You’re driving home from work, you have your smart phone in your hand and you don’t feel like cooking. What do you do? Do you take the time to pull over (because no one types while they drive, right?) and type a disjointed string of keywords like, “Chinese restaurants east suburbs Cleveland open Monday?” Or do you hit that handy little mic icon and say, “I want Chinese tonight. What’s nearby?”
Google’s betting you do the latter, and those question-based mobile searches are beginning to influence how you search on a desktop or tablet. They’re so sure, in fact, they rolled out an entirely new search algorithm – the first in 12 years – to turn search into more of a conversation and less of a guessing game. Hummingbird, introduced sometime in August 2013, is designed to help Google understand and answer questions more like a person and less like, well, Google.
Take your hypothetical dinner search, for example. You didn’t include the word “restaurants” in that voice search, you didn’t specify a location and “tonight” wouldn’t mean much in a traditional keyword-based search. Based just on the words you used, you might be more likely to get results for where to MEET someone Chinese than where to EAT Chinese food in the next two hours. That’s where Hummingbird comes in. Hummingbird combines the words in your query with the billions of facts it’s gathered about search semantics to fill in the blanks. That’s good news if you’re hungry, but what does it mean for SEO efforts?
Depending on your audience, Hummingbird can be problematic in the short term. Say your company provides professional house painting services and all of your site content focuses on your reputation, your expertise and a description of your services. If Google’s historical data tells its searchers who enter “house painting” means “house painting companies,” you’re in luck. But if Google determines searchers are actually looking for “house painting tips,” your site may not be the best match. If you’ve seen a loss in organic search traffic over the past few months, it may be time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What questions do they typically ask before they make a purchase decision? Are they likely to ask HOW to tackle a project or problem before they ask WHO can tackle it? Companies may be hesitant to answer the first question and give away information, but doing so now could put you in a great position to answer that second question and gain a long-term customer in the future.