Every once in a while I get the impression that the entire SEO community is somewhat blind. For example, last Thursday, Google announced that they had quietly rolled out a new update that affects 90% of search results — a month ago. And no one really noticed.
The update, codenamed “Google Hummingbird” because it’s “fast and precise”, is the largest update since the Caffeine update back in 2010. If you can think of Panda and Penguin as a tune-up to an engine, Hummingbird is an entirely new engine.
Does that mean we don’t have to worry about all of the Panda and Penguin rules anymore?
Nope! Panda and Penguin did their jobs perfectly, and all of the Panda and Penguin rules have been wholly co-opted into the Hummingbird algorithm. So all of the same basic rules for content and backlinks still apply. In short, for an SEO type, Hummingbird didn’t change any big-picture events — from our perspective, it’s more about the long-tail, deep-page effects.
Google claims that search queries have gotten a lot more complex over the past few years, which is why the Caffeine engine isn’t terribly relevant anymore. The Hummingbird algorithm does a much better job of dealing with complex, long-tail search results (Google claims.)
For example: a search on “acid reflux prescription” used to return a lot of results that were drugs, because that’s what Google assumed people wanted. Hummingbird, however, recognizes that what people want when they make that search are ways to cure or prevent acid reflux — and many of those are not actually drugs or even purchasable products, even though the search term seems to specify exactly that.
Similarly, a search on “pay your bills through citizens bank and trust bank” used to bring up the homepage for Citizens Bank and Trust — but Hummingbird instead (and in my opinion correctly brings up the page on that website where you can actually pay your bills.
A search on “what’s the closest place to home to buy an iPhone5?” pays attention to more than just “buy” and “iPhone5”, unlike the Caffeine engine. Google, in fact, called Hummingbird a “more conversational search engine”, and promotes your ability to ‘talk to’ Google and get intelligible results.
In short, Hummmingbird seems geared up to pay more attention to long-tail keywords and be willing to delve into deep pages on a site if those long-tails seem to point in that direction.
Is this better or worse for SEO companies?
It’s almost certainly different, but it’s not going to be much better or worse. Remember, it’s been out for a month now and almost no one has noticed. Now that Google has pointed out the differences, you can count on SEO people advertising more long-tail/deep-page services, but I don’t think that Hummingbird is going to be nearly the splash to the SEO industry that Panda and Penguin where.