Google Hummingbird

Why name algorithms after birds?

Google has an affinity for naming their algorithm updates (that often cause chaos and stress for business owners) after cute, fuzzy animals. Hummingbird is no different. Introduced in the fall of 2013, the Google Hummingbird algorithm has been used to improve search queries, specifically personal search results that are catered for the individual user. In many ways, Hummingbird is the dawn of the modern Google SERP as we have come to know and love, including semantic relevance in search results.

Hummingbird was announced on the eve of Google’s 15th anniversary, taking the search engine to new levels with semantic search. The algorithm pays more attention to each string in a query, taking the words in that string and applying Hummingbird to understand user intent. This dramatically changed the way that content strategy, SEO and Adwords campaigns have approached search marketing.

Google search chief Amit Singhai stated that Hummingbird was the first major update of its type since 2001 (the dot com boom) which can give you a better idea of the impact that it has had on search. As search expert Danny Sullivan describes, “Hummingbird is a brand new engine, though it continues to use some of the same parts of the old, like Penguin and Panda”

Knowledge Graph / Cards

Before Hummingbird was put into place, there was a lack of sophistication when answering general queries. Google would often give robotic results that stemmed from an inability to calculate search intent. In many cases, SEO prior to this update was a bit more difficult.

User Intent

Without user intent and Google providing personalized results, the SERP often had unreliable or irrelevant information scattered throughout page one. While this may have been great for affiliate marketing, it was horrible for user experience. Searching for lion eater, you might be served a book or even a video. But these days Google knows that our brand is called lion eater, and it can now make this distinction.

Modern Search

Hummingbird is a major component of this modern, conversational type of search which lays the foundation for voice search on products such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Hummingbird expanded on Knowledge Graph facts to provide similar, conversational answers to unique, personalized queries that include brand terms.

Conversational Search

Although it may seem like Google has always been great at solving a question, this was not necessarily the case pre-Hummingbird. Queries such as “What’s the closest place to buy coffee” would focus on matching keywords, looking for “buy coffee” and “coffee places” which may not give the best results. The algorithm is not perfect, but understanding how it works can improve search results and influence SEO strategies for content marketing.

Although Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, taking the entire sentence into account– nothing is perfect, and sometimes you can still get results that don’t make sense. The goal of Hummingbird is to find intent, meaning and solve semantic, conversational queries.

So what’s the difference?

It’s hard to measure the world before Hummingbird without looking for historical blog posts and screen shots. The sophistication of the Google algorithm in addition of Hummingbird has come a long way, but still has a way to go. We can prove this with a few informational queries.

Test it yourself

By typing “where to get medicine” into Google, we see that the top search results are relating to Pokemon tips circa 2012, followed by the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. Why is Google giving these results? Maybe it thinks I am playing a game, and I need to “find the medicine” to beat the level.

Google has identified that the search intent is related to solving a Pokemon problem.

How can we know for sure?

By looking into the autocomplete results, we can determine that semantically the term “where to get medicine” is associated with Pokemon Soul Silver edition. This explains why the top results are related to Pokemon and not medical journals.

How to get the most from Hummingbird

The best way to get value from the algorithm is to give it what it wants: great content. Conversational, human oriented content definitely ranks above spammy keyword stuffed content with little or no value. This doesn’t mean that your old content is no good, but it might need some updates to get the most from the Hummingbird update.

If you need help with your content marketing strategies, lionEater specializes in local search and content marketing using SEO.

Additional Algorithm Resources

How Hummingbird Changed Search – Wordstream

The Moz Learning Guide to Hummingbird

Hummingbird Algorithm – Wikipedia

8 Major Algorithm Updates – SearchEngineLand