Google’s Little Hummingbird Can Tell You More

Google on Thursday introduced a new search algorithm called “Hummingbird.”

The company actually started rolling out the algorithm about a month ago, but it formally unveiled it on Thursday, the 15-year anniversary of Google Search’s launch.

At the heart of the new algorithm is a new, better ranking system that “makes results more useful and relevant, especially when you ask Google long, complex questions,” Google said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by spokesperson Roya Soleimani.

Complex, Open-Ended Questions

Some of the changes in Hummingbird are subtle — part of Google’s continuous tweaking of its search processes. Google makes about 600 changes a year to its search engine, and in many ways this change can be seen as a continuation of that process.

Major new features have also been introduced, however. The Knowledge Graph, for example, has been enhanced so it can answer more complex, open-ended questions such as “who were the best jazz musicians in the 20th century?”

Filters, meanwhile, allow users to compare certain attributes, such as the relative merits of butter versus olive oil.

Other new features are more productivity enhancements but still fall under the larger umbrella of search. For example, within a few weeks Google will be introducing a new Search app on the iPhone and iPad on which the user can get notifications across devices.

Google tells of a scenario in which someone tells her Nexus 7, “OK Google. Remind me to buy olive oil at Safeway.” Then, when the person walks into the store holding her iPhone instead, she still gets the reminder.

‘Original, High-Quality Content’

For the search industry, though — an ecosystem consisting of search marketers ranging from multinational brands to small, independent businesses — the changes have deeper implications than just the new “oh wow” functionality for the end user.

The last time Google introduced a major change to its search engine was in 2010 with Caffeine — a change that had search marketers scrambling to reconfigure strategies to meet the new parameters.

For this group, Google’s advice is less than precise.

“Our guidance to webmasters remains the same,” the company said. “We encourage original, high-quality content since that’s what’s best for Web users.”

‘Search Queries Get Longer’

Still, the industry has some signs to follow as marketers adapt to Hummingbird.

Google is trying to embrace natural language search more fully, especially as more people start to use voice search via their smartphones, noted Ken Saunders, president of Search Engine Experts.

“As a result, search queries get longer and use more words,” Saunders told the E-Commerce Times.

Companies have already been trending towards using and relying on longer search queries anyway, so it’s possible Hummingbird won’t have too much of an impact, suggested Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of Webimax.

“More companies are paying attention to conversions with longer search,” Wisnefski explained.

Crafty Timing

The timing of Hummingbird’s rollout was a masterpiece of public relations, David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times.

The algorithm was announced at the Menlo Park, Calif., garage where Google was launched, he noted, which “means the buzz and focus of people are focused on Google and as a result Google-related products.”

At bottom, though, Google is about revenue and Hummingbird, one way or another, will add to Google’s bottom line, Johnson said.

Search for most businesses is a make-or-break conduit to sales. Some one-third of e-commerce site visits in Q2 came from search, compared to roughly 2.4 percent from email and 1.1 percent from social media, according to a new survey by Monetate.

Businesses that do not show up in Google as a result of Hummingbird or have a lower ranking may well increase their buys of Google AdWords in response, Johnson said.

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