Certain words within your website would be found by Google, and you would then be listed with millions of other links as possible sources of information. This worked, however it had a ‘ships passing in the night’ feel to it, sometimes it would luck out and deliver exactly what you were looking for, other times it kind of felt like the search engine had done some of the work but was leaving you to wade through the information for the actual thing that you wanted.
With the rise of mobile internet users, and voice control growing in popularity, the flaws in this keyword method started to show. People don’t speak the same way that they type, you are more likely to ask your Siri or Google Assistant (Androids answer to Apple’s popular voice control system, due to be released later this year) a question, an entire sentence, then you are to just bark words at them. It’s the personal touch to technology that is making us want to talk to them like we do to each other, and in response, our technology needs to be able to understand not only certain words that we are using, but also our intent behind those words. Imagine keyword searches before as asking someone that speaks a different language to you for directions. You may pick up on certain words and you might find your way to your destination, but you are just as likely to wander off and find it yourself.
Google’s newest update, Hummingbird aims to eradicate this confusion, by using semantic search, where artificial intelligence is used in order to take not only the keywords of your question, but to look at the relationship of ALL the words used to decipher the searchers intent and meaning, and deliver a more focused, pin pointed set of results and answers. Hummingbird allows Google to know the difference between ‘their’ and ‘they’re’, and to recognise that when certain words are placed together, they have a completely different meaning to when they are used alone. It’s the tutor that is teaching the systems that run our internet the complexity of human language in a way that has never been fully used before.
This kind of search has been slowly filtering into search engines since about 2008, however, it was always going to take one of the Giants to pick up on the bonuses of it before we all started to see a change. And a change we will. Unlike the overnight roll outs of Penguin and Panda that basically appeared from nowhere and left a few of us reeling, the changes being brought in by Hummingbird are slowly being drip fed to us, with some of the major ones coming into effect in December, which coupled with the fact that it has been estimated that 90% of searches will be affected by this (former Google updates have only affected about 3-5%), you can see that Hummingbird is going to change the way we use search engines in a big way.
So what does this mean for your SEO I hear you say? Good question, because over the next few months it is going to mean a lot. You are going to need high quality content on your site, copy written to a high standard, good clean promotional tactics and maybe most importantly PERSONALISATION. Get yourself to where the conversations are happening, show your companies personality and connect with people. With Social Media dominating the internet, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the big runners had to adapt to the way we looked at our computers and the systems that run them.
We no longer type one word requests, we ask Google whole questions. You want specifics, and with the amount of data on the internet today, something had to change to deliver that request. The Knowledge Graph launched in May 2012 had the ambitious role of taking the first steps towards this, with the aim of providing answers, not just pages and pages of links that may or may not be what you are looking for.
And it is getting smarter, with Hummingbird increasing Google’s ability to manage complex queries, and help them index web documents faster. This means that Google is also trying to answer your question itself, rather than relying on the websites it lists to do it, and this means that as a business you are competing with other companies, but now with Google itself to ensure that you have the best answer to the questions that your key demographic are going to be asking.
One thing is for sure, semantic search is not going to fade away. Keywords are not dead, but are also not enough anymore. I think we will be seeing Hummingbirds changes flying into our SEO campaigns more and more over the next 6 months. Question is, are you and your site ready for them?