How a Tiny Hummingbird’s Making Big SEO Changes


Google’s most recent major algorithm update, Hummingbird, subtly changed how searches happen. Most of its changes went on backstage, and most people didn’t even know it was active until months after it was in place. From a user’s perspective, Hummingbird made about as feather-light an impact as its name suggests.

For SEO developers, the new algorithm roll-out has brought more noticeable change. Hummingbird speaks English – rather, it recognizes search strings written in natural language instead of deriving Boolean search strings from whatever a user types into the field. In other words, when you want to find the nearest dog park with a fountain, you can now type your question the same way you’d ask it instead of condensing the words to essentials.

For example, if you’re looking for a local SEO and content creation firm in Long Island, you can now ask Google directly instead of playing around with combinations of these terms in ungrammatical key phrases. You may not notice the difference when you’re typing, but if you look closely, you’ll begin to see it in the articles and blog posts you read. To maximize the impact of their keywords, some SEO content providers used phrases that felt shoehorned into articles. They didn’t occur naturally and were just there as a convenient hook to snag Google’s attention. Now, Google looks for the same things you want to find.

Stopping Stop Words

SEO content creators, bloggers and search-savvy Google users have long been aware of the effect stop words had on keywords and search strings. Stop words such as “the,” “or,” “of” and similar terms are ignored by search engines. These little connectors and almost-invisible linguistic helpers make written language more sensible but aren’t really needed in a web search. They’re the lubricants of language, but they just gum up Google’s works by taking space away from relevant terms within a search. Because Google only looks at the first 70 characters or so of a search term not in quotation marks, too many stop words can eat the end of your search string.

Stop words have also given SEO writers an excuse to come up with ungainly grammar in keywords. The next time you read an article that uses phrases like “dentist Manhattan” or “writer SEO New Jersey,” you know someone’s been paying more attention to old-fashioned keyword stuffing than to updated Hummingbird-friendly content.

Going Mobile with ‘OK Google’

One reason Google unveiled Hummingbird when it did might be the rise of mobile technology. Instead of typing text into a search string on a standard keyboard, many users speak their commands via smartphone. Natural, conversational language makes sense when you’re having a conversation with your phone, so an algorithm that handles search terms organically was a necessity. The most recent Google Chrome update now takes the same voice-activated OK Google tech to your desktop, making easy searching even more of an imperative.

These changes also matter to content writers and SEO experts. Instead of wedging unnatural keywords and phrases into text, they should now broaden their focus and think holistically about topics. It isn’t enough to achieve a certain keyword density or eliminate stop words with acrobatic grammar. Content now has to entertain, inform or otherwise be relevant to readers. It has to answer a question or make a cogent statement, one that users might ask a knowledgeable expert or friend to provide.

While “OK Google” isn’t quite ready to fill Scarlett Johansson’s role in Her just yet, it does come one step closer to making search engines a more naturally integrated aspect of using modern technology. SEO specialists and copywriters have to keep up by adopting a wider topic-oriented view rather than the narrower scope isolated keywords require.

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