Since the early days of the web, search engines have been useful tools in helping surfers find the sites they want among millions of pages of content. Early versions of these search engines simply crawled the web, and built an index of a site’s content to help users navigate to the right page for the topic they were searching. While this worked well, it did force users to frame their questions in a way that the search engines could understand. In essence these early versions of search required the user to understand the best way to ask the question to find the most relevant results. Often times these search terms were limited to a few words, and it took a few tries to find the best site available. The reason for this was rooted in the way the algorithm that controls the search results did its searching.
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Smarter Content Wins
Most search engines use a variety of methods for ranking a site but at their core they all rely on keywords as a major weighting factor. These keywords are compiled as the search engine scans a site’s content, and builds a list of metadata to describe the content the engine finds. When a user entered a search term, these older engines would quickly match up their query with sites where the words they were looking for appeared most. While this was not a perfect method, it did help rank these sites based on relevance. The biggest change that Hummingbird brings to this ranking method is that it looks for a deeper relevance between words in a site’s content. For example a search for “apple pie recipes” would now rank sites higher that had a larger number of pages containing the words “apple, pie and recipe” in a single document instead of a simple aggregate number of these words in their overall content. In essence, Hummingbird is attempting to “read” a site’s content, and determine the value of the content it provides to visitors.
Another change that Hummingbird brings to Google search is it’s attraction to unique content. Even though older versions of the search engine counted unique pages as more desirable than similar content that was used on multiple sites, the new engine takes this a step further. Having fresh content that is different than other sites will really benefit your webpage with the new algorithm used in Hummingbird. The search engine also rewards a deeper discussion of a specific topic on a website. If your article on apple pie recipes gives better directions or explain the difference between the various ingredients used in the recipe, it should do better in a search with Hummingbird. This is great news for webmasters, since it allows them to upgrade their content to make it unique, thus improving their search ranking results. The change will also benefit visitors as well, since it will now present the most relevant sites first that provide a deeper understanding or discussion of a topic.
The other major change that Hummingbird provides is its ability to better understand conversational mechanics. Older engines were somewhat clunky in the way they parsed a search term, and each search was based on finding pages with the highest number of words used in the question. Hummingbird is smarter in the way it creates relevance between successive words in your search terms, and can quickly deliver pages that blend more of these terms into valuable content. This is especially good news for older pages that have not been optimized for these longer, complex search terms. The Hummingbird engine now considers how deeply a page discusses the concepts of the requested search, and will reward sites that have the most complete information with a higher ranking in the results.
Taking this concept a step further, Hummingbird is trying to accommodate more of the mobile searches being done on portable devices. The vast majorities of these searches are started by speaking the question, and are not typed into the search box with a keyboard. This adds another layer of complexity to the way Google Hummingbird has to interpret the search term, and understand the meaning of related words. Hummingbird was created to make these verbal searches easier, and has a deep understanding of syntax that allows it to deliver very accurate results.
What Do All These Changes Mean For The Average Website?
Most websites that have followed the current trend in site optimization will not notice a change in the way Hummingbird ranks their site. All of the other factors that helped a site rank well with the older algorithm still apply. The new search engine is really a refinement of these factors with the added benefit of understanding deeper relationships in the content on these sites. This will be a good thing for most sites as it may raise the ranking of sites with authoritative content. Since the new search algorithm values quality over quantity, sites that take the time to fully explore a particular topic will rank higher than sites with shallower content.