Google Algorithms: Know Your Birds

If you’re an SEO specialist, you not only anticipate change, you likely thrive on and embrace it. Change is what keeps you passionate about digital marketing. However, if you fall into the “not an SEO” category, you may not even be privy to some of the recent happenings at Google which could already be [negatively or positively] affecting where your site ranks in the search engine results pages. So how has Google been shaking things up this time?

On September 27th, Google turned 15 and celebrated by rolling out Hummingbird (named for its speed and precision), the biggest overhaul in years to its search algorithm. Hummingbird focuses more heavily on all words in a search query (the entire meaning/conversation) rather than just a keyword or keyword phrase, ultimately aiming to discover a user’s intent and return the most relevant results possible. In other words, Hummingbird is an expansion of Google’s focus on semantic search and the Google Knowledge Graph. For example, instead of a search query such as “Matt Cutts”, a more conversational search query would be “Who is Matt Cutts?” Google will return organic search results in addition to the Knowledge Graph in the right column of the search engine results page. The Knowledge Graph also provides possible related searches to ensure that a user successfully finds what he/she is looking for.

To be clear, Hummingbird is not an update to any existing Google algorithm; it’s a brand new algorithm replacement and one this big hasn’t happened since 2001. It may be easiest to think of Hummingbird as a new recipe that’s composed of lots of different ingredients. These “ingredients” are all factors that Google takes into consideration when looking at page quality. Hummingbird is the compilation of all of those ingredients - ones that still work and new ones that are based on current technology and search demands. Google’s Penguin search algorithm update is a great example of one that has carried over into the new Hummingbird algorithm.

Shortly after the launch of Hummingbird, Google also launched a revision to its Penguin algorithm on October 4th, deeming it Penguin 2.1. The original version of Penguin aimed to target websites that displayed signs of Black Hat SEO and/or violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Link schemes (unnatural links) were targeted, especially on website home pages. Penguin 2.1 differs in that this algorithm update drills deeper into websites and examines internal pages for any signs of Black Hat SEO, making these pages more important than ever before.

What does all of this mean moving forward? It’s not entirely clear exactly how Hummingbird and Penguin 2.1 will affect SEO. However, fear not; SEO isn’t dead. Things like unique and engaging content, content marketing, strong social signals and solid basic and technical SEO still remain hugely important, and should continue to be a part of your digital marketing strategy.