The SEO industry has now had several months to digest the effect of a major update to Google’s main search algorithm. This update, called Hummingbird, alters the way the search engine processes and organizes search results.

Google’s official blog describes some of the changes such as: improvements to search phrasing, expansion of the Knowledge Graph, and integrated conversational search. While individual search engine users may see only minor differences due to the implementation of Hummingbird, SEOs are faced with an entirely new set of challenges. 

google hummingbird
Google’s Hummingbord update is an opportunity

Here are four SEO opportunities after Google’s Hummingbird:

1. Focus On Long-Tail Search Phrases

As prominent industry blogger Danny Sullivan noted, “Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words… Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words.”

Since the algorithm is better able to understand the meaning behind individual searches, users are able to get better results for longer search phrases. Rather than inputting a general search term and manually selecting the best site, users can now start with a specific, long-tail search phrase and immediately receive relevant results.

An improvement in long-tail search processing means that SEOs should focus more efforts on delivering high-quality content for these specific topics. One article that briefly covers many sub-topics is now less meaningful for any search result than an article which covers one of the sub-topics in detail. While a new focus on long-tail phrases does require more effort from content creators, it also provides SEOs the opportunity to compete in previously saturated markets.

Sites that provide quality content on specific, long-tail topics are now even more likely to rank highly in Google’s new Hummingbird-powered results. SEOs who fail to adjust content efforts will find that generalized content is less useful for users who become used to specific, longer-tail results.

2. Beware of the Expanded Knowledge Graph

Initially launched on May 16, 2012, the Knowledge Graph has quickly become a prominent feature of Google’s search results. For an increasing number of queries, the results page includes a large, inset box which contains a host of relevant information on the topic. By providing topical data within the basic results page, Google eliminates the need for searchers to click through to additional sites to get basic information.

This embedded source of information is useful to searchers, but it is dangerous for SEOs and their clients. Sites that focus on areas dominated by Knowledge Graph-enabled searches have seen a precarious decline in referrals from Google. Users no longer need to visit a site to learn demographic information about celebrities, the address of prominent tourist locations, or an image of a famous piece of art.

Google intends the Knowledge Graph to provide information about a “person, place, or thing”, so sites which compete in those spaces should beware of its encroaching presence. Diligent SEOs can turn the threat into an opportunity. A site listing basic information about U.S. Presidents will not receive many referrals from Google in the future. However, a site about presidents which contains detailed biographical information, interesting facts, or rare media files may actually benefit from the changes induced by Hummingbird.

3. Optimize For Concepts, Not Words

SEOs were initially concerned by “keywords”, or having content specifically tailored to rank for a specific word of commercial utility. Search engines evolved and the focus changed to “keyphrases”, to deliver relevant content to users typing entire phrases into a search bar. Now, with the implementation of Hummingbird, SEOs optimizing for Google need to move past the focus on specific words.

Because Hummingbird understands the meaning of a search query, the specific words a searcher uses are less important than their intent. Google can now deliver different results to different users even when their specific search phrases are quite similar. 

At local SEO firm, Argon Marketing, we have encouraged clients to adjust by optimizing for concepts rather than words. Customers often use a variety of terms when searching for a specific product offered by a local business. Rather than writing potentially duplicate articles to match those different terms, the local company should concentrate on creating higher-quality content that answers all questions prospective customers may have about a specific product.

By focusing on the concepts underlying individual search terms, SEOs can move away from lower-quality, mass-produced content and toward more-useful, expert-oriented content. Searchers use hundreds of specific word combinations to look for particular products or services. Now with Hummingbird, Google treats those varied combinations as a singular search query and looks for world-class content relevant to the users.

4. Prepare For Conversational Voice Search

Even as Google retains a dominant share of searches conducted on desktop computers, its share of searches conducted on mobile devices has been under attack. Hummingbird is the latest weapon in the mobile search wars.

Google is increasing the utility of its voice-driven search engine by providing integrated conversational search results. Rather than treating every query as independent, the search algorithm now “remembers” previous searches and analyzes the new query in relation to the previous ones.

In one online example, a mobile searcher asking Google “Who is the President’s wife?” gets a result page topped with a Knowledge Graph image of Michelle Obama. A second voice search of “How old is she?” results in a second Knowledge Graph box showing the first lady’s age and date of birth. With Hummingbird, Google remembers the results of the previous search and is able to understand that “she” is relevant to the results of the second search.

For SEOs, this shift toward conversational search alters the need for low-volume, very long-tail content. In the new search landscape, a page titled “How old is President Barack Obama’s wife Michelle Obama?” is useless. Hummingbird has destroyed the utility of such pages and eliminated the likelihood that searches would even result to non-conversational queries for longer-tailed terms.

SEO Work After Hummingbird

Knowledgeable SEOs who adapt to new changes in Google’s underlying engine have little to fear from Hummingbird. Google made a point of announcing that Hummingbird had been in place for more than a month before it was announced to the public. As such, the search engine giant was proving that even dedicated SEOs were largely unaware of the major change.

Content producers should now focus on creating one high-quality item that is best-in-class, as opposed to multiple items that each target a variation of a search topic. Similarly, SEOs should concentrate on understanding the underlying intent of website visitors and aim to provide visitors what they need, even if those needs do not directly correlate with those visitors’ search queries.

If anything, the release of Hummingbird has exemplified the need for competent experts in the SEO field. Opportunistic SEOs should capitalize on the changes introduced by Hummingbird to produce even better results for their clients and end users.