Did you notice any major dips or spikes in your website traffic recently?

Last week, Google quietly announced that their Hummingbird algorithm update went into effect about a month ago. Industry sources report that the Hummingbird update affects approximately 90 percent of all search queries. This is the most significant update we’ve seen since “Caffeine” was rolled out back in 2009.

What do we know about Google’s Hummingbird update?

  1. Basically, the search engine is getting smarter. According to Google, the update expands on features of the Knowledge Graph, allowing Google search to handle more complex queries in an effort to “get you to the answer you're looking for faster, creating a nearly seamless connection between you and the knowledge you seek.”
  2. Updates to Google Now (the Google search app) allow previous searches to frame query contexts in future searches. I experimented with several examples relevant to law firms, but came up empty-handed when seeking a practical application for this new functionality. For instance, I searched for “Law Firms in Richmond Virginia,” then ran a second search for “Litigators.” My expectation was that Google would deliver a list of litigators in Richmond, Va. – which was not the case.
  3. Google can also compare two things, thanks to the update. One of the examples they give: Compare butter and olive oil. This query delivers a handy chart with comparative data right in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). I decided to take it one step further and compare law firms. So I searched for “Compare Law Firm A with Law Firm B” (insert any two law firm names for A and B). I didn’t get a handy chart in the SERP – just the anticipated branded search results and directories I was expecting. But, if you’re looking for a comparison of salt and sugar, the Hummingbird update will neatly deliver helpful data.

Despite the claim that 90 percent of queries are affected by the Hummingbird update, I’m not seeing any need for law firm marketing professionals to panic.

What should you do?

  • Check your Google Analytics data over the past 30 days. Do you see any unexpected swings (up or down) in search traffic?
  • Run some Google searches for your important keywords. Does anything look different in the SERPs?
  • Continue to create relevant, high-quality content that’s important to your clients. If Google is getting smarter and better at answering more-complex questions, your online content that speaks with knowledge and authority to your audience will inevitably rank higher in Google’s books.

Still worried? Feel free to ask a question in the comments, or email me directly at mtrudeau@jaffepr.com. I can also be reached on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.