Black-chinned Hummingbird -- Moab, Utah, USA

Black-chinned Hummingbird, Moab, Utah.

Last Friday the ubiquitous Google reached its 15th birthday. Things have changed radically since the days when founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page labored away in a Silicon Valley garage (attached to the Google senior VP Susan Wojcicki’s old Menlo Park, CA, house) to bring their brainchild into the world. Who would have predicted the search engine’s expansion into cloud-based apps, email, and even physical devices, like my own Glass?

The day before Google’s birthday, Brin and Page returned to that same garage for an intimate little press event in which they announced an updated search app on Apple’s iOS, a more visible presence for voice search on its home page, and their first new algorithm in three years: Hummingbird.

InformationWeek gives us a nice summary of Hummingbird and its use of the Google Knowledge Graph:

The Hummingbird update expands Google’s use of its Knowledge Graph, introduced last year as a way to help its search engine understand the relationships between concepts rather than simply matching keywords in documents. The Knowledge Graph structures data, so that a search for, say, Marie Curie, returns facts about her contributions to science, her life, her family and other related information, not all of which are necessarily contained in the same document.

Hummingbird expands Google’s use of the Knowledge Graph so that its search engine can provide answers to queries that don’t necessarily have simple answers. In a blog post, Amit Singhal, senior VP of Google Search, points to a search like ‘Tell me about Impressionist artists,’ which now returns a broad set of appropriate facts when submitted through a mobile device.

The Knowledge Graph also helps Google understand when a follow-up search makes reference to a previous search. For example, if you ask the Google Search app for ‘pictures of the Washington Monument’ and then ask, ‘How tall is it?’, Google will understand that you’re referring to the Washington Monument instead of treating your query as a separate question.

Unlike Penguin and Panda before it, Hummingbird is not simply an update to an existing algorithm. It’s entirely new, and not only that, but we’ve been using it (without realizing it) for close to a month prior to the official announcement.

Any change to search functionality is guaranteed to produce much wailing and gnashing of teeth as people begin madly posting their “SEO is dead” articles. Personally, I trust Search Engine Land on these topics, and they don’t see that being the case:

No, SEO is not yet again dead. In fact, Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Guidance remains the same, it says: have original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.

This is Google’s latest advance in conversational search. In an era where mobile is becoming more and more the default, no one should be shocked by this developmental direction. Better recognition of conversational style inquiries lends itself very well to voice-based search on mobile devices, and don’t forget that new advances in iOS mobile apps were announced at the same event.

It is going to be quite interesting to see what the long-term effects of these changes are. Care to speculate? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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