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Google Hummingbird Algorithm UpdateNearly four months have passed since Google announced Hummingbird, the biggest change to its search algorithm in over a decade. What do you know about Hummingbird?

In a nutshell, Hummingbird is an evolution of Google’s algorithm that helps better understand “conversational search” and interpret the intent behind entire questions and complex searches.

Hummingbird positions Google to better handle the way we ask complex questions and also helps improve mobile search and voice search. Watch this video by Mashable to see Google’s voice recognition respond to searches to get an idea of the vision Google has behind Hummingbird.

If you are wondering “Why is it called hummingbird” you’re not alone. Google has a thing about naming all of its recent algorithm updates after animals (Panda, Penguin). Hummingbird got its name because it is precise and fast, says Amit Singhal, SR VP and Software Engineer at Google.

The SEO world has been a buzz about Hummingbird for the past couple months and now that we’ve had a chance to learn about it and see how it impacted a number of our clients’ websites we’re introducing this new Hummingbird blog series.

Within this Hummingbird series we will discuss everything you need to know about Hummingbird and your website, including:

  • What is Hummingbird?
  • Purpose of Hummingbird
  • Why do we need Hummingbird?
  • How the Google Hummingbird update actually works
  • How does Hummingbird affect SEO?
  • Big picture changes you can make in response to Hummingbird
  • What to do as a content marketer – should Hummingbird change the way you write?

What is hummingbird?

On September 27, 2013 as Google celebrated its 15th anniversary the Search guru also announced it had launched the biggest update to its algorithm since 2001. While Google releases hundreds of changes to its algorithm each year Hummingbird is a major update said to affect nearly 90% of all searches.

Hummingbird is unique because while past updates were focused on how Google gathers information about websites Hummingbird focuses on the user. The main purpose of Hummingbird is to better understand what searchers are asking for and to provide them with the most precise answer possible.

The most interesting part is that this announcement came as a complete surprise even though the update was launched more than a month before. Nobody in the Search world noticed the changes – either positive or negative.

Purpose of Hummingbird

The intent behind Hummingbird is to deliver the most relevant page on a website and the most qualified source for the information a person is looking for.

Google says that Hummingbird is meant to pay better attention to each and every word used in a query (DEFN: what a person enters into a search engine to find the information or answer they are looking for) rather than specific “keywords” content writers and SEO’s have grown accustomed to. The end goal is to return pages that match the meaning of the entire phrase rather than pages that are matching just a few words in the phrase.

The Huffington Post explains the purpose of Hummingbird well:

“Hummingbird has, at least according to Google, improved search results already and it looks likely that it will improve mobile search and voice search for users too. While it is a new algorithm and is being billed as the biggest algorithmic change in 12 years, it is really just an evolution. It takes Knowledge Graph and turns Google’s results into a more conversational, more semantic, and even a more sentient search solution.”

Why do we need Hummingbird?

Ultimately the Hummingbird update is getting ready to accommodate the way people will search in the future. Hummingbird is embracing the growing number of mobile users and positioning Google to provide the best search results regardless of how a user is searching.

1. Mobile Searches are increasing.

It is predicted that mobile search is expected to overtake desktop usage within the next two years. Most experts believe that Google’s Hummingbird update is heavily influenced by Google’s efforts to become more mobile.

Think about the way you search on your mobile phone. It is much different than how you would search on your desktop. We often key in fragmented search queries that are clunky and my not make sense, or searches that heavily rely on our location. Google Hummingbird mobile implications means that search results will better account for strange mobile search behavior.

2. Voice technology is becoming more common.

Over time it is predicted that people will more commonly use voice search over typing on the phone in situations where talking into your phone is appropriate. This means that search queries will become more conversational and not restricted to how people type.

People will be less likely to search “eye doctor Vancouver” and more likely to ask their phone “closest eye doctor to me”. As search queries become longer and more complex Hummingbird will be able to determine the most relevant and highest quality pages that meet the specific needs of the searcher.

3. New Results and Platforms for Providing Results

Over the last number of years we have seen an increase in the types of search results displayed. In addition to a website we also see YouTube videos, Google Local Pages, Google Plus Company pages and even the answer provided by Google. As the complexity of what is possible for Google to show in search results increases the need for natural interactions will also go up.

How Google’s Hummingbird Update Actually Works

Most consider the Hummingbird update an extension or natural progression from Google’s Knowledge Graph which was used to identify the relationships between people, places and things in order to pull real-time answers to search results.

Hummingbird is all about expanding this capability to the rest of Google search (according to Don Dodds) and about applying semantics search:

Semantic Search is a search or a question or an action that produces meaningful results, even when the retrieved items contain none of the query terms (Matthew Brown)

It combines Google’s undoubted search capabilities with the interesting and invaluable information provide by Knowledge Graph.

Hummingbird also helps to focus on the meaning behind each individual words and the context in which they are used:

“Rather than attempting to identify the individual keywords or phrases that are found in a search query, the new Hummingbird update looks at the query as a whole. It considers the whole sentence and then looks for the most relevant results. More than this, though, it provides a more rounded list of results that give background information as well as supporting information too.” (DonDodds)

This means that to have a visible website it must be a well-rounded resource for whatever you are selling or promoting. You can’t expect to put a couple keywords on the page and come up with top rankings. You will need to have supporting information and be able to predict the other questions your visitors may have.

Summary: What you need to know about Hummingbird Change

There are several key takeaways about Hummingbird and how Google’s newly evolved algorithm works:

  1. It’s all about conversational search.
  2. It’s paving the way for more and more mobile searches and voice searches.
  3. It’s all about semantics, context and content that your visitors are looking for.

Because Hummingird is more related to longer, conversational searches and not what we call “head” terms or money keywords that provide a lot of traffic, you probably won’t notice a major immediate shift in traffic due to Hummingbird.

Stay tuned for next week’s article about how Hummingbird affect SEO strategy.

Does this latest Google Algorithm get you even more discouraged about your website ranking well? Get in touch with us and we’ll walk you through an action plan to start generating traffic and sales.

More in our 3 Part Hummingbird Algorithm Update Series:

Part 1: Intro to Hummingbird Algorithm Update – The Biggest Google Update in 12 Years

Part 2: How Will Hummingbird Affect Your SEO Strategy?

Part 3: Your Action Plan for the Hummingbird Algorithm Update


Carissa Krause

Carissa Krause is currently a marketing and project specialist at 1st on the List. Over the years she has worked with clients on a wide range of projects that include areas like local SEO, backlink profile review, content development, social media, and more. Whatever the project may be Carissa focuses on achieving greater efficiencies and putting plans into action.