topic makes for a great start to a successful content strategy. Engaging content such as trivia, giveaways, and contests help build loyalty, virality, and interest, which can amplify your content marketing efforts.

The author is an Entrepreneur.com contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. 

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