Google Hummingbird: A Search Technology Milestone

‘Hummingbird’ is Google’s newest public issued search-algorithm update.  The Google Hummingbird update aims to answer a person’s spoken request, much like Siri or iPhone.  As a marketer it represents the potential to be a trusted reference, and a first stop for advertising directly into an online searchers’ ear.Google Hummingbird with wings spread in mid flight

We all like faster and more precise answers – right?  How long does it take to ask a question? 2 seconds, maybe.

Now type that same question – ½ a minute, maybe 1 or 2 even. There is a definite lag between natural queries by voice and those queries entered on devices by keystroke.

Google Hummingbird is an update to Google’s algorithm which improves voice based search and comprehensive understanding in order to deliver relevant results to increasingly complex online search queries.

Contextual search results, which in a nutshell is what the Google Hummingbird is about, represents the inclusion of a new set of data in the Google algorithm that is now automatically factored in the algorithm equation used to generate search results by Google.

No worries, online search still yields the same opportunities for businesses using search in their marketing strategy. The same best practices and proper fundamentals exist, which will continue to produce strong results when properly applied.  It’s just that the next step in online search is definitely upon us and its more important than ever to play with style.

The Google Hummingbird update indicates the strengthening of a long term industry trend towards relevant, quality search results with true ethics in mind.  In our experience, a change like this opens doors to new opportunities for optimization and creative internet strategies.

Google Now and Voice SearchGoogle Voice Search Button

Consumer computer technology has rapidly evolved in the last few years. So have the ways that people use computers. Today, high power computers are available everywhere in the form of phones, tablets, watches and consumer ready head mounted displays.

Search has evolved rapidly over the past serveral years to meet these technological advances and developments. Mobile search makes up anywhere between 25% to 50% of online search clicks.  It’s not just happening on Google.  Siri, Yelp, YouTube, Facebook, Bing, LinkedIn, Amazon, Ebay or countless others contribute as well.

When the search involves locality, the numbers can be much higher for mobile search.  With the current trend, improvements to voice based search are also sure to increase adoption rates among searchers to use mobile devices for their online search needs.

For example, Google’s new voice search platform has been fully revamped this year.  It’s called Google Now. It works on most Androids, iPhones and iPads. Then there is a little thing called Google Glass.  A heads-up-display, with camera, microphone and headphone that places search results in front of your eye, all the time.  More and more people will be using these mobile devices.

Google Now logo

Why do we think that these devices and technologies will catch on? Simple, Google is actively developing web development support and avid social enthusiasts, among other reasons.

The Success of Local Search Results

Humming bird is not the first algorithm change from Google.  Some of the biggest changes in search happened a few years ago.

In 2007, Google changed the way search engine results were shown.   Search engine result pages were changed to include local results with a new look to it.  The project was a success and still is, to the point that there is a basic version of AdWords for local customers.

Factor Android, Google Glass and Google Maps Professional into the equation.  One starts to realize the lengths Google goes to integrate real world and online events.  The engineers at Google see that the first step in linking online and offline events is by being there.  How better to be there than by using an Android, which according to certain stats is wining the mobile operating race by a considerable margin.  A stat that is true both domestically and abroad.

That said, the device you are most likely to see, wherever it is that you are, is an Android.  Such computing and online search presence enables Google new ways to answer the needs of online searchers. Think about coupon and payment apps that can cross-promote to users based on location, time, and relevancy.

The Personalization of the Internet

Man Walking With His Video SmartphoneContextual results are delivered based on a multitude of factors:

  • search history,
  • traditional relevancy,
  • location,
  • time,
  • individual preference,
  • real time data,
  • etc.

Therefore, search results can significantly vary from user to user for the same exact search query.

The challenge facing search engines today is to seamlessly deliver the results that a searcher is looking for based on an almost endless number of data points.  The Hummingbird update is the first algorithm to address issues inherent to voice search.  The guiding rules to voice based search are:

  • More words used in a search query
  • Higher likelihood of device based search
  • Increased expectation for accurate results
  • Increased frequency in successive searches

Relevant, Quality Search Results

One of the biggest problems in search today is the unfortunate prevalence of manipulated search results.  It is not surprising that some of the biggest changes are anti-spam related.  It seems that Hummingbird elevates high quality results on SERPs by looking for “expert” written content and high quality content.  In other words, there is more to SEO than keywords and back-links.  Do it the right way.

For Google’s search platform to relevantly answer voice search commands the platform has to better understand search intent. Voice driven search is fundamentally different than a typed search query. For example you may have time to look at your screen and scroll through pages of search results.  To avoid this, voice based searches use longer phases, with increased word densities. Google is letting us know there is a new form of search.

online search analyze concept

Voice Based Search for Searcher’s Intent

Voice search commands are frequently more detailed than device based search. For example, traditional desktop search queries are based on keywords, “Thanksgiving 2013.” Users then typically, narrow the results down through consecutive searches. We don’t know a lot about this searchers intent, but if they click on a link for recipes or football, we’re getting closer to knowing that intent.

Voice search turns this rule upside down.  Mobile users are more likely to ask a direct and longer question, “when is thanksgiving 2013?” or “what teams are playing football thanksgiving 2013?” In other words, they are more likely to know what they are looking for and want those answers fast.

Hummingbird seeks to provide these searchers with quick, relevant answers. In a conversation, more words typically get across the speakers clearer understanding of intent.  Hence, in theory, easier to understand and provide accurate results.  The thing is we are talking about human to computer conversations.

A simple search query that is keyword based is what search engines do well.  Voice search has more data points, which increases the factors that must be computed to produce relevant results.  The Google Hummingbird updates seeks to achieve this next level of search and compute more complex voice searches with the same accuracy and quickness as simpler keystroke based searches.

Where is Online Search Going?

Smartphone - searchThere will always be a need for in-depth and specialized search results. Yet, the fact is a majority of the searches that we make can be answered better and faster. Hummingbird is formulated to give searchers more accurate results in fewer searches. It incorporates the best in contextual analysis to make use of the information found in Google databases.

Ultimately, search is going mobile.  How mobile, and how user or device specific are the only questions left to be answered.

Imagine this scenario:

You are driving down the highway.  A bee flies through the window and stings you.  You reach into your glove compartment, grab for your EpiPen – – It isn’t there.  You stay calm.  You tap your headset, “Google – where can I get an EpiPen nearby?”

This is the sort of situation that Google seeks to address. You want a fast answer and you want it now.  If the search results are for online pharmacies, well in this case those results are irrelevant.  If your search produces a list of local pharmacies that are open, have EpiPens in stock and are with-in 3 miles of your location, it answered the exact questions with the right intent behind it.

While Hummingbird might not work as well in real life as in our example, it will only be a matter of time. It represents just one more example of how intertwined search technology is in our daily lives. Like gaining a glimpse into the future, this is another clear sign regarding the advancement of mobile search.

The march of progress in online search strategies continues to increase the number of opportunities to show in search engines and CHEGO can help.

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