Hummingbird could potentially threaten smaller merchants’ ability to rank for long-tail search queries, it’s true. In theory, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update can answer long-tail questions with the types of pages that previously dominated short-tail search queries. In theory, Google's move to consolidate "answers" to questions that are essentially the same but worded differently could mean a closing of an SEO loophole for publishers and merchants who heavily targeted specific long-tail keywords.

But so far, Google has proven to be  capable of differentiating between knowledge search and ecommerce search queries even in long-tail contexts. Exceptions to this rule can be seen, however, in search terms where ecommerce merchants want to reach buyers in the early stages of the buying cycle. For example, the search query “what are the best shoes for running trails” yields results filled with long magazine and runners’ blogs, but among them you will also find Dick’s Sporting Goods Running Shoes Buyers Guide. What is Dick’s doing that other ecommerce sites aren't? It is answering a question as well or better than the more academic magazines. Hummingbird can be expected to continue ensuring that answer-focused websites rule the search results.

Then there’s the issue of serving better ads. With Hummingbird, Google is able to discern meaning from search queries and identify results; Hummingbird’s ability to return better ads is an added benefit for ecommerce merchants. Before Hummingbird, 99% long-tail and extremely long-tail queries did not yield ads. This means that ecommerce advertisers have a broader net with which to pull in more searchers.

How Hummingbird Works (More or Less)

Google Hummingbird applies synonym co-occurrences to search queries to match up multiple forms of the same search to a single answer. The way Hummingbird sees it, if “best running shoes for high arches”, “best running shoes high arches” and “good running shoes for runners with high arches” essentially mean the same thing, why have different search results?

To put it simply, Google can now use a beefed-up system of understanding synonyms, contextual knowledge (from its index of web documents) and personalization factors to conceptualize the meaning behind the words in a search query.

This allows Google to:

  1. Get a better understanding of the intent of a searcher’s query

  2. Dig deeper into indexed content to answer the “question” within the query

  3. Simplify how information is served in search results

  4. Provide a higher probability of satisfying the needs of the user -- thus provided a better search experience

  5. Serve users with even more targeted ads

5-Step Hummingbird Ecommerce SEO Plan

It has always been Google’s stance: Great Content. Hummingbird further reinforces the idea that ecommerce merchant’s must be as aware of their online marketing tactics as any non-ecommerce publisher.

To help, here is a five-step (give or take a few steps) Hummingbird-proof ecommerce marketing plan. What you'll find with Hummingbird -- or any future algorithm or structural updates from Google -- is that if you stick to the basics, your ecommerce marketing plan will protect you.

  1. Clearly define your audience

    1. Who is your ideal buyer?

    2. What are they looking for?

    3. What kind of information can they use in order to make a decision on a purchase?

  2. Clearly define your identity

    1. What makes your online store the place where your audience should shop?

      • Do you offer better prices?

      • Does your store have better selection than competitors?

      • Do you provide expert knowledge?

      • Do you share your buyers' passion?

    2. How are you using your website’s resources to make yourself thought leader in your niche/industry?

      • Are you blogging?

      • Are you sending your users useful and informative newsletters?

      • Are you making product videos to help buyers learn and decide?

  3. Provide your audience with answers

    1. Use home page to establish authority in industry

    2. Use category pages to answer questions about the broad topics surrounding your products

    3. Use product pages to answer questions about the products specific topics (recommended uses, reviews, size or dimensions, etc.)

  4. Continue to implement SEO best practices

    1. Use a clear information architecture

    2. Avoid canonicalization issues

    3. Avoid thin content with little or no value

    4. Create a semantic content model

    5. Optimize content for every one of your site's pages and treat each one as an individual "landing page"

    6. Create useful and shareable content using multiple media types (text, images, video, audio, infographics, etc.)

    7. Add, Open Graph and semantic mark-up data

  5. Establish clearly defined online marketing objectives 

    1. Marketing should work to gain better brand visibility

    2. Marketing should increase referral traffic

    3. Marketing should build your brand’s thought leadership

    4. Marketing should build links from niche-relevant sites and related sections of non-related sites

    5. Social media marketing should work to:

      • Increase your brand's visibility

      • Create a social echo and grow your brand ambassadors' reach

      • Get your site more backlinks and/or mentions in other websites

      • Increase organic traffic