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Google Hummingbird Update and How It Affects SEO


It’s been a busy few years for the engineers at Google; not only have we had the much-discussed Penguin and Panda updates, but last year brought us the biggest update we’ve seen since 2001. So what does Hummingbird mean to SEO? Why did it come about and is it likely to hit your site as hard as the Penguin/Panda updates did.

It’s pretty safe to say that if you haven’t been affected by the update already, then you can breathe easily, so long as you stick to the rules. Hummingbird was released very quietly in August 2013 and most site owners didn’t notice a difference.

What Hummingbird is all About

(Image: Searchengineland)

Whilst Panda and Penguin were changes to a part of the old algorithm, Hummingbird is the new algorithm, which is made up of more than 200 factors that can affect ranking and search. The biggest changes were made with a sharp eye on mobile and that’s not surprising given the explosion of the mobile market in recent years.

This brought about ‘conversational search’ being added to the Hummingbird algorithm, which is designed to focus on the meaning of a phrase, rather than individual keywords. This is because many people now use voice when searching on mobile, rather than typing – let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to say something than to type on a soft keyboard.

So instead of working in such a way that looks for individual words, Hummingbird works in such a way that it can better understand a question, such as “where can I find a chemist in Birmingham”. It looks for the meaning behind the words, rather than just at the words themselves and it looks at the entire phrase to decipher that meaning.

What does it mean for SEO?

Not much really, unless you’re bending or breaking the rules, a white hat approach will mean that SEO shouldn’t be affected. Despite the tired old cries of “SEO is Dead!” doing the usual rounds online, if you’re a publisher of quality content then Hummingbird will make no difference. For SEO professionals, it’s actually a good thing as it helps to weed out the black hats that make outrageous (and unfounded) claims that they can get your site on page one of Google search results within a week.

For content publishers and writers, Hummingbird is also a good thing, so long as the content being produced is worthwhile. The algorithm is intended to help get rid of irrelevant content and spam and put more weight on industry thought leaders and influencers.

The authorship program goes hand-in-hand with this as it allows Google to find authors that produce high-quality content and rely on them to be ‘trusted’ authors.

Link building practices are also affected, as the algorithm seeks to find dodgy practices (such as poor quality guest blogging) by evaluating inbound links in a more complex manner.

Why Bring in Hummingbird

Aside from making search more intuitive and developing its Knowledge Graph further, Google is attempting to make the web a better, more useful place. Slowly but surely, content mills, link wheels and similar black hat search-enhancing tactics are going away. For those of us that remember the days when a search often brought back results that took you to a page full of useless links, this is a big step in the direction of making the net what it was – somewhere you could do a little research and find out all kinds of fantastic facts without having to dig your way through a pile full of dross first.

Of course, this has been happening for a few years now, Hummingbird isn’t an instant fix of all the things that have been wrong, it’s been slowly taking place for ages.

Take a look at the image above from Google and you can see that this has been an evolving process for many years – even voice search was introduced in late 2008, it’s not a new idea that’s been plonked into Hummingbird.

Long-tail Keywords

As Hummingbird uses phrases, rather than keywords, the use of long-tail keywords are likely to become more important than ever in SEO. ‘How to’ content is also very valuable if you consider how many people across the world may use the phrase “How can I learn” or similar.

Long-tail keywords are basically a phrase which are generally used for content in order to get picked up in search and this also isn’t a new practice.

Again, it’s all about the phrases, so if you have a site that sells your services as a Spanish teacher for example, you would have various phrases littered around the site such as ‘learn how to speak Spanish’ and ‘experienced Spanish teacher’ rather than just having ‘speak Spanish’ or ‘learn Spanish’ stuffed into as many places as possible.

Hummingbird is more intelligent than the last algorithm engine, so it recognises keyword stuffing and issues penalties accordingly.

Take a look at the ‘periodic table below from searchengineland for a great overview of ‘SEO Success Factors’ and how many factors make up great SEO. You’ll find that Hummingbird and all of it parts is made up of many, many things that can affect ranking.


All of these work together in order to return the best possible results to the person doing the searching and if you can get the balance right, you’re in business. It’s not easy to compete online, but Hummingbird is intended to make sure that those who do it right get their rewards. That means that for any site owner, looking at the bigger picture is necessary. It’s no longer enough to have the office junior slap up the odd, badly-written blog anymore – if you want decent content then you have to pay for it.

It’s also not enough to tinker with the SEO yourself or allow someone making grandiose claims to do it for you. Today’s site owners, content producers, SEO professionals and publishers have to concentrate on one thing – quality and integrity in everything that they do online.