In September 2013, Google unveiled their first new algorithm for three years. Codenamed ‘Hummingbird’, this new algorithm affects about 90% of searches carried out on Google.
What is Google Hummingbird?
Hummingbird will be particularly useful for longer, more complicated, information based search queries. When Google announced the update, they explained that it’s importance lies in the fact that users now expect more informal and conversational interactions with search engines – an example includes users
using their voices to request searches via their smart phones or smart watches.
The predecessor to Hummingbird was ‘Caffeine’, the purpose of which was to better index websites in search results. In contrast, Hummingbird is focused on ranking results based on a more
intelligent understanding of user searches – i.e. a better understanding of what exactly the user is looking for.
Rather than a basic understanding of the meaning of specific words, Hummingbird understands concepts and the relationships between different concepts and words. This makes user interaction with the search engine far more ‘human-like’. The focus has shifted from ‘results’ and is now more about ‘answers’.
For example, if you go to Google and search for “film where the rebels save the galaxy” the results all relate to Star Wars even though the film name was not even mentioned in the search query.
Google is starting to answer questions in a very human like way.
This is of course intelligent in itself but Google’s end goal is to get people to spend more time on Google properties.
The whole basis of their search engine has been to help people find information and to go to it on other websites.
They have earned a fortune through Google Adwords and Adsense through doing this job well but as the web changes this revenue is starting to decline a little so Google need to figure out ways to monetise their traffic. Keeping people on Google properties is a good start for them.
Some of the other stuff that they have been doing recently such as creating Google+ and tying that into as many searches as possible, Google knowledge graph and Google local listings all clearly have an aim of keeping users on google owned properties. The same can be said about many YouTube changes over the past few years.
What are the implications for video SEO?
Ultimately, Google wants to change the way that it interacts with users and the way users interact with it as a search engine. The increasing dependence on mobile devices and the use of Siri for example has contributed towards Google’s recognition that they need to adapt to the users changing needs.
Google have stated that 15% of their one billion searches per day are new and have never been seen before. It probably isn’t an unreasonable guess that the majority of these ‘new’ searches are made up of long tail key phrases that search engines have traditionally struggled to return results for. Hummingbird has taken Google one step further – not only do they want to provide the user with the most relevant information to your search, it will also offer up information that you didn’t quite request, but that you will appreciate.
As you can see from the search below, I kept things very vague and Google returned a variety of results that could possibly meet my needs.
The videos interestingly both relate to teaching dogs new tricks as perhaps this is the most common topic of searching in relation to learning tricks.
This means that rather than creating videos specifically targeting a keyword or two, marketers should instead be looking at the problems/issues/areas of concern and interests that their customers have and to then create broader video content that fits these needs.
For example; If you are an estate agent selling houses in a small geographic area and some of the key questions you get are:
- What are the best schools in the area?
- Is the house close to a hospital?
- What are the crime levels like in this area?
- Have their been any problems with the neighbours?
Prior to Hummingbird it would have been wise to create 4 separate videos to answer these specific questions, but with the new understanding of meanings it would probably be best to just create 2 better quality more in depth videos:
- Schools and public amenities in XXXX neighbourhood
- Crime and community feel in XXXX neighbourhood
The theory is that if you mark up your videos with schema.org tags and make sure that you give them a clear textual description (Google still cannot read video content) and also if possible closed caption subtitles file, then Google will be able to tie your video to a larger number of related searches.
Remember though that Hummingbird is new and although it will surely improve over time it is not yet 100% reliable to rely on it understanding related and intended meanings.
Previous updates, Caffeine, Panda and Penguin, all worked towards providing the user with better results to their searches, but Hummingbird goes further because it takes into account the user intent as much as the actual words used – it does this by personalising the results using information such as the location of the user, the device they are using and other information.
With video, the video creator needs to think carefully about the questions they are answering for their audience. If they are not answering any questions, what is the purpose of the video? In order to maximise the success of online video in this new climate, it is vital to have an understanding of how ones video content is found by users.
- How easy is it for users to find your videos?
- Do you have unique landing pages for videos?
- What context are your videos in – e.g. are they surrounded by relevant text?
- Is your content relevant to your audience NOW?
- Have you marked up your video content using schema.org video object markup?
All content needs to be rich, multi-layered and fresh – this applies to video as much as it does any other content type – if it is to stand a chance of being found in searches and landing a spot on at least the first couple of pages of search results.
In light of Hummingbird, schema mark up has found a new significance. Schema (and rich snippets and structured data) are basically information about information. This information is important because it sends a message to search engines about what exactly is included in your online content. Relating this directly to video, it is going to be important to spend time creating mark for individual video landing pages. Similarly, submitting video sitemaps via Webmaster tools will also be in your favour.
Conclusion on Hummingbird for video SEO
Video creators can no longer optimise solely for key words/phrases. They need to think more carefully about their audiences and the contexts within which they might search for their videos. Content needs to be created with these findings in mind. Video SEO is therefore still essential, but video creators need to accept that it has changed. In many ways, Hummingbird will push creators to be even more audience focused, gently pushing us all to create content with our audience needs more firmly ingrained into our practice.