Mar 05, 2014

The Effects of Hummingbird on Search and Social

We’ve had a few months to digest and absorb the changes Google wrought with the launch of the Hummingbird search algorithm, which significantly chanted how the search giant ranks content.  

So what effect has Hummingbird had on search and social?  Earlier this year, the Social Media Club NYC hosted an event that assessed the impact the new algorithm has had for internet users users and brands. The meeting was moderated by SMCNYC board memberDanielle Simon, and the three panelists included:

Landsman put together the following PowerPoint to introduce the topic of Hummingbird. You can download it here: db.tt/rFVSLL2W.

Key points Landsman made include:

  • Google Senior VP of Search Amit Singhal explained this new change by saying, “Hummingbird is focused more on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests, unlike its predecessor, Caffeine, which was targeted at better indexing of websites.”
  • With this new change to Google Search, content is still the most important thing. You need to be able to share content with context.
  • The change brings to bear Semantic Web, as Google seeks to deliver the results of semantic search.
  • Google really wants to understand what your search query means.
  • Google keeps a database of all things that were searched and then they look at your personal search history when you sign into your Google account, as well as your context and the context of you and your content. They call this Personalized Search.
  • Human language is getting more play at Google, especially with Siri and Android hearing what you’re saying.
  • Hummingbird leverages Google’s vast Knowledge Graph, which contains information about 570 million concepts. It then uses this equation thought of by Landsman: Words + Context + Knowledge Graph = SERPS (aka “hits”)
  • Google tells you keywords are not provided unless you’re an advertiser. The explanation behind this is when SSL (Secure Sockets Layered) is employed, keywords are not provided.
  • Google moved to SSL for all Personalized Search. As a security measure, this would secure the user’s identity.
  • Here are some things you can do since Google is not telling you the keywords: start listening; look at your referrer logs; look at time spent per page; look at what else shows up in search; write great copy on all of your pages; and be sure to use all the meta data tools.
  • It is more important to drive traffic to your site that is interested in what you have to say versus getting tons of hits.

Here are some of the questions that were asked by Simon and attendees, and their responses:

As a searcher, what type of change would we have seen that reflects this algorithm change?

Batista: When searchers need to type to search for something, they don’t want to type a lot. However, when you need to speak to search, you will be more verbose. It is easier for us to speak than type. From Google’s perspective, they are looking at two perspectives. These are the challenges that Hummingbird is enabling Google to solve.

What are the practical things you can do as a business, and how can you serve your customers better by coming up in certain queries?

Batista: Google started an initiative in 2009 called rich snippets to encourage more webmasters to annotate their pages and identify whether the page is about a place, review, recipe, etc. In return, this helped Google enrich their knowledge graph, which makes your search more compelling. If I have client where we implement these rich snippets, they have at least a 30 percent increase in click-through rate.

Another free tool you can use is Webmaster Tools. It is an SEO tool that Google provides you, and you have full access to the phrases that people are searching. With the query data that is typed, you will not have conjunctions, but with spoken words you will have prepositions. This is how you will be able to filter the query list provided by Google. You can also filter by searching for the type of device that was used to search. Once you identify the type of search, you look to see whether your page is serving the need of the user, and users are looking for.

Are your search results different when you search on your phone versus on your desktop?

Landsman: The most likely difference will be geographic. When a search is mobile, they take into account location. For example, if you type in “Chinese restaurant” on your mobile phone versus your office desktop, it will tell you more about what’s nearby and it will come up a bit quicker.

How is social starting to influence search?

Bernard: If you’re a local business, you need to make sure your content is optimized for mobile. This can be social posts, tweets, thumbnail sizes on images, or your website. The second thing is Google+, which is connecting a lot of the pieces of the Web together, i.e., email addresses, authorship tags. From a social perspective, don’t forget about Google+, because somewhere down the line this may become even more important than people think. It isn’t just about the content being there, but it is also about the social signals from Google+. We have done certain experiments in AOL with social signals that are coming off of Google+ posts, and we have definitely seen these more with engaging posts.

How Can You Pull Images into Google Search?

Landsman: Google is fascinated by Pinterest. Pinterest is more important to Google than a lot of other stuff, such as Flickr. For one client, whenever they put a visual on their site I would pin it, and Google would then show it immediately. Pictures on Google+ aren’t as loved as on Pinterest, but it is still close.

What Are Something Things That Can Be Done to Help Search?

Bernard: Write better headlines. The impact of writing better headlines from a search and social perspective is enormous. You almost have to get into the minds of people searching for when you’re doing your headlines. Your headlines need to be more conversational.

Landsman: You need to use the language of the searcher and visitor. What are they interested in, and how are they going to react to you? You also need to understand user experience, and with search becoming more semantic, it is becoming arguably that much more important.

What is future of Hummingbird for users and marketers?

Batista: Google wants to build a computer where you can ask any type of question and it will be able to answer. Being able to give you whatever answer you can think of — that is where things are heading.

Landsman: And the real dream is that they want to be able to anticipate what you want.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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