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".
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:
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.