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The Hummingbird update - what you need to know

Just in case you missed it, Google has been spring cleaning again. According to an announcement last week, Hummingbird is fluttering its algorithmic wings all over the internet as we speak.

Some SEO types have been getting their feathers ruffled by Hummingbird.  Apparently, it's been flying around the web for about a month.... But nobody told us.

OK, that’s enough with the bird metaphors. How will Hummingbird affect your website? Here’s a quick run-down of what you need to know:

What is Hummingbird?

It's a new algorithm, another way for Google to rank the stuff that appears in its search engine results pages (SERPs) . In short, Hummingbird makes searching the internet more conversational. Google now pays attention to how you search for something rather than just what you’re looking for. It has, if you like, become more human.

Let's imagine that you want to find out how to fix a new windscreen wiper to your Ford Escort. With Hummingbird, Google now understands that you don’t want to buy a new windscreen wiper, or a new Ford Escort. You just want to know how to get the windscreen wiper onto your car. It’s looking at the context of your search engine query rather than just the “windscreen wiper” and “Ford Escort” keywords.

Why now?

Mobile phones. According to Hubspot, smartphones accounted for 24% of website traffic in the 1st quarter of 2013. Compare this to the 13% in 2012 and you get the picture. It’s huge. And it’s going to get much, much bigger. And as smartphones take over the world, so will voice search.

Normal people are pretty messy when it comes to voice search. We ask complex questions. This is Google’s way of making sure our badly-worded questions deliver the right answer.

Does this make my site’s keywords irrelevant?

No, unless you’ve been using dumb keyword optimisation.

You’ll still need to tag your keywords according to the theme and context of the page. Google has simply updated what it’s already been doing for quite some time - looking for words that show a relationship with each other, with the individual page title and with the rest of the website. Words that make sense to the reader.

If your website’s copy has been forcibly yanked around high-ranking keywords then the chances are that Google will have already noticed. Your website has been written for search engines rather than your human visitor. In other words, the keyword tail has been wagging the dog.

Will Hummingbird affect my website ranking?

Good question. I'm glad you asked.

How your website ranks will depend on one thing: great content. When they announced Hummingbird, Google were bombarded with “What should I do about it?” questions. Their response was this:

“Have original, high-quality content”.

It’s a no-brainer. Every single one of Google’s algorithmic changes – whether it’s a Panda, a Penguin or a Hummingbird – has been about favouring well-written, rich content. Blog about a topic that interests your customers, provide informative answers to questions, solve problems and above all, engage your reader.

Despite what some people will tell you, good SEO isn’t complicated. It’s about delivering the best quality response to a search engine query.

Helen Beckingham is an SEO copywriter at Keyword Copywriting. Expert scribbler on websites, blogs and e-books, rather good bassoonist, terrible singer. Contact helen@keywordcopywriting.co.uk here