Google Hummingbird

Search engines, algorithms … they’re always changing, always evolving. That’s nothing new. Google is continuously altering the way it “thinks” and “interacts” with its searchers. There’s a lot of talk out there today about voice search, mobile search, local search — and it all leads back to the fact that people are using Google on the go, hands-free on their mobile devices. Again, that’s nothing new.

It’s all fine and wonderful to report the changes Google is making – but what does it mean to you, the average website owner who’s just trying to keep pace with the ever-evolving world of digital marketing? It means you’d better have a professional writer (preferably an SEO writer) on hand to subtly tweak your web content so that it continues to speak to your audience—always the most important thing—and so that it speaks to search engines like Google and Bing.

Writing for search engines – then and now

Let’s consider then to be about 5 years ago. And now will be 2016.

Back then, searchers would visit Google on their desktop, laptop and mobile devices and search for, let’s say “Italian restaurants in Toronto.” Then they’d scan the SERPs (search engine results pages) looking for more relevant information (keywords), like:

Google Search

It was a process, but it worked OK.

Today, Google is smarter. They introduced a new engine called Hummingbird in 2013, which is self-described as, “A search algorithm used by Google. Google started using Hummingbird about August 30, 2013, and announced the change on September 26 on the eve of the company’s 15th anniversary.” Basically, Hummingbird was developed to better understand user intent, thus offering more relevant results. For example,  Google better understands that users searching for cars might also be looking for trucks, vans, autos and vehicles. And it understands that “used” might also mean “second hand.”

semantic search

It also began to understand context. By scanning all the other words on a page, the engine can understand the difference between a grand slam in baseball and a grand slam at Denny’s.

Google just got smarter

Google Product Manager Satyajeet Salgar said Google is better at understanding queries in three ways:

  • Superlatives (tallest, largest, fastest)
  • Time (in 2015, last September)
  • More complicated queries (What time is it in Russia if it’s 3pm in Toronto?)

Why all the changes, you ask? Because users are searching differently today than they were … then.

Think about the way you talk compared to the way you write. For example, if I’m searching for a new tablet and I want to find the best deal in my town, I might search online for ‘tablet deals Toronto’ or ‘iPad sales.’ But if I’m using voice search, I’d probably say, “Where are tablets on sale in Toronto?” I’d ask the device a question as if I’m speaking to a real person, as opposed to typing in keywords I think will help me find what I’m looking for.

Now suppose I’m the Lead SEO for BestBuy.ca (I’m not, btw). I used to concentrate on using exact-match keywords in my copy, meta data and anchor text. I used to do that so that the search engines would rank the page based on that exact-match query (tablet deals Toronto).

Now that Google is keeps getting smarter, I’m able to write more naturally.

Sidebar: Writers everywhere are doing major Snoopy Dances in celebration of this!

Now as the Lead SEO, I’m not worried about “keywords” – I’m more concerned with what I call “Keyword Themes.” I’m not focused on “tablet deals Toronto” anymore. I’m focused on a theme that revolves around:

  • The product: Tablets, Androids, iPads, mobile devices
  • The price: Deals, sales, discounts, on sale
  • Location: Toronto, GTA, North York, Mississauga, TO

I’m finally able to write using more naturally because I trust that Google understands what I’ve written, and, based on that understanding, it will rank my tablet sales page in the SERPs when users search for a wide variety of queries, including things like “biggest tablet sales this xmas.” I’m confident that Google knows I’m referring to big sales, not giant tablets. And that it understands that xmas is the same word for Christmas, or even ‘holidays.’ And I’m also certain that Google knows I’m referring to tablets that are on sale, rather than our internal Q4 sales forecast for tablets.

And that brings us to where we are today. Now that Google has said it can understand superlatives, time-based and complicated queries, it is returning accurate results for real life searches. As an SEO, my job remains the same for the most part. I keep up with changing algorithms and industry trends and I move with the times. But as an SEO Copywriter, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the ongoing evolution of Semantic Search.

Finally, Google, we’re speaking the same language.