Google Hummingbird And Structured Data: Is There A Connection?

    October 12, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

There has been a lot written about Google’s Hummingbird algorithm since it was announced. Unfortunately, very little of it comes in the form of reliable facts that really give anybody a solid understanding of what they can do to help their sties. Mostly, just a lot of speculation and theory. But to be fair, isn’t that how most of this stuff usually goes?

I’m not going to pretend to have the answers either, but one particular topic that has come up repeatedly throughout discussions about Hummingbird is that of structured data. To be clear, we’re not going to sit here and tell you that using it is going to have a direct impact on your rankings or even that it’s directly related to Hummingbird. Rather, we’ll simply examine some things Google has said, and some thoughts from others in the industry about whether or not it makes a difference. You know, for discussion’s sake.

Do you think implementing structured data on your site will have more of a benefit under Hummingbird? Let us know what you think.

Paul Bruemmer wrote a piece at Search Engine Land called Future SEO: Understanding Entity Search, which starts off talking about Hummingbird.

In that he says, “This is Google’s solution for evolving from text links to answers. Such a system will display more precise results faster, as it’s based on semantic technology focused on user intent rather than on search terms. To review Google’s progress in this direction: first came the Knowledge Graph, then Voice Search and Google Now — all providing answers, and sometimes even anticipating the questions. To serve these answers, Google relies on entities rather than keywords.”

We reached out to him for some further thoughts on the subject, particularly with regards to structured data. He told us, “Webmasters have good reason to implement structured data, Hummingbird is a continued example of Google using semantic technology to ‘understand’ vs. ‘index.'”

“Google has been rolling-out incremental changes related to structured data over the past five years,” he added. “It is a clear path for providing better search results for all the engines, Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Structured data is valued by search engines and it is being used (aggregated) to enhance the SERPs, providing a better user experience producing higher click-through-rates (CTR). Currently there’s not enough scientific raw data to correlate structured data with improved rankings. However, observation and experience from qualified SEO practitioners suggest the influence of structured data is at the top of the tactical To Do list.”

Google Webmaster Tools shows the following types on the Structured Data page (as listed and discussed here): schema.org, microformats, microdata, RDFa and data you’ve tagged in data highlighter.

“Schema.org (which is microdata) and RDFa are both syntax (new meta data) adopted and approved by Google, Yahoo! and Bing,” he continued. “Google’s ‘Data Highlighter’ is for Google’s index only; webmasters using the data highlighter are creating semantic markup which is only visible to Google. In my opinion, there is a deeper and longer-term value when using Schema.org (microdata) consumable and visible to all search engines e.g., a Web of structured data. GWT Structured Data page currently provides a limited view and will hopefully be enhanced to include much more information moving forward. There is a deeper semantic strategy involved, ‘How To’ training and recommendations for webmasters is being developed as the semantic and academic communities converge with Internet communities.”

Bill Slawski from SEO By The Sea wonders why people think Hummingbird has anything to do with Schema, but also notes that ” Schema is putting information into a framework that makes it easier for Google to extract information.”

Slawski has been critical of all the “gibberish” and “rubbish” that is being written about Hummingbird, saying that “95% of the articles about it aren’t very good.”

He recently put out this story on the “Hummingbird Patent”.

One story he recommends, however, is one from Ammon Johns. It is indeed a good read. Still, Johns doesn’t exactly downplay the use of structured data.

Johns writes in a comment on the article, “All that schema markup you’re being told to add? This is directly applicable to machine learning – helping the machine by ensuring a good input data-set has consistency for better processing and learning. Eventually, even a search for your own name will turn up a Google Knowledge Graph result and only link to your own site bio as an afterthought, if at all.”

In a Search Engine Land article, Eric Ward points to words from Google’s Amit Singhal when Hummingbird was announced:

“The change needed to be done, Singhal said, because people have become so reliant on Google that they now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics.”

Ward says, “So there’s Clue #1. Searchers enter questions. Google wants to give them answers — fast, accurately, and preferably without having to leave Google.com.”

There could be something to that “without having to leave Google.com” part. Google has clearly been looking to keep users on Google.com more and more over time, providing answers from the result page when possible.

“Good content with strong backlinks may no longer be enough,” Ward says. “This may be painful to hear, but logic dictates that if Google is anticipating longer search phrases and answering questions directly, then that means even if you have a great answer to that same question and your page containing that answer ranks at position 4, the end user may never see it or click on it because Google has answered the question for them.”

He gives the example of looking for Peyton Manning stats on Google. Even if you have the best NFL stats site on the web, he notes, Google is going to give you something that looks like this:

Peyton Manning stats

Google wants to give users answers without having to leave Google. If your site has that answer, in some cases, structured data may help Google understand that you have that answer.

Of course, this means that if users are getting the answers without having to leave Google,. they’re not going to have to bother going to other sites (like yours). We talked about this in Is It Worth It To Your Site To Help Google Build Its ‘Knowledge’?

“If Google understands the content on your pages, we can create rich snippets—detailed information intended to help users with specific queries,” Google says. “For example, the snippet for a restaurant might show the average review and price range; the snippet for a recipe page might show the total preparation time, a photo, and the recipe’s review rating; and the snippet for a music album could list songs along with a link to play each song. These rich snippets help users recognize when your site is relevant to their search, and may result in more clicks to your pages.”

Google supports rich snippets for reviews, people, products, businesses and organizations, recipes, events and music, and recognizes markup for video content. Does your site fit into any of these areas?

This isn’t new, but doesn’t it just make sense to do everything you can to help Google more easily understand the content on your site in the era of Hummingbird, when Google is trying to give people the answers to their questions?

Keep in mind that Hummingbird is a redux of Google’s algorithm. It’s not a signal. It’s the algorithm. Why not take advantage of an existing signal, which is part of Google’s larger algorithm that wants to answer people’s questions? Just saying.

What do you think? Is structured data worth doing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image: Thinkstock

  • http://www.seobythesea.com Bill Slawski

    Hi Chris,

    Google definitely uses a semantic analysis approach to understanding and creating rules for replacing some synonym terms and substitute terms in a query that it is re-writing to then search upon. Things such as Schema aren’t signals used in this query expansion approach – instead the aim of schema is to help make it easier for Google to index information (and Google will often reward people using it on their sites with rich snippets).

    The kinds of semantic analysis that Google uses during a query reformation is more related to things like what words tend to co-occur within queries (usually consecutive ones within Google’s query log files for everyone and not just the searcher) when people try to perform similar searches. When Google identifies possible candidate replacement terms, it then might use a semantic analysis approach to understand how helpful those replacements in the original query might be within the context of other meaningful (non-stop words) within that original query.

    I have been seeing a lot of people confuse that kinds of semantic analysis with semantic markup, and that’s a step in the wrong direction. Schema influences content being indexed, and not queries being re-written.

    Google also has had a number of other changes that they’ve been working upon as well, simultaneously with Hummingbird, and it might be easy to make an association between them and Hummingbird, but that would probably be a misstep as well.

    For example, personalization of search results means basing the database of things queried for to include topics and results that a searcher (or people who might be very similar to that searcher as determined by shared interests)has shown an interest for in the past. This kind of personalization is something that Google has been exploring for a while, and to exclaim that the two are related doesn’t mean that they are.

    The purpose behind query expansion or reformation it to make it easier for searchers to find what they are looking for (pages, information, pictures, videos, etc.), and not to make it more likely that the search results will deliver them with an answer that doesn’t necessarily require them to visit any pages.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/chris-crum Chris Crum

      Thanks for weighing in, Bill. I was hoping to get your comment for the story.

      • http://www.javascriptsandmore.com Shawn Lippert

        I include structured Data on all my local business clients websites particularly the Local Business Structured Data shown here:http://schema.org/LocalBusiness

        Now if Google wants to show the most relevant info from a local business for a product or service that person performing the query is going to click-through and mine for more information,take some kind of action like click-to call, fill out a capture form or make a purchase then I see no problem.

        For sites that have those great stats for the Peyton Manning example may lose out on some traffic but as long as Google provides a link back to where they received the information from I see no reason why those sites would not benefit from having their info displayed, if Google did not display their info they probably would see a drastic reduction in traffic.

        I have been using structured data for a while and see it as a benefit for local businesses, musicians, events etc…

        Thanks for the article as always well written, and Bill Slawski has great insight and knowledge!

  • http://www.3d-cubeworld.com Bernd von Foto in Glas

    Hallo, ich halte es inzwischen für verschwendung, immer wieder darüber zu diskutieren, ob ein Google Update gut ist oder nicht. Fakt ist doch. diese Updates wird es immer geben und wir haben das Nachsehen.

    Viele Grüße

  • Sam

    I think you hit the nail on the head at the end of the article. Google increasingly wants to provide the answer itself instead of sending users off-site. Content providers that give Google their information are just arming Google against themselves. The tipping point has come where instead of Google becoming a source of traffic, it is becoming a competitor. I will not and suggest that others do not provide any structured data to the company, at least until Google provides compensation for licensing the information.

  • Scott

    Google has evolved from a search engine to a promotion engine. They no longer view themselves as content indexers and more along the lines of content promoters. In fact, the new Hummingbird algo was designed to help Google find the best content that meets their quality guidelines to promote. They want to index and rank websites that meet their quality guidelines just like an AdWords client is required to meet. Also, Google has danced around the issue of hiding the key word results from Google Analytics. However, if you advertise on AdWords, you will see your keyword performance data. In my opinion, I think Google is simply trying to balance their organic results with AdWords because their main source of revenue is from advertising. Using structured data will definitely help them meet that goal as it forms a common denominator between their organic and paid results. That’s my humble opinon.

  • http://easyonlineclassifieds.com/ John Hogan

    When the Google (NSA project) started 15 years ago, it was a welcome asset to the web community. Personally I believe its days are numbered and have good reasons to support my opinion on that.

  • http://www.realdealzone.com mmmkey

    Thank you for the information you provided me in this article. Have a fantastic long weekend

  • http://www.icahbanjarmasin.com Icahbanjarmasin

    Hi Chris..how are you my friend..? really I am Fear “Google Hummingbird” lol..thank you very much and I like your post keep in touch from INDONESIA god bless for you.

  • http://www.livingportugalproperty.com Real Estate Portugal

    I believe that any change that benefits the users experience has to be a good thing. I still find that within in many searches, there is still a lot of irrelevant results. If I can get to my query quicker, even at the detriment to my own site, it has to be a good thing and will only encourage me to perform better.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    At least Google is keeping us on our toes not point doing SEO in your sleep.

  • http://www.rameezulhaq.com M. Rameez Ul Haq

    I am wondering people are annoyed of Hummingbird, In my opinion Google is doing what they need to do for their profit!

  • http://www.flaminghotmedia.com FHM

    I agree with a lot of comments here, and also believe that Google is keeping us on our toes.
    Personally I don’t have a problem with Google as a whole, and at the end of the day they are an enormous company who are finding new ways to make money and stay on top.
    From a business side I love it when new Google algorithm updates come out, as our clients traffic increases along with rankings, further acknowledging we are doing the right things for clients as far as Google is concerned.

    • Yoda

      Keeping us on our toes? Google places so many demands on webmasters that there is hardly any time to actually deal with CONTENT.

  • http://seouragon.blogspot.com/ Mark Dacillo

    Having markup’s such as microdata or microformats for is an essential way on how to help out Google interpret your website for better understanding. Data highlighter come in handy the best option for implementing structured data properly.