Hummingbird Is Google’s Biggest Algorithm Change In 12 Years

    September 28, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Let’s get one thing straight right up front. Hummingbird is not a new algorithm update like Panda or Penguin. It’s a new algorithm. Panda and Penguin are parts of the bigger algorithm. Hummingbird is the actual bigger algorithm. Google has been around for fifteen years now, and Hummingbird is apparently the biggest thing they’ve done to the algorithm in twelve.

Do you think Hummingbird is going to have a significant impact on your ability to rank in search results? For better or for worse? Let us know what you think in the comments.

The good news for webmasters who fear being struck down by any major changes that Google makes to its algorithm is that it launched a month ago, so if you weren’t hit by it Panda/Penguin style (there haven’t been many complaints), you probably don’t need to worry much about it. At least not in the immediate term.

Google announced the algorithm update at a press event on Thursday along with some other interface and Knowledge Graph tweaks. After that ended we learned that Hummingbird was described as the biggest Google algorithm change since Caffeine, and that it is designed to let Google quickly parse entire questions and complex queries and return relevant answers, as opposed to looking at queries on a keyword-by-keyword basis.

For all intents and purposes, Google is apparently trying to do what it does with its own Knowledge Graph with the rest of the the web. Your web. The web made up of your websites and everyone else’s. At least that’s what it sounds like. Hummingbird is to help Google understand your webpages the way it understands the data in its Knowledge Graph. We’ll see how that goes.

Longtime search industry reporter Danny Sullivan was at the event, and spoke with Google’s Amit Singhal and Ben Gomes afterwards. He got to talk to them a little bit more about Hummingbird. From this, we learn that Google calls the algorithm “Hummingbird” because it’s “precise and fast”. Singhal also reportedly told Sullivan that it hasn’t been since 2001 that the algorithm was “so dramatically rewritten” (Sullivan’s words).

“Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words,” Sullivan reports. “It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that ‘place’ means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that ‘iPhone 5s’ is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.”

“In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words,” he adds. “The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words…Hummingbird is designed to apply the meaning technology to billions of pages from across the web, in addition to Knowledge Graph facts, which may bring back better results.”

So from the sound of it, this is really just an extension of Google’s ongoing strategy to become less dependent on keywords, which does have implications for SEO, and while webmasters may not have to worry about a major drop-off in rankings like with updates like Panda or Penguin, this could be more of an ongoing struggle for those competing to get on search results pages.

It’s probably going to be more important than ever to give Google as much information about your site as possible, so that it “understands” it. I would imagine that Google will continue to give webmasters new tools to help with this over time. For now, according to Google (per Sullivan’s report), you don’t need to worry about anything, and Google’s normal SEO guidance remains the same.

“Not content with taking away the little keyword data we had left this week, Google has again surprised the online marketing industry with a brand new algorithm,” says Econsultancy’s Graham Charlton.

This is in reference to Google’s move to make the default search experience encrypted for all users, which means that all of the search terms these users use will show up as “not provided” in Google Analytics. Google also recently killed the popular Keyword Tool.

It’s clear that keywords are becoming less and less important to search engine ranking success as Google gets smarter at figuring out what things mean, both on the query side of things and on the webpage side of things. Luckily, Hummingbird presumably still consists of over 200 different signals that webmasters can potentially take advantage of to gain a competitive edge.

Thoughts on how Hummingbird will affect your SEO strategy? Share them in the comments.

Image: Thinkstock

  • http://www.officekitten.co.uk A Morris

    Er, surely they’ve done this to counter Facebook’s Graph Search. I mean the latter is aimed at wrestling traffic off Google with specific searches, and Google’s is a more specific search system. I can’t stand Facebook so Google it is for me.

  • http://weborm.com geoio

    Hummingbird will affect SEO, content should be structured differently now. We have to take into consideration the decreasing power of keywords also.

    • Anony

      A website with real content should always get higher placement in search results over a badly designed script and horde of flash, that merely pose’s as a website thanks to a few “SEO” tweaks.

      I would like to believe this will end “SEO”.
      Who else recalls the days (1990’s) when SEO and keyword bombing, link farms, Blink tags, and later the metatag spam sites were all just seen as one in the same, by the (then) average internet users…

  • http://usamadeproducts.biz Dave H.

    Personally I’m glad they are finally moving in this direction…looking at a webpage or an entire site as a whole (or at least in a larger frame of reference) rather than just a collection of keywords…I have no doubt this will eventually cause some big SERP adjustments in the future…

    I am hoping that it will benefit sites that are ‘themed’ on one subject, such as my site that is devoted to only USA made goods. I do rank well under a handful of keyphrases and not at all under a lot of others. My entire site is about one thing, (USA products) even though there are many ‘variations’ of that one thing…We’ll see how it goes…I’m staying positive about this…

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

      You might want to head over to the “Google Webmaster Forum”, if you haven’t already.

      I’m not active there now but when I was and I know this to have continued after I left, someone in your situation could find a lot of good advice on how to improve your rankings.

      The people on that forum, the forum sponsored by Google, are all webmasters like you and I and are often helpful in finding points of improvement.

      That said, since it is an open and public forum and anyone can comment on anything, one does need to take the advice with a grain of salt from time to time. 😉

  • http://about.me/sanjay_polly Sanjay Singh

    Now we must have quality and good structured content on our website if we want to see our sites on google search reasults.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

      That’s a bad thing?

  • http://www.aliensmoney.com Qasim

    Hi Chris,

    I think Google is only trying to make sure that the results are always authoritative by showing content preferably from high trusted sites rather than more relative small websites, we should make sure that our blogs and websites have good traffic from other sources than SEO so that we don’t get impacted when any Google updates hits our blogs, we should focus on social media and content marketing.

  • http://www.55communityguide.com/ RobertF

    Well this is about as clear as a Federal Reserve statement of policy. Not the article, but Google’s explanation. I kind of see what they are saying but I think we knew that already was the direction. I still think it’s links more than anything else for SEO.

  • Patrice

    Once again an update right before christmas, a good way to force e-commerce who spent the whole year trying to be on page 1 of google to buy adwords :)

    i think google should just remove natural results. They would save a lot in salaries of useless so called algorithm development.

    • Bill

      you are right

      Google is not a true organic engine

      but they got control of the GeoEye II and all the government stuff now.

      I dont think the world will ever see the free open internet that use to be so awesome ever again

  • http://www.pjprins.com peter

    changes, changes, changes….

    webmasters have to jump through hoops, jump, jump…..

    since i stopped worrying about google my life is a lot easier.


    I don’t have to play “catch-up” any more with the constantly changing rules.

    I direct my efforts elsewhere, and it works just fine for me.

    just my 0.02c

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

      “I don’t have to play “catch-up” any more with the constantly changing rules.”

      The “constantly changing rules” have primarily come from the SEO “industry”.

      Google’s “Webmaster Guidelines” haven’t changed all that much and every site that I have built that satisfies the concepts presented in the Guidelines have never fluctuated from being at the top of the results for all the applicable key terms and phrases.

  • Bill

    Panda: was about Google cutting out Adsense payouts to Bloggers.
    it crushed almost 1million plus bloggers(nobody talks about making money thru blogging like they use to)

    Penguin: was a manual override pushing ecom to Amazon and channeladvisor affiliates like overstock, sears ect. plus forcing small business to pay to rank by having to use PPC (700K ecom sites effected, most small businesses down 70% over last 2 year now and having to cut back or relocate out of USA to more affordable countries)

    Hummingbird: is about getting more business owners to have to use Google + and Authorship to force others into getting on circles and groups so they can try to compete with Facebook.

    Behind every Google update in the last 3 years is an evil side back side that Google does not talk about.

    its basically “How do we do this why making it look like that”

    Google had people creating and pushing content and Adsense then pulled the plug. Then they use all the ecom site info against them and conquered that income stream on both end. All that’s left now is to control the Facebook type model thru Google + and they will have complete domination. Hummingbird is all about Google +…period.

    You will see – webmasters do not have a choice if they want to even retain 30% of the traffic they use to.

    Google started as a company that people trusted and its motto was “Dont be Evil” —– but that motto has be crushed and replaced be greed and global control.

    Google is not about leveling the playing field in an open an honest algorithmic platform. It’s about taking advantage of their situation and then forcing it. — its already happened

    • Dave

      Bills comments are spot on. No matter what you do/try if you are ecom Google favours Amazon & eBay all of the time. Take a look at Google Shopping now it is PPC in the name of “quality”! Where once there were loads of sites now you just get multiple ebay listings. Quality my ass, all about $$$$ for the most evil corp on earth. They suck all of the money they can out of an econnomy & pay zero tax. One day it WILL bite them of the ass, that day will be too late for many webmasters but it WILL happen. No they aren’t a charity but do you really think eBay & Amazon need Google to help them too? It’s all about rotating profits in their evil little eco system. Joe Public moans about the death of the high street while at the same time they are the ones that killed it by shopping out of town & online. The same people will moan when the Internet is nothing more than eBay & Amazon. Cycles have a nasty habbit of repeating…………

      • http://janellecoulton.blogspot.com.au Jel

        So are you saying that websites that are devoted to promotion of products on Ebay or Amazon will do better in the rankings? I am a complete novice when it comes to this stuff, but I have been told that many people who can afford it, pay to be on the first page of Google; isn’t that kind of unfair to the battlers who are trying to build incomes from home by writing their blogs and sharing them on social networks, basically doing the hard work, but not seeing the rewards.

    • http://www.seo-watch.net Doris

      True – completely agree with you

  • http://www.cruelheartbreakerscinema.com Sublithium

    It doesn’t seem you really have to worry about it unless you are using a lot of blackhat strategies. My only concern is that google keeps making changes that keep making it more and more secretive which puts into question it’s motives. They tried to explain away the “encrypted” search as some sort of product of backlash from the NSA scandals, but we all know that was a cover to increase adwords revenue. They also now prohibit adult advertising on their blogger platform, yet still allow adult blogs,you just can’t advertise on them….meaning, google couldn’t get a peice of the pie so they prohibited it ( even if you just used the platform and hosted on your own domain). The fact is google won’t let anyone have any iota of what is going on until they already roll it out. They are sneaky about it and many of the policies that put into effect are designed to eliminate business for the little guy while just draining more money from the big guy. It’s just too bad only about 5 people on the planet use the competitor, Bing.

    • http://janellecoulton.blogspot.com.au Jel

      What about Yahoo! Dogpile, Webcrawler, MSN, which I think is Bing anyway? I use Webcrawler a lot and I also use Swagbucks to search the net as I earn rewards for doing this, these search engines are really good, especially webcrawler.

  • james

    Do all these changes really make a difference though?

    Still a lot of bad/black hat sites at the top – and still a lot of good quality small business struggling and failing on page 3 +

    Seems the less you worry about google and their ‘rules’ the better.

    Nice if in practice all these changes actually helped the sites who do the right thing, but it never seems too – the poor quality sites still manage to float to the top!

    As Peter commented on – I have also moved on to other move important aspects of online sales rather than what google wants – and works better for me also.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

      “Seems the less you worry about google and their ‘rules’ the better.”

      Yes, and no.

      I like Google but, I have never done anything differently than I have always, because of Google.

      I just do what I know is right and don’t worry about search engines. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about search but not primarily.

      My #1 requirement is to present content accessibly to all potential visitors, human or bot, abled or challenged.

      To a great extent though, that is what Google proposes webmasters to do in its “Google Webmaster Guide”.

      I’m just glad they agree with me. 😉

      So on that last note, definitely follow the “rules” but make sure you are following the ‘right’ rules.

      Google’s Webmaster Guidelines? Good choice.
      Accessibility? Even better choice.
      The latest blind-leading-the-blind from the SEO forums? Don’t go there.

  • http://career.com.ng/factors-to-consider-when-making-a-career-choice/ Darlington

    I really hope that the Hummingbird algorithm would be able to replace the flaws in their ranking algorithm.

  • Randy Fox

    Here we go again. The Highly over-paid egg heads in Mountain View over thinking SEARCH and trying to justify those huge amount salaries they make. Hiding massive profits offshore while flying around in Jets whose fuel is paid for by The US government. Giving the Obama administration our personal info and blasting liberal posts on Google + to the point of saturation. Does anyone remember the exact day Google became fascist? In their campaign to show SEO companies and webmasters how smart they are have wrecked many small companies and ruined many lives. Everytime I hear Bing or Yahoo has topped Google I jump for joy.

  • Randy Fox

    I just had an idea. Google needs to set up a division that deals with small business’s they destroyed. They could make so much more money than selling those moronic adwords which know one ever clicks on.

    • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

      I don’t know if people never click on them.

      The company that I work for receives about a 4 fold return on our Adwords spend.

      But, from what I have seen from working with our person who handles the Adwords account and who is on the phone with Google 5 or 6 times a week trying to optimize our ROI, it ain’t easy.

      Adwords can increase revenue significantly but, it takes a full time commitment and a lot of work.

      • http://www.seo-watch.net Doris

        and a lot of money…
        Clicks triple in price within 3 months – wanna sell a pair of Jeans just calculate additional budget for Google AdWords on top of it, but hey, then you are out of business because the wealthy competition can be so much cheaper!

        Lots of traffic – tiny, tiny conversion – that is Google.
        Unless the minimum budget you have is above 2000 USD, you don’t even have to start with AdWords – but then conversions are really seldom.
        So how many Jeans does the lady have to sell to earn these 2000 USD?
        No Google is not fair-trade, or social or anything like that.
        They are true capitalist and have “We are not EVIL” as a flag. Who ever thought of that phrase was a clairvoyant, because they are just that. It’s like a liar saying he does not lie.
        In fact Google ruined the internet, the freedom the idealism which was present until Google entered the stage.
        Good sites where then “good sites” (yes I am around for a long time) and not some hotshots with pockets full of money governed the first rows.
        Buy links, pay copy writers, place articles, submit – CRAZY have a marketing budget of 10.000 a month (this is for businesses) and you just make it. Pretty fishy if you ask me.
        Their software sucks – each developer knows that it’s full of bugs and no decent company would ever launch it – but hey it’s Google and Google turns shit into gold and the masses swallow it and adore it.
        What is happening here is a full blown hype that started to live it’s own life and rules about success or failure, which has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the site but it’s all about money and nothing else.
        Ever looked at the code of some sites on the top of page 1? Or the information architecture or quality of images? Or layout – no, not of interest at all and the content? Well let me think about that one – we found dozens of sites with minimum on info or content … what do you make of that?

        Keep up the the hope and good work –

  • Gerard

    Google is a business, not a charity.
    So is Yahoo, Bing and other search engine companies.
    They want to make money.
    So are all advertisers who rely on search engines.
    I would say one has to suck-it.
    Markets change and peoples fancy change every day.
    But people will keep on using the seardh engine they are comfortable with, NOT the one the web developers want to use because for them it is too difficult to keep up with changes
    So change your site and try to keep on being number 1 on the first page.
    Don’t sit on your hands or cry bad wolf.
    What is live without challenges?

    • Tarun

      Gerard dont be an idiot.
      Google does not have qualities that it look for in others. Google’s agenda is to support Big brands even if they sell poor quality. Pushing Adwords is also one of the major agenda of Google.

  • Dave

    Humming Bird? Dog Turd more like! Another nail in the coffin for the free Internet. RIP. Just put the sites that are just about clinging on out of their misery Google & make page one paid results only. It’s not far off that no anyway. Assholes.

  • http://www.digital-marketing-agency.org Mick

    A lot of good points here, personally I hadn’t even noticed the update through any major ranking changes but now I’m aware of it there are a few things that have changed slightly which could be issues of this update. As always it seems Google has done this ton increase their own revenue through adwords but I still think we will have to wait to see the full impact as time goes on and the algorithm is tweaked.

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig Schultz

    The potential for there to be an affect depends on how Google has their code segmented and compartmentalized.

    Despite the mention of Hummingbird being an “algorithm”, it actually sounds more like a framework within which the algorithms that do the heavy lifting are fed data to chew on by the framework.

    The framework may have some limited knowledge for routing purposes but there doesn’t seem to be much of a need for it to be all that “intelligent” as routing decisions needs be nothing more than another algorithm running within the framework.

    On the other hand, the more “intelligence” coded into Hummingbird and the more that intelligence is either new or at least modified code, the more likely “Whoopss” will occur.

  • http://citizenhal.com Hal

    I just put up a new site, it was doing fine, and suddenly it virtually has no rank.
    Worse, I use(d) to use Google for a lot of research. Now, I get nearly all ads instead of relevant content.
    Except for throwaway email I’m weary of thinking about Google.
    I get much better results from

    • Ted

      Hal, New websites get a new site bonus for a couple weeks then they lose the bonuses… New websites don’t get credit for backlinks until they are about 10 months old… Google has long thought that fly by night web sites in general won’t last 10 months. So if your website hasn’t been crawled by google for at least a year… then you don’t actually know how you rank. There are exceptions to this, but they tend to have very strong social indicators. If you are not heavily participating in social marketing then expect a tough first year with noteworthy improvements in year 2 and marginal improvement in years after that.

  • http://thenetimpact.com/ Jennifer

    Here we go again with more changes. Some think it’s positive, others think it’s negative. I’m curious if anyone is making any changes or doing anything differently to preserve standings.

  • http://www.pettransporteu.com Pet transport in Europe

    I think the new SEO tool (Hummingbird) will look for the long tail keywords. Will focus on sentences rather then or perhaps beside individual keywords.

    I just hate all those Yahoo answers, Just Ask, and all that junk coming up on the first three pages of search results. I hope hummingbird will find them sour and bitter in the future and finds something sweeter before it gets hungry enough to consider those.

  • http://www.5starmax.com Kelly Smith

    Every SEO web marketer for the past 10+ years has tried everything in the world to “get on the first page of Google” and sold their services as such. Obviously there is real value in doing do and who would not want to show up there (unless its for a bad reputation). The ONE rule that should have been pushed all these years and that Google should have paid attention to is CONTENT! Hummingbird is really just a better adjustment towards that direction and I welcome it.

  • http://www.tipofthespearblog.com/2011/04/digital-medialesson-in-shooting-ones.html Seiche

    Hmmm…no mention of the search results “Not Provided” scam…wonder how that will play into all this.

  • http://www.seotrainingservice.com Richard Harbeson

    GOOG is making a strategic move with hummingbird and are encouraging the use of PPC and G+. SEO consultants have been monitoring keywords for free for the longest time and just like any business, GOOG has investors to please and it was just a matter of time before this changed. I still use the keyword planner, just enter your keywords with a random bid amount and see the avg position/impressions to judge what keywords to use. I’m doing my best to try to remain positive and focus on unique content more than ever, including some PPC depending on how competitive the niche is with my clients.

  • http://www.sociablweb.com Kate

    Is it only for content like Panda update ?

  • Tarun

    Google has Double Standards for older websites. Even if they are doing nothing to satisfy ever changing requirements of Google, they still rule top 5 positions and when it comes to Big Brands, Google shows astronomical tolerance level towards them.

  • http://www.hotelatithikatra.com Rahul

    previously till 30th of last month my website was coming in the top searches but last week it went from first page to fifth and i checked it out and saw many people were complaining about this..But now google officially confirmed it and dont know what can be done now to bring it back in the top searches again as already i have worked on the website for whole 6 months and its all in vain now

  • Steve

    October 4th was the day for us. I keep hearing people say black hat this or black hat that. Not so, out of our small network of 4 sites, orig content. October 4th 70% drop across the board, including a 4 year old travel blog with organic back links only. This is not geared towards black hat or bad content in my opinion.

  • tim

    I was wondering why I can’t find anything thru a google search recently. Totally unrelated content appears now unless you have an exact match to a business.

  • http://www.damagedspoon.com Caitlin

    I can’t say whether or not they’ll mess with my site’s “searchability,” but I do know that, as a Google “searcher,” I am not getting back ANY relevant results. I’ve been (unhappily) using Bing because my Google searches have been so useless.

  • http://forexformation.com/ Raul

    I do not know why Google does not keep things simple. With its constant updates and algorithms the search results are no better than Bing and Yahoo. And it has damaged many small and medium businesses online. In my case, luckily I only had negative effects on two of my websites but one of them was important.

    My advice is not to focus solely on Google, use social networks, diversify. Today we can be up and disappear from Google tomorrow.

  • http://www.phpdevelopmentoutsourcing.com/ Aimy Wilson

    Hummingbird is part of Google’s need to become less dependent on keywords. If we want to see our sites on Google search results, we must have quality and good structured content on our website.

  • http://truflosales.com Truflo

    Google new rules is very important for SEO work. Hummingbird rules said, unique content is must. I follow new rules for my SEO work.

    Thanks for your great post.

  • http://aceclue.com aceclue

    Even though the phrase “content is king” remains evergreen for SEO benefits, there is always a great need for SEO planning and strategy. For couple of days now,I’ve been working on the hidden clues on the Google new algorithm ‘Hummingbird’. One thing I know for sure is that the algorithm doesn’t play as much emphasis on the key keywords as the contextual understanding of those keywords. This makes me like ‘Hummingbird’. However, there are still some SEO tactics in questions. Probably, I can ask this: “What is the relationship between Hummingbird algorithm and stop word in URL, Title?”