Sylvia Nankivell, Traffic Acquisition Manager, Affiliate Window
The title of this article will have either caused you utter despair or a great deal of intrigue. For those of you that sit with the former, read on and you will slowly feel better. For those that are intrigued, you should be - Google is moving fast, and we need to keep up with a curious mind!
There are two main elements to the understanding of Google Hummingbird, and this is where the article's title comes from:
Back in 2010 Google announced a "new Web indexing system called Caffeine". Caffeine seems an appropriate name for a new system which allowed more pages on the Internet to be indexed much faster.
Because more pages were being indexed faster, however, this inadvertently meant that shady tactics of creating masses of content with masses of links flourished.
Along came Google Penguin and Google Panda, algorithm updates to counteract these tactics. Penguin and Panda, in some ways, can be seen more as 'patches', that were created in order to counteract the effects of low-quality content and link creation, in the post-Caffeine search world.
Google Hummingbird is not a 'patch', because it does not aim to devalue a specific type of technique. To the contrary, it is actually a new system, much like Google Caffeine. The post Hummingbird Google system incorporates the Google Panda and Google Penguin patches, and additionally has a greater understanding of the meaning behind search queries, in particular longer tail key phrases.
The new search system of Caffeine was a response to the ever increasing publication of new content on the Web.
The new search system of Google Hummingbird was a response to the changing nature of how we are performing searches. Users are searching more and more from mobile devices, and as a result search queries are becoming longer, less general and more conversational.
For example, instead of "new books", you might search for "where can I find J.K.Rowling's latest book release?"
When Google announced Hummingbird, it posted a blog post, which centered on Google Knowledge graph and the use of mobile devices.
Google knowledge graph demonstrates how it has become much more sophisticated at understanding what 'knowledge' you are looking for when asking a question on search. It is also understood that in order for your website to answer a specific question, a page does not have to contain this exact question.
This helps us to understand why Google is placing less importance now on exact phrases appearing within a page, in order to rank for it.
The new search system is better at understanding which pages are truly answering people's questions, and providing them with the knowledge they are seeking.
Google Hummingbird doesn't mean any changes have been made to SEO best practice. In fact, it just reinforces the importance of creating good quality content which adds value to readers. Content which answers questions and provides useful knowledge and information, and is easily accessible from a mobile device, should be the content which is rewarded. But Google's ambition to serve useful content which adds value has been the same from the start.
But before you decide to throw your basic SEO principles out of the window, Google Hummingbird doesn't mean meta titles and descriptions aren't important anymore. Although a single given page can rank for a greater variety of longer tail terms, without a specific focus on these terms, meta titles are still very important indicators as to what your page is about. And, for shorter, more general terms, meta titles and the appearance of a term within your page's body is still a big factor. Furthermore, meta titles and descriptions are a way of selling a page to a search user.
And finally, don't forget Google may be becoming more sophisticated, but it is still just a software engine. This means it still needs a helping hand to discover new content, through efficient site architectures and indications as to which pages it should be indexing, for example. Not time for SEO professionals to throw in the towel yet then!