Google’s New Algorithm Update: Hummingbird – A Game Changer?

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Google HumningbirdGoogle’s newest algorithm update, nicknamed “Hummingbird,” sent shockwaves through the SEO (search engine optimization) world after it was first announced on September 26, 2013. According to Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search, the new Hummingbird update “affected about 90 percent of global searches.” Compare this to the earlier algorithm updates which only affected about 10 percent of searches. It is safe to say this update was huge. More likely than not, Hummingbird affected your website’s rankings or traffic.

Updates… Updates Everywhere.

Hummingbird really comes as no surprise to the SEO world. Since 2011, Google has been aggressively rolling out updates to improve its search engine results in one way or another.

Panda: Google released the “Panda” update in 2011. Panda was designed to combat web spam by penalizing and removing websites with “low quality” content from the search results. Websites that published high volumes of content with low engagement metrics (commonly referred to as “Content Farms”) were specifically targeted in this update.

Penguin: In 2012, Google released another major update called “Penguin.” This update was also aimed at reducing web spam, but from a different perspective. Penguin targeted and penalized websites that had unnatural link profiles. If you purchased inbound links to your website in order to manipulate search results, or just happened to join the wrong link network, you probably saw your traffic and rankings suffer.

The overarching goal that Google is trying to accomplish with these updates is simple: return better search results to the user. Unlike Panda and Penguin, the new Hummingbird update was not meant to combat web spam. Rather, this update aimed at making search results more intuitive and precise for the user.

What exactly did Hummingbird change?

Hummingbird was meant to improve the “natural conversation” between humans and Google. Instead of focusing on the individual keywords in a search query, Google is looking at the entire sentence, conversation or meaning.

For example, a search for “Where’s the closest place to buy an iPhone?” will return results from Apple.com, ATT.com, BestBuy.com and T-Mobile.com. Before Hummingbird, Google would return a list of web pages that had the keywords ‘where’, ‘closest’, ‘buy’ and ‘iPhone’ in the content body of the page. Rather than taking the search query for face value, the Hummingbird update allows Google to understand what you are looking for and where to find it (in this case, places to purchase an iPhone).

Some other examples of how Hummingbird affected search results can be seen by comparing two things, like “butter vs olive oil” or “Willis Tower vs John Hancock“. In addition to the traditional search results that you normally see, Google now displays information directly on the search results page. This allows the user to find information without having to click through an actual website. As you can imagine, this has a profound effect on highly-ranked websites and their traffic.

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To be clear, Hummingbird was not a penalty – unlike Panda and Penguin. Hummingbird is the new way Google interprets keywords in your search queries. As Google changes the way it interprets keywords, the search results are going to change accordingly.

The Original Golden Rule

In spite of the turbulence that Hummingbird, Penguin and Panda have caused for search engine optimization on the web, one golden rule holds true above all else: quality content is rewarded with traffic. Staying on top of Google’s newest algorithm updates is important, but not as important as developing your content strategy. If you want to rank highly and receive a lot of traffic from Google, focus on creating engaging quality content that is original for your audience!