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When Google unveiled its new search algorithm on Sept. 26, to tell truth, most people didn’t notice. In fact, most people had no idea it had already been in operation for about a month. We went about our daily lives. No catastrophic events. No noticeable changes to the way we search for information. The verb “to google” is part of our cultural lexicon, after all.

Techies use terms like “algorithms,” “predictive intelligence,” and “knowledge webs” to describe what Google is up to, but according to Forbes, Google’s goal is much simpler: to show people exactly what they’re looking for when they search the Internet.

What exactly is Hummingbird — or an algorithm, for that matter?

Hummingbird is Google’s newest algorithm (simply put, an algorithm is a step-by-step process used in calculations) for delivering better and more relevant search results to its users. It marks the biggest overhaul of Google’s search algorithm in 12 years.

With the rise of voice-activated searches, the way we query (ask questions of) search engines is actually becoming more conversational. Instead of writing “iPhone and warranty” into our search engines, we may speak the words, “Where can I find a good warranty for my iPhone?” Because of this trend, Hummingbird looks to all of the words in a query — including words like when, where, or how — to make sure its full meaning is taken into account, rather than using a few keywords that may or may not garner the results users want.

What does Hummingbird mean for your website traffic?

Because search results are important to your business’ website traffic, you’ll want to keep four important facts in mind as Hummingbird takes effect:

    • Maintain quality, clear, descriptive content. Google’s shift in focus away from keywords means that your website’s content is more important than ever. Pages that match the meaning of people’s longer search queries will, in theory, generate more traffic than pages that just match a few words. This doesn’t mean that Google has stopped looking at keywords altogether — it just means that now there’s more to the story.


    • Understand your audience. Ken Wisnefski at Wired writes, “Every business in America has an audience, but not every business in America understands the needs of their audience.” Wisnefski and others advise companies to identify the needs of their audience and provide solutions.


    • Integrate social media. The more you interact with your audience, the more you’ll understand who they are and what they want — and the more you’ll be able to gauge customer intent without obsessing over your pages’ keywords and links, which are becoming only a fraction of the marketing equation. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other social media outlets are integral to producing optimal content.


  • Take into account mobile devices. Ricardo Bilton at VentureBeat writes, “Google over the past few years has been focused on making it easier for you to pull out your phone, ask Google a question, and get your answer as quickly as possible. Hummingbird is just an extension of that.” Because Google searches are increasingly happening via voice activation, and on mobile devices in general, make sure that when your website pops up in search results it’s ready to be viewed on that iPhone.

The Internet and its inner workings may still feel like science fiction, particularly when they seem to take on human qualities like intelligence. But the important thing to remember is that people write code and algorithms; people use search engines; people read your website, “like” your Facebook pages, follow your Tweets, and post comments on your blog. In the end, the marketplace is still the marketplace, driven by people who are looking for the best answers to their questions. Hummingbird just happens to help the cause.

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