In case you didn’t know, Google has turned 15 years old this past week. They celebrated in the garage of the house where Google was born.  During this celebration, they also announced their new algorithm, “Hummingbird”.  Google hasn’t had a major new algorithm change in over 10 years.  Pandas and Penguins were always additions, amendments, and tweaks to the previous, established algorithm.  So what does this mean to the salon down the street, or the pizza place around the corner? It means that Google is planning and targeting the future. Gone are the days of putting all your keywords on a page and expecting it to do well. Gone are the days of spending countless hours on researching specific location and category keyword combinations. Google’s future and the future of search is concentrated on the searcher and less on the keywords (not that they are totally extinct).

The small business should now be more customer-focused, not only in their brick and mortar stores, but also in their digital space.  They need to concentrate on what the customer wants, and how they are asking for it, to take advantage of this shift in Google’s algorithm.  As Google explains, they chose to name this new algorithm after the hummingbird, because the creature embodies “fast and precise”.  Google doesn’t want the searcher to have to sift through results to find the ones that are actually helpful.  Your web presence also has to be fast and precise.  It must be built to allow both search engines and customers to quickly know exactly what you have to offer.

Going forward, the 3 signals that I believe Google will find important are:

  1. Intent
  2. Semantics
  3. User Behavior

Google uses signals from its vast collection of data to determine what your customer’s intent is with every search. Google is now concentrating on the whole search query and not picking out just the keywords.  As more and more people are moving to mobile and using voice search, the terms become more conversational.  This “conversational search” as Google calls it, concentrates on other signals such as location of the searcher, and what their intent might be.  So a search for “what’s the best coffee shop closest to home” would yield different results whether the searcher was on their phone, ask for “home” or “near me”, or sitting at the desktop.

Universal Search at the desktop results:non-hummingbird-results

Now the search on an iPhone, using the Google Search Application while logged in to a Google account:


The way Google interprets the search query is evident in the results they display in each case.  On the desktop, Google is choosing to weigh the terms best and coffee shop and returning news, articles and brands as the top results, inferring that the searcher’s intent is research.  That, and it can’t infer where the searcher is coming from as evidenced by the lack of local results.  The Google search app, however, has many more signals to use in interpreting the user’s query.  It has GPS, it knows where “home” is thanks to the use of Google maps on the phone, and it knows that the searcher is “on the go”.  So it delivers all local results that are in the radius of home first. Intent, Semantics and User Behavior were calculated and the results are tailored accordingly.

What can a business owner do to prepare for this and other changes coming in the future?  Best practices and having a “complete” online presence is still key, and will always be.  Providing good user experience, sharing expertise, and making sure your customers appreciate and review your business will send the search engines the right signals.  Create compelling content with your businesses’ vision, goals, and selling points that semantically convey your marketing objectives, with less worry about keyword density, exact keyword phrases and over-optimization.  Businesses need to educate themselves on how digital marketing works, how email marketing works and how SEO should work to avoid being taken advantage of by the companies out there that prey on trusting business owners.

What do you think business owners should do to prepare for the future of search? Or if you are a business owner, what concerns do you have regarding the future of digital marketing?