Google recently announced the launch of a new search algorithm called Hummingbird.

It has been up and running for over a month now, and has resulted in minor shifts in search engine results for sites that we monitor. The biggest changes are for outlying pages with content that receives a small amount of the total traffic. It therefore has not had much impact on the site statistics overall. But what is the reasoning behind the change?

There are many more mobile users of the web now, as we all know. In its announcement Google noted that search queries are becoming longer and more complicated as a result of mobile users speaking into their phones when they perform searches online. Google developed Hummingbird so that the search engine would be better able to account for the relationship between words in a long string.

It is a major change to the search engine algorithm. Google has been using the same core algorithm since 2010. Hummingbird has entirely replaced that infrastructure. It does use many of the same pieces of information (reportedly 200+ sources) to deliver results, which may be why we have not seen a dramatic change in the search results from Google.

What will the impact of longer, more specific queries? Most of the changes will occur with long-tail keywords. These less competitive words deliver a smaller audience, but that group is usually more qualified and interested in the content on your site. They spend more time, view more pages and are generally more likely to convert. So it makes sense that a business owner in this environment might want to develop niche markets and differentiators that appeal to a number of groups.

It’s interesting that all of the major moves Google has made recently are taking the emphasis off the individual keyword. In addition to the new context- and meaning-focussed Hummingbird, Google will be encrypting organic search queries. This means that marketers will no longer have access to the organic terms used by visitors to reach your site. Without that data, marketing focus will of necessity be required to shift emphasis to content as a whole rather than the individual words.

Google provides a huge source of visitors for almost all of our sites. A new algorithm is big news. To stay ahead of this curve, we are recommending that all of our clients use the new tools in Google’s Webmasters interface to structure your site’s search appearance. The launch of these tools just a couple months ahead of Hummingbird might be coincidence, but why take that chance? The Search Interface tools enable web owners to define and tag content using the following tools:

  1. Structured data – this tool allows web developers to indicate which section of a site are reviews, people, products, events, video, etc. Markup will differentiate your site within search results, providing a more polished search presence on difference search engines.
  2. Data highlighter – the highlighting tool allows a web owner to mark content by pointing and clicking on text and images throughout the site, without changed any code. It is specific to Google, however.
  3. HTML improvements – this guide points out issues with metadata, title tags and non-indexable content on your site. These issues need to be addressed in code or by an administrator using a content management system.

You can also do two things to recover insight into organic keywords that send visitors to your site from Google. The first option is for advertisers. If you currently have Google Adwords set up for your site, there will be organic keyword data provided within that interface. If you don’t have Adwords, then sign up for Google Webmaster Tools (it’s free) and associate that site with the Google Analytics web property. This set up will push Search Query information found in your Webmaster account into the Google Analytics report under Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries. You will only have access to the past 90 days worth of data, so you may want to set up a reminder for yourself to download this report once per quarter.

At Wallop, we are excited about the new direction Goole has taken. Our belief has always been that great design is usable design, human-friendly first and robot-friendly second. This move will take the emphasis off of marketing for a individual keywords, and instead focus efforts on elegant, concise content, the top landing pages on a site, visitor behaviour, paths through the site, segmenting your audience, and other data that examines the value people find on the site and how that behaviour accrues business value. What could be better?