What's a publisher to do? After being bruised and battered by Panda and Penguin updates, thousands of websites have gone from Google's first page of SERPs [search engine results pages] to having their keywords literally losing gravitas and sinking to the bottom of the heap. Like tumbleweeds rolling across the digital desert, in the wake of cotton mills [Google's original target] being expunged from SERPs, many reputable newsworthy sites also had to shutter their virtual doors due to an ever-evolving ALGO constantly reinventing itself.
But that's the good news. The bad news is that Google just announced a brand new algorithm for its search engine, called Hummingbird. That's right. To mark its 15th birthday, Google is capitalizing off its social media success with G+ to raise the ante when it come search requests.
And while we all cringe as to how we'll need to revamp our websites to comply with yet another algo iteration, Google somewhat mockingly describes how they've "come a long way, baby!"
So while the Panda and Penguin updates moved the algo needle radically, Hummingbird is actually replacing the not-so-old with something entirely new. According to SEO guru Danny Sullivan, he correlates this latest round of transitionsDanny Sullivan to a car built in the 1950s. "When Google switched to Hummingbird, it's as if it dropped the old engine out of the car and put in a new one. . . (and) it also did this so quickly that no one really noticed the switch."
Panda, Penguin and other updates were changes to parts of the old algorithm, but not an entire replacement of the whole. "Think of it again like an engine. Those things were as if the engine received a new oil filter or had an improved pump put in," adds Sullivan. Google Hummingbird, on the other hand is the manufacturing of a whole new car.
So what is "semantic" search and how does it differ from "keyword" search?
The search results we worked with in the past reflected the matching combination of keywords that a search phrase contained, rather than the true meaning of the sentence itself. Search results produced by Hummingbird will exemplify the full semantic meaning of longer search phrases (what SEO professionals use to refer to as "long-tail"), and should in theory produce more accurate results.
In the graphic novel "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks," I guessed wrong when I bet on Facebook achieving what Google looks to have accomplish with Hummingbird. I guessed wrong because when I wrote that book back in 2010, Google (aka Gobble in the F&DF) had not been successful in launching their own social network. And from where I sat, a social network capable of attracting millions (even billions of users in FB's case) is the secret sauce for semantic search to truly become "brains" of the Web.
In the novel, Z-Man (aka Mark Zuckerberg) brings this point home when he differentiates how Facebook (aka Facebucks) versus Google had the resources, the people and search capabilities to take the lead in this global endeavor.
Page from graphic novel, "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks"
So, why is a social network so important for Google's Hummingbird to take the lead?
Because, G+, similar to Facebook now has the capability to tap into our "social graphs" and to follow our every preference as we leave our digital footprints everywhere we travel on the Web. In so doing, Google has finally been able to attach itself to not only how we label the world (vis a vis keywords) -- but NOW, it will be able to intutitively comprehend and respond to our "how's," "why's," "where," and "when" queries in our search phrases.
There's also a competitive angle to Google's Hummingbird move, above and beyond Facebook. Since mobile search is becoming more dominant than computer keyboard searching, "voice search" needed to be addressed. To accomplish this Hummingbird will compete head-on with iPhone's Siri voice-based functionality which presently uses the semantic search engine WolframAlpha rather than Google for its search results.
Voice-based search is also known as "conversational search" or "hot wording" as Google refers to it. Hummingbird for mobile will be directed by simple voice commands like "OK Google," which is also the catch-phrase to operate Google Glass.
Important for publishers going forward: the SEO "white hat" tactic of using 'relevant' keyword loading on their websites will hold little-to-no weight in the future. With Hummingbird, Google will encrypt all future SERPs with semantic technology, which means that keywords used by publishers will increasingly produce "not provided" results in Google Analytics.
Bottom line, Google is seeking to retain more data for its own purposes, thus providing it with a unique ‘data competitive advantage’. This will potentially enable Google to target consumers with advertising and promotions more accurately than any other advertiser, particularly Facebook.
Also, it's important to note, that semantic technology (also known as "Web 3.0") will interface intrinsically with the "Internet of Things," which is being perfected not only by a fellow social networking company, but also by one of the world's greatest superpowers. Google and G+ might have been able to take the lead away from Facebook, but can they do the same with a country that's home to billions of netizens? Quite a monumental task, wouldn't you say?