What is Google’s Hummingbird and (not provided)? What Does It Mean for My Business?

Nov 18 • Front Page, Google Search Changes, News • 4010 Views

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Google Hummingbird

So, you’re hearing the ginormous buzz about Google’s biggest algorithm overhaul since 2001, with terms like “writing for user intent” being thrown around. But what on earth does this Hummingbird thing mean for your business, anyway?

What is Hummingbird?

The Hummingbird algorithm offers a more natural way to use search engines. It’s a more human way to interact with users and provide a more direct answer. The algorithm can make use of more complex search requests and has a better understanding of the concept of human language, rather than a few scattered words. This new algorithm is a big step forward in for the Internet as searches will be more “human friendly” than ever. The algorithm is designed for conversational or semantic search. Google uses its knowledge graph to answer questions that users type as a query.

When did this all start?

Google didn’t officially announce the Hummingbird upgrade until September 26, 2013—which also happened to mark Google’s 15th birthday. They announced simultaneously that the update had actually been live since the fourth of week of August. The collective “a-ha!” that followed was from millions of confused marketers still scratching their heads as to why August site visits had plummeted.

What did the algorithm change?

Hummingbird’s purpose is to make “results even more useful and relevant, especially when you ask Google long, complex questions.” If site visits from Google plummeted following the release of the Hummingbird update, then it stands to reason that your site was punished because it couldn’t fulfill these long, complex questions.

Consider: Most people are searching Google from a mobile device, using their voices instead of their thumbs. User queries have evolved from simple keywords, like “Eiffel Tower,” to advanced, nuanced requests like “is the Eiffel Tower open for visitation on Christmas?” The content of pages must therefore evolve with Google. Search engine optimization (SEO) can no longer rely on keywords alone in online content. It must include the same level of complexity and nuance a human would.

Is anyone benefitting from this algorithm change? Anyone??

Yes. Blogs, especially company blogs, have a habit of asking a question (and then answering that question) on every post. Blogs also have a habit of updating their pages frequently. The combination of those two facts has meant blogs are among the biggest reaper of Hummingbird’s rewards. If your site doesn’t have a blog, consider a Frequently Asked Questions page. Or better yet—look at each page of your website and consider thoughtfully, what question(s) does this page answer?

What can I do to please Hummingbird?

Increase your site speed.

Google is about getting results to its users fast. Any monkey wrenches in your site’s gears have the potential to remove it from organic results.Optimize your site for mobility. Search for your site on an Android or iOS device. If it isn’t mobile friendly, then you’re already behind the curve.

Include images.

Not just images, but high-quality images, with optimized alt text and file names.

Look at suggestions in the Google Search bar.

This sounds so simple, and yet it gets ignored so frequently. As you type out a long, complex question into the search bar, how does Google finish that sentence? If Google’s suggestions to an unfinished question differ sharply from how you would have finished the sentence, then you and Google need to get on the same page.

Get Local.

This won’t apply to everyone, but if your business is customer-driven and it needs traffic through the door, then claim your local page on Google+ and post from it frequently. Google loves it when you play its shiny new toys, and Google+ local pages are the shiniest new toys on the block. Think Buzz Lightyear, only hotter.

Institute site search.

If your website has hundreds of pages, or is user-unfriendly, or unnavigable—or all of the above—then please get yourself a site search bar. Not only will it help users find the specific pieces of content they want, but it will help you identify what all those visitors to your site are really after. Specificity and correctness are like catnip to Hummingbird. Apply it liberally.

What else can I do to please Hummingbird?

You can speak Google language, which Google refers to as rich snippets. I’m sure your asking yourself, “Google-rich snippets? What the heck are those?” They’re awesome things that can help you improve your SEO. Bet I got your attention now, right?
Google-rich snippets extract information from your website to display on your site’s listing in the search results, in addition to the typical page title, page URL, and meta description. This extra information can include photos, ratings, author information, and more.

Rich snippets are often overlooked in businesses’ SEO strategies because they are more difficult to implement than traditional on-page SEO strategies. But it would be well worth your while to spend a little time learning how to do this. Adding this content-rich information to your Google search listings draws the eye and can increase your listings’ click-through rates by 30%, even when you’re not in the No. 1 position.

What types of rich snippets are there?

    • Author Snippets
    • Business and Organization Snippets
    • Event Snippets
    • Music Album Snippets
    • People Snippets
    • Product Snippets
    • Recipe Snippets
    • Review Snippets
    • Video Snippets

What about [not provided]? I keep seeing that in Google Analytics?

Two years ago Google announced that when a user is signed into Google, any keyword they query will no longer be provided as data to the website the keyword led them to. Instead, these visits would be displayed in Google Analytics under the keyword “(not provided)”.

Not Provided

Why did Google make these changes?

Well Google is a business, and pays close attention to its bottom line. It cannot continue to give away its most prized data for free. By anonymizing organic keyword traffic, Google is hoping to push SEO toward PPC instead, because paid keyword traffic doesn’t have the same privacy protections as organic traffic.

How does this effect PPC?

Millions of businesses base their paid advertising on keywords. In other words, they pay Google to display their site in search results for certain search terms. For example, if you search for “garden gnomes” and my company sells garden gnomes, then I might want to set up an ad for my garden gnome website that will display on your computer screen or mobile device whenever you search for that phrase. Since I only pay Google when you click on my ad, it behooves me to know which keywords are leading to sales of garden gnomes and which ones aren’t. The moral of the story is that sites using Google AdWords will continue to receive full keyword data.

How can I tell if my search is secure?

Secure search pages are those with an S hidden in the URL. The S stands for Secure, and guarantees you that data sent between the website and your computer is encrypted.

    • Normal (http://) Google search result:


    • Secure (https://) Google search result:


Tell-tale signs your webpage might be Secure:

    • You’re signed into a Google account –Gmail, YouTube, Google Reader, Google Drive, Analytics, AdWords or Google+ account.
    • You’ve just signed out of a Google account (you will remain on a secure page).
    • You’re using Firefox 14 or above, which turns all Google searches secure.

What can we do about (not provided)?

There are some helpful guides to attempt to make sense of (not provided) and obtain some actionable data from your site visits:

Is there anything else I should know?

Don’t Panic! SEO is a journey, not a destination. Months or years from now, Google’s algorithm will change again, and wea will be here to help you understand it and make it work for you.


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