What Google Hummingbird Is And Is Not

When Google announced at it’s 15th birthday party that a new search algorithm called Hummingbird had launched about a month prior, many people within the search industry scratched their heads trying to figure out exactly what Google was talking about. Clearly this was significantly different than past updates considering the ”update” went largely unnoticed by almost all of the most popular SEO forums, blogs, and industry leaders.

How could a massive new search algorithm affect more than 90% of searches without a massive online community really noticing?

Because Hummingbird is different. It’s something fresh and new: an update to a previous algorithm that was limited in the things Google wants to do more effectively both today and in the future. ”New” often freaks people out, and this announcement had SEOs from all over the globe frantically trying to uncover more details in order to inform clients if they should be expecting any traffic hits from another seemingly harmless animal.

Even though plenty of information has been released and the topic has been covered countless times, there’s still confusion as to what Hummingbird is and what it’s not, and I’m here to answer some of the most common questions about what Hummingbird is and what it isn’t.

new-google-hummingbird-algorithm

Hummingbird IS a new search engine algorithm.

Named after the bird’s ability to be precise and fast, Hummingbird is a new algorithm – I’ve also heard it called a “platform” by Eric Enge – that helps Google better sort through it’s multi-billion page index to retrieve the most relevant information faster. It’s an upgrade to the search algorithm itself and is much bigger than past updates that addressed smaller aspects of search.

The Hummingbird update is NOT Panda or Penguin.

Again, this isn’t an individual algorithm. Panda and Penguin – although they rocked the industry and negatively impacted thousands of spam websites – were individual algorithms that addressed highly specific issues. From what we know, Hummingbird changes the way the search engine pulls information from their index for a given query. Just to be sure: this is NOT a penalty or small algorithm update that aims to target certain websites and is nothing like Panda or Penguin. Understand? Good, let’s move on.

Hummingbird IS a big deal.

90% of queries, huh? Well I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing many changes in my SERPs. But a company as large and successful as Google isn’t going to make a big deal out of nothing. Where we really expect to see Hummingbird’s affect is in the future. You’ve probably heard people ranting about semantic search, schema data, and search engines attempting to better understand the content they’ve indexed. Hummingbird will help improve the understanding of a user’s intent when searching, and we’re beginning to see this in action now.

For example, if you search “barack obama” you’ll get a very specific result via the Knowledge Graph that tells you about our current president. Later, if you’re looking for more information, performing simple queries like ”who is his wife” and ”where is he speaking today” may result in context-specific information being at the top of your SERPs. It’s the results for these conversational queries that Google is aiming to improve their results for. Hummingbird’s release and progression should eventually end the days of searches like ”shoes black sale today new york city” because the context around your search (personalization, location, search history, etc.) will already be understood and narrow the results automatically.

Hummingbird does NOT mean the end of SEO.

I really didn’t want to include this but I have to. Don’t blame me, blame the percentage of people who are still idiotic enough to talk about it.

This update IS good for users.

There are conspiracy theorists that claim every Google update is self-serving and is only done to increase their profits. I’m not going to partake in that banter, however I would argue Hummingbird does improve a user’s experience and give them the best results faster. Not only will search engines better understand the context of queries, but improves it’s ability to index and understand entities within web pages.

Instead of just processing and measuring the number of keywords and link data a page has that includes the words you searched for, Google’s aim is to learn more about the context of the thing you’re searching about and be able to answer more directly address your intent. This is nothing more than my prediction, but I expect to see the knowledge graph and instant answer boxes continue to evolve and improve in quality sooner rather than later. Have you searched for your favorite sports team lately?

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boston-celtics-search-query

boston-celtics-google-serp

Chances are, the data from those answer boxes the question you had about your team, favorite player(s), and the organization. These results – and the results in the knowledge graph – are good for users and provide the information we need faster.

Hummingbird is definitely NOT about keywords.

One discussion I’ve heard that I simply don’t understand is the benefit that short-tail and/or long-tail keywords get from the Hummingbird update. I’ve also seen the conversation about Hummingbird’s relation to (not provided).

What?

There’s an understanding that semantic search and understanding a user’s query is a part of the equation, but people in the SEO industry are trying to make it about the type of keyword people are searching with, and I just don’t get it. If you think Hummingbird is about keywords, you’re missing the point.

This new search algorithm aims to grasp context of searches regardless of what keywords are used. Whether it’s just a sports team’s name or the question, “how long is a stork’s leg?” the Hummingbird algorithm will produce a more qualitative answer faster than ever. Remember people, it’s about deeper understanding and machine’s being able to learn and grasp context, not the number of keywords you’re using to search.

Hummingbird DOES increase the potential of social media on organic search.

Social media has been a bug-a-boo for search engines thus far. The context around a social share is vastly different than linking from one website to another and search engines are having a difficult time processing and evaluating the massive amount of data that lives on social media platforms. The question search engines are trying to answer is, “how should social media signals factor into the search algorithm?”

You may think it should be a simple process, but Google admitted the old search engine – pre-Hummingbird – was literally not capable of handling and processing social media signals in an effective way. The update to the algorithm itself enables Google to do this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a current plan in place. But if the creation of Google+ didn’t tell you social media is important and will continue to impact search results, Hummingbird definitely should. Keep an eye out for noticeable changes in the SERPs regarding social media in the coming weeks, months, and years.

This announcement SHOULDN’T change your SEO strategy.

If the previous information hasn’t yet clued you in, let me be clear: if you’re doing SEO the right way there’s no reason to change your strategy. Defining what the “right way” is to practice SEO is outside the scope of this blog post, but if you’re looking for an extremely quick definition: create good, unique stuff relevant to your audience, get it in front of the right people, and keep doing it. If you’re focusing more on what users can obtain from your website and not not as much what Google delivers users for certain keywords (aka rankings), keep on keepin’ on.

Hummingbird helps SEO continue to “grow up.”

The ultimate takeaway of Google’s Hummingbird is summed up perfectly in a quote by David Amerland at the initial announcement:

“Quick SEO is now firmly in the past.”

Google’s search algorithm is getting better, more complex, and more efficient and while black hat SEOs will always try, it’s getting increasingly difficult to game the algorithm. As the algorithm grows up, so will the best SEOs because they’ll evolve their marketing strategies in a way that best leverages organic search value.

Hummingbird is an exciting evolution of Google and I look forward to how it will affect predictive search, voice search, the format and layout of the SERPs themselves, and social media’s impact on the search algorithm itself (just to name a few).

This blog post is NOT the only commentary on Hummingbird.

As I mentioned earlier, this topic has been covered from a variety of different angles and this entry was in no way trying to act as an all-encompassing resource. Below are a list of blog posts from industry leaders that also explain the major update. I’d highly recommend reading all of these pieces of content to make sure you fully understand what Hummingbird is and how you should think about it.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Brady Callahan

Brady Callahan is the Lead SEO Strategist at UpTik Media, a content marketing and SEO agency. Within the industry, Brady was a co-author of SEO Like I'm 5, the ultimate beginner's guide to SEO, and enjoys search strategy, link building and creating linkable assets, technical SEO, and campaigns that help clients build brands and while increasing their exposure in SERPs.

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