Google Hummingbird

Last Update: September 27, 2013

OK, hands up all of you who know about Google Hummingbird.

Well you should. It's Google's first major update in three years and is a total rewrite of their search algorithm.

Google Hummingbird.

Google have been reticent to release too much detail, but in essence the new algorithm reacts with search phrases and is intuitive enough to deal with them in a relational sense. The BBC Technology website describes a woman using voice search on her smartphone. She asked for pictures of the Eiffel Tower. When pictures arrived on her phone she asked simply, "How tall is it?". The answer arrived onscreen. Finally, without redefining her search she asked "Show me pictures of the construction". They arrived in seconds.

The idea is to react to natural speech patterns and intuitively link complete phrases together in context, particularly useful for smartphone users who tend to "converse" rather than utter keywords.

This is both good and bad news, but mainly good. Firstly, the Hummingbird update was launched "several weeks ago" and has been operating quietly without any of us noticing. If you haven't noticed a significant change in your site visitor click-throughs by now then you may not be affected. 90% of websites will, however, have felt some impact.

Hummingbird is revolutionary. Penguin and Panda were updates to the old algorithm, relatively minor tweaks. Hummingbird is a whole new algorithm, the first since 2001. In 2010 Google introduced Caffeine as a major change, but this was only about Google's data collection. Hummingbird incorporates all previous updates but is a complete rewrite.

So why is it both good and bad news?

Bad news

Simply, it might be bad news for keyword selection. An example I found on one site was as follows: Google, "pizza hut calories per slice" and you used to get this. Now you get this. This example is provided directly by Google and I suppose shows that branding and direct relevance will take precedence. You know from the training that if you sell Amazon Books on your affiliate site, you don't list Amazon books as keywords - all you do is send searchers to Amazon. That was a massive risk before; now it's an absolute certainty.

Good news

The training here at WA focuses entirely on content being king. Now it truly is. Hummingbird will decipher the meaning behind your query and scour billions of words on millions of websites for the most suitable results. A content-rich, relevant site with good user interaction will score higher in the rankings. If you search for a website writer, Google will take into account, writers, developers, designers, content providers and creators - you name it. Google is interested not just in the keyword "Website Writer", but also all the associated phrases. They all count. That was always true, but gaming the system with white on white keyword stuffing is well and truly dead. In fact, most SEO is truly dead. However, you should stick with all the advice here about keyword selection, because Google won't release the full details of the algorithm, and we must assume that providing your site content matches your keyword then you can still have the edge.

It fits perfectly with advice we get here from Kyle and Carson (and Rich too) about not over-killing with your keyword. Nowadays it seems it's more of a hint to Google than the attraction magnet it used to be. Just write LOADS of useful and relevant content and your rankings will slowly improve.

Bearing in mind what I do for a living, you may notice that I'll be in a good mood for the rest of the day.

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msdj8163 Premium
Thank you for sharing and explaining Hummingbird.
pcook410 Premium
I read about hummingbird in yesterday's newspaper, yet you made it ten times clearer to me. Thanks so much, Paul.

DarleneJones Premium
Thank you Paul. There was a lot of confusion about this that night and I'm sure there will be today. You explained it very well and I appreciate it.
kws123 Premium
Great! Or is it?
coolcity Premium
Same feeling here. I think Google are edging more and more towards favouring the big boys who have the expertise, or the money to hire the expertise, on how to best exploit whatever algorithm happen to have decided on at any given time.
techhound Premium Plus
Hey Paul, very thorough coverage on the topic. Nice job!
Best Regards,