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What Google's Hummingbird Update Really Means
Posted on September 28th 2013
If there was any doubt about the speed at which Google is developing semantic search at a global level, the announcement of Hummingbird, Google’s latest semantic algorithm update, should make everyone sit up and take notice.
Timed to coincide with the celebration of Google’s fifteenth birthday, Hummingbird takes semantic search, which is all about natural language processing and search query intent, and adds three new levels to it.
Complexity – Semantic search is all about machine intelligence. Hummingbird renders Google search capable of handling much more complex search queries in an even deeper search-query related way so that first, successive search queries about the same topic (from Eiffel Tower’s height, age, history and construction to Justin Bieber’s marital status) are now analysed and linked so you do not have to provide the same key terms to search for things. The complexity of this that takes search query data, understands it, links it and retains it and then answers it through the Knowledge Graph, is reflected in the next two levels of Hummingbird.
Comparison – With the adjustment of the algorithm to account for more complex search queries Hummingbird can now turn Google from a search engine to a Comparison Engine, at a voice command. This used to be the role reserved for the end-user: you would do two searches, find the best results of each and then manually compare them to make a decision or get the information you needed. Now, the leg work is done by Hummingbird. “Empire State Building vs Sears”, for example brings up a comparison chart of the stats between the two buildings and a comparison of their height. “Olive oil vs Butter” compares the nutritional facts of the two food substances.
Prediction - More complex search queries, once they’re understood, provide greater data to Google search that can be used to widen and deepen the search results. “Museum Art History” can bring up local museums and links leading to Expressionists, Cubists and Impressionists, art movements that, should they appear, are linked to the local exhibits. This broadens the search inspired knowledge horizon making the use of search a more fulfilling experience.
The takeaway here is that search is getting smarter. With Hummingbird, which affects 90% of searches worldwide, Google will serve more semantic search results and, by the same token, collect more complex search query data that will be used to hasten the next iteration of semantic search. More search results are being served as a result. Businesses that used to rely on simple keyword strategy to rank in search will find themselves in a tailspin, particularly since Google has stopped reporting keywords in Google Analytics making it harder than ever to create a comprehensive SEO strategy around them.
This is a real transition from “strings to things” where search understands concepts rather than just words.
For a fuller introduction to the intricacies of Semantic Search check out: