What does Google Hummingbird mean for your mobile site?

While there was quite a bit of buzz in the tech communities about Hummingbird, Google kept the change relatively quiet and its implementation went mostly unnoticed by casual users and those not in the industry. Most site owners probably didn't notice too much of a change to their traffic, ranking or even the results to their own personal Google searches, perhaps taking the improvements in stride - after all, Google was known as having the answer to everything long before Hummingbird hit the scene.

And nothing's changed in that respect. Google is still focused on returning quality information to its search queries, and Hummingbird is helping it do that. Rather than focusing on matching key words alone, Hummingbird uses semantic search and focuses on the meaning behind the key words. Google are probably making sure they're ready for the evolution of portable technology into wearable technology, where voice searches with long tailed keywords are going to be more prominent. As more and more people use conversational methods for searching (inputting a full question rather than simply a string of key words) and voice search becomes more commonplace, the shift was definitely needed.

To borrow an example from Search Engine Land, the search, "What's the closest place to buy the Galaxy S5?" would have, in the past, returned searches matching the keywords 'buy' and 'Galaxy S5' - online stores definitely would have ranked highly. Hummingbird instead acknowledges the entire query and picks up on the meaning behind the words, recognising that by saying 'closest place' you're after a physical store where you can buy a physical product, the 'Galaxy S5'. If you've shared your location with Google, which the majority of people have, Hummingbird is going to return an extremely accurate list of results, including the store locations of local phone providers, tech stores and even chain retailers that all sell the product.

As well as this, once users have found an answer to one question they can then follow on with another search question, and Hummingbird will still consider the previous search for context when indexing results.

Hummingbird's method is perhaps most noticeable in Google Chrome, where a microphone icon beside the Google Search box indicates that voice search is now available on desktop devices. When a question is asked aloud the text is displayed in the search screen, along with the results, which Google then speaks aloud back to you. The more conversational the query, the more information is returned.

In essence, Hummingbird is extremely user focused - while still important, no longer are keywords alone enough to help your website rank. The users are asking specific questions, and Google is now searching for specific answers. Hummingbird did not signal the death of SEO, however, and sites with original, high quality, engaging and frequently updated content are still ranking far higher than their lesser quality counterparts. Google maintains that signals that were important before Hummingbird, such an anchor texts, remain important now, and that the algorithm simply allows them to process the signals in new and improved ways. So too are Panda and Penguin, previous upgrades to Google's search algorithm that focus on on-site quality and unnatural backlinks respectively, still used within Hummingbird.

It seems that linking your website to your Google+ account and other websites (such as reputable review sites, or highly regarded sites in the same field of expertise) may help your ratings in Hummingbird, as will a sparse helping of FAQ, How To and other informational pages, but please do not rush to overhaul your site. If your website was going to be negatively affected by Hummingbird you definitely would have seen the changes by now.

Webmasters recently received an email from Google detailing changes to mobile search, in line with Hummingbird's user-friendly nature and the growth of mobile searches. The entire notice can be found here, but the most important part is this: "Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices."

So, from April 21 2015 onwards, searches on mobile devices such as smart phones will have a different ranking system to those on desktop and even tablet devices, with sites that have a greater 'mobile-friendliness' rating ranking higher. Search results will be optimised for devices, meaning that you'll get a better ranking on mobile searches if you meet Google's mobile site standards, but your desktop site and your ranking for searches done on tablet and desktop devices will not be affected by this change.

Google have provided links to where you can read more about what they consider mobile-friendly, and where webmasters can see the full list of any mobile usability issues on their sites. (Apps are also being affected by the change, with " information from indexed apps [being used] as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed.")

In his article on "Mobilegeddon", Chuck Price lists a few details of this upgrade:

  • Responsive design does not have a ranking benefit
  • Googlebot must be allowed to crawl CSS and JavaScript to pass the "mobile-friendly" test
  • Mobile-friendliness is determined at the page level - not sitewide
  • Tablets will not be affected by this update
  • Google is currently working on a dedicated mobile index

Essentially, it would seem that if your site has original content, has CSS and JavaScript accessible by Googlebot and is customised for mobile devices your rankings won't be damaged, and they definitely won't be affected on tablet or desktop devices, as Google is distinguishing between the two result indexes.

For more details about Hummingbird, you can check out this in-depth article or, if you'd prefer some lighter reading, these two infographics here and here.

If you have any questions about the new upgrade, please don’t hesitate to contact our support team. You can get in touch through our User Support system, or by email. If you have any other questions or comments feel free to browse through our Contact page, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages!