Hummingbird Is Google’s Biggest Algorithm Change In 12 Years

    September 28, 2013
    Chris Crum

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


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.