Google Hummingbird & What it Means for Online Marketers & SEO

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On Inside Search, Google shared their 15th birthday with the world, announcing changes to their search algorithm and search experience.  This was celebrated at a press conference held on September 26th 2013, where they discussed the launch of a new search algorithm, code named Hummingbird.

The launch of a new algorithm shocked the online marketing world, especially as this algorithm has already been live on for at least 30 days.  So what do we know about this new algorithm, Hummingbird?

Let’s start with the information shared by Google on their blog.  They start by discussing improvements to their Knowledge Graph, making it easier and quicker for people to access answers to their questions.

 You can pull up your phone and say to Google: “Tell me about Impressionist artists.” You’ll see who the artists are, and you can dive in to learn more about each of them and explore their most famous works.”

According to Google, this search algorithm is much smarter.  It can answer questions, filter the answers, and give you comparison data, at a glance.  You don’t have to click away from search results, hoping web pages will have answers…the data will be right there for you, easy to find.

They’ve also redefined their mobile search results page.

“It’s cleaner and simpler, optimized for touch, with results clustered on cards so you can focus on the answers you’re looking for. “

Google’s intent is to give you great answers to questions at your fingertips, anticipating what information you will need and helping you build queries and results.

By streamlining the algorithm so it improves complex search retrieval and improves data available via knowledge graph, Google is keeping users on their search results pages longer.  This in turn, increases exposure to sponsored ads, which, in turn improves ad sales and revenue.

Optimizing the algorithm for artificial intelligence, semantic analysis, and an underlying understanding of language is core towards fulfilling the dual objective of increasing time on site and revenue.

The second key objective is the massive shift towards mobile search.  As more people ask questions on their mobile phones the algorithm has to evolve to understand these longer, more complex queries.

“Google will keep reinventing itself to give you all you need for a simple and intuitive experience. At some point, pulling out a smartphone to do a search will feel as archaic as a dial-up modem.”

Amit Singhal, SVP of Search

This new algorithm, Hummingbird, will give Google the foundation to evolve as mobile search grows and the experience of seeking information becomes infinitely more complex.

Other than information available from their blog or press conference, what else do we know about Hummingbird?

Hummingbird affected 90% of searches worldwide.

How is it possible that a change that affected 90% of searches went unperceived by the webmaster community?  Penguin only impacted 3% of queries, yet the impact was as loud as a 12.5 earthquake.

It stands to reason this wasn’t an algorithm impacting general search quality, but instead, focuses on data retrieval, artificial intelligence, and how data is accessed and presented to users.

When asked what Hummingbird impacts, Amit Singhal stated, “With more complex queries, the algorithm can better understand concepts vs. words as well as relationships between concepts.”  So Hummingbird is focused on Natural Language Processing, thus being more visible in the very long, conversational tail.

Singhal also stated that Hummingbird is also a way to present and reuse new services to improve search results, which will tie in nicely with the changes Google has rolled out in the last 24 months:

In-Depth Articles (August 2013)

When you search for broad topics, like “censorship” you will now see in the SERP’s links to detailed content about censorship.  Google now identifies “evergreen” articles that are increasingly broad and detailed, and presents them as part of their In-depth Articles.  The key to In-depth articles is that the sources are very established, reputable publications and the articles are long, detailed and descriptive.

Google also recently launched more information on their knowledge graph, Google Now, and Voice Search :

Finally, let’s talk about Google Plus, and how it ties in with Hummingbird.  At Social Media Weekly Los Angeles 2013, a team from Google Plus gave a talk about how Google Plus enhances search experience.

The team explained that Google Plus is at the core of how Google plans to improve search user experience in the future.  As search becomes a more social experience, and users become more sophisticated in their knowledge and use of social networks and mobile devices, Google continues to enhance its social platform to compete.

Gabriela D’Addario and Maggie Ferrante discussed many of the latest updates rolled out by Google Plus.   Here are a few they listed:

  • Authorship in Search
  • Related Hashtags and their appearance in Google Plus AND in Google Search
  • Google Plus Communities
  • Auto Awesome and Enhanced Image Editing
  • Hangouts on Air
  • Q&A for Hangouts on Air

They also openly discussed how Google Plus does, and will continue to, impact the search experience.  They encouraged participants at the conference to use Google Plus often to share a variety of content types, including text, audio, and visual content, to improve visibility.

You may be wondering why I’m discussing Google Plus in relation to Hummingbird.  The question on most online marketers is, how does Hummingbird correlate with Google Plus?  Matt Cutts recently stated that Google +1’s Don’t Lead to Higher Rankings.  Does Hummingbird affect how Google search analyzes +1 and data from Google Plus?   Will Hummingbird analyze social signals differently?  WIll links continue to be a major factor in Hummingbird, or will this algorithm rely more heavily on social signals?

According to Danny Sullivan, Google claims that:

“In general, Hummingbird — Google says — is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of ten years ago, with the technologies back then.”

In this article, Danny claims that Hummingbird continues to rely on link analysis as one of 200 ingredients used in ranking sites.  Panda, and Penguin, will continue to run as FILTERS that affect how results are ranked.  According to Sullivan, these filters will likely continue as components of the new, enhanced Hummingbird engine.

So HOW does Hummingbird impact Google Search Results?

What this engine offers Google is the ability to answer questions, predict user intent, and keep users on Google search longer…thus improving search experience and ultimately, revenue.

All of the algorithmic components that we’ve seen in the SEO industry continue to assist in search quality, but what we’ll be seeing more of in Google thanks to Hummingbird is a more social, conversational experience.

Think Battlestar Galactica and artificial intelligence.  As computing power increases, Google’s robots will now be able to answer questions and mimic human intelligence.

“Google, I’m hungry, where can I eat chinese within a 5 mile radius?  I know your friends Jonny and Mike like Siam Chinese, why don’t you go there? And after you can stop for dessert at Menchies since you love frozen yogurt.”

Hummingbird has been the algorithm serving results for the last month or so, and nobody noticed.  It wasn’t on Moz, or Search Engine Watch, or any major tech news outlets.  If this algorithm was a massive shift in how google ranks and presents search results, it would’ve made at least a ripple or a small wave.  Instead, we hear the news at a press conference 30 days after the fact.   Obviously this algorithm is more of an internal engine change, not an external chassis change as we saw with Penguin or Panda.  The vehicle looks the same, but it is now smarter, and much more powerful.

As marketers, what can you do to adapt to this major shift in Google search?

Look at the writing in the wall, outlined in this article:

  • In-depth articles
  • Knowldge Search
  • Google Now
  • Panda
  • Penguin
  • Google Plus
  • Encrypted Keyword Data

Let’s not forget to mention that this week, Google also made all keyword data encrypted so marketers can no longer track traffic by keywords from organic search.   Is it coincidence that these changes rolled out concurrently?

Focus on Google Plus

“Google plus is the social spine that improves the user experience across Google.”

In addition to content marketing and high quality link building, I believe Hummingbird will add a definitive social layer to the search algorithm.  Google Plus now becomes a core, fundamental aspect of Google SEO.

Singhal did not mention Google Plus at the press conference, but analysing their statements and the changes rolled out to Plus creates an obvious connection.

If you are joining Google Plus Communities and building an audience on Plus, answering questions, creating video content via Hangouts and Youtube, and using hashtags, you will be jumping on the Social Search bandwagon that Google is actively promoting.

Is it possible that, in the near or distant future, will disappear as we know it, to be replaced by Google Plus search?  And if it does, can you afford not to be there?

If you focus on content marketing, building authority, high quality links, and offering solutions to people’s problems across relevant communities, you will already be fulfilling the requirements to rank according to Google’s Hummingbird.    Optimizing your content for mobile, and focusing on NLP as well as semantic analysis for keyword research, may also help to enhance your visibility with the Hummingbird algorithm.

Panda will continue to automatically penalize thin content, Penguin unnatural or low quality links… perhaps Hummingbird is the “social search” component that Google has been developing as a way of competing in the social search environment, particularly Facebook’s Open Graph search?

Do you agree, or disagree? Do you believe Hummingbird will increase importance of social signals?  Is Google Plus a factor?  Do share your thoughts!

Marcela De Vivo
Marcela De Vivo has been an SEO since 1999, promoting thousands of sites including large corporate sites and small mom and pop businesses. She loves... Read Full Bio
Marcela De Vivo
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  • Maria

    According to SEO ranking factors 2013 releaced by MOZ, social signals are not ranking factors.
    Yes they have correlation with search results, but not used directly by algo.

  • matchbox india

    Hummingbird will increase importance of social signals.

  • Pinks

    Does this mean older articles/blogs with greater Page Rank, will likely to have impact on latest informative articles?

  • Marcela

    Hi Maria, thanks for posting the link. I am inferring that Hummingbird will provide the platform for Google to greatly increase their reliance on social signals in the future.

    Pinks, I do believe so, as you can see with the move towards In-Depth Articles.

    • Barbara Varovsky

      That’s a wonderful post, Marcela! Thanks for it! 🙂

      In my opinion, social signals do play an important role in SEO, Although, Matt Cutts said that Google is still incapable of proper tracking social signals from Facebook and Twitter, some independent studies show that social signals still matter in determining website SERP visibility.

      Also, I would like to ask you what do you think of this Hummingbird guide?

      Do you find it useful and which tips can be useful for local SEO?

      Your comments are greatly appreciated.

  • Satish

    This is turning out to be more complex day by day. No matter what ever Google try to do, we never love Google Plus as we love Facebook!

    Google should stop making things better and better, because there will be on day where people who search for results exist, but people who write for them don’t. Google! Please spare us with your stupid updates and unwanted algorithms. You are just making the things worse by shaving the same head again and again! -_-

    Trust me, I have been using Facebook since 4 years, and I hardly open Google Plus for anything. That’s not a place to social network with your friends. The slow loading interface, Imax size cover page, unwanted suggestions, who like this stuff? May be this is much helpful for developers and researches, but as a social media platform, Google Plus will never win my heart!

    • Tony

      For keeping up with friends, I use Facebook.

      For keeping up with certain niches, I think Google Plus is superior. The way you can create pages that are totally separate from each other with followers etc. is nice.

  • Lee Keadle

    I haven’t noticed a change at all in the SERPs for my industry/market, which is incredible since hummingbird has been used for over a month now. So how is it that it’s affected 90% of searches? I’m confused because it seems like data retrieval and presentation would affect who shows up on the top SERPs pages. It seems that this update is much more complex than its previous Panda and Penguin counterparts.

  • Ash Campbell

    This does make you worry. Niche sites.. what if you are a guest blogging site?

    Ive got multiple discussions on my blog. Form game tutorials to make money online stuff.
    If they sandbox me with a niche category, I wonder what effect it would have on my other content.

    I see the direction they are heading, its clean and smart. But for old school people and bloggers, Might get difficult.
    Their point about the answers being in the index and saving the viewer from even clicking on a site. Yeah.. I get that, but Its a bit frustrating if you are wanting to get visitors.

    It will be a turbulent roll out for sure, 90% will be effected.

  • Sean

    I think that Google Plus will play a part. We’re seeing it. +1’s do have a direct influence in the search results although it is denied. However I don’t believe that it will increase just because of Hummingbird. It has been increasing and will continue to increase with or without the Hummingbird update.
    Thanks for the insightful entry!

  • Kshitij Maurya

    Since you majorly discussed in this article that Hummingbird is going to personalize the voice search and provide more personalized results by understanding the long and sophisticated search queries, I think google plus will be the platform that will allow google to figure out someone’s personal interest or taste. So my answer to your question (Do you believe Hummingbird will increase importance of social signals? Is Google Plus a factor?) will be “Yes, if search is personalized” and “No, if you’re searching without login”.
    Hope this helps!

  • Jennifer

    You’ve discussed something here that I had been thinking about as well. Hummingbird had been out for nearly a month before anyone knew about it, yet penguin and panda had people scurrying and feeling the Google slap pretty hard. Thankfully hummingbird doesn’t have people scurrying this time but there are some things to consider doing better with this change. You’ve listed some good ideas to consider, but I also wonder about creating in-depth articles that ask questions and then answer them. I think you’re right that hummingbird is adding a more social element to searches.

  • zeeshan

    This update run from last month, i notice my 3 client website 25+ keyword down from last month.

  • Tim

    This update has affected a number of my sites – for no apparent reason – there is no spam there, they are up to date and real businessses who were woidng ok until mid August. People say they didnt see a big Penguin/Panda type change in rank but this insidious change is a real challenge to deal with now – Start again? Sure – but from where?

  • Rahul Harbal

    My website got affected by google very badly as it was in the top listing but all of a sudden ,last Wednesday it got shifted to 4th page…What should i do to make my website recover from this algo?

  • Coroiu Alexandru

    Google seems to have gone over and beyond the call of duty this year as far as pushing SEO marketers over the edge. Major change after major change. I’ve personally seen some very wierd results when searching for different keywords, like links to reshares on Google+ ranking higher than the original share by the author. It’s starting to feel like a war betwen facebook and google and most of us are caught in the crossfire. You need to post on Google + to rank on Google and you need to post on Facebook using Open-Graph implementation to rank on their open-graph search. Google is a search engine trying to push it’s social media platform while Facebook is a social media platform trying to push it’s search engine tech.

  • Qasim

    Hi Marcela,

    What I really admire about Google is there ability to see in the future and get ahead of the competition, their focus on user experience and how to provide information to users from high trusted websites not only to Google but also to the user himself. Also they are trying to optimize the mobile search as the number of mobile users is increasing. This is why I insist that webmasters has to put less effort in SEO and build linking and start focusing more on building quality content and improve their social media promotion specially on Google+. Thank you so much for sharing this article.

  • Steve Faber

    We’ve had clients affected by this, and in most cases, the news hasn’t been good. Most are local businesses. What kind of content demands is Google placing on small, local businesses with limited budgets and resources? Every local business owner can’t deliver a Wikipedia-like web presence in their niche. They haven;t the time or content budget.

    Likewise, it looks like they’ll have to employ full-time social media marketers to both drive traffic and help search rankings. Is Google now penalizing for keyword optimization, after years of helping us do so with Webmaster tools and their keyword tool?

    If there are a significant number of searches performed for a keyword, and a page is optimized for it, are they going to now ignore it, and deliver results based upon semantic matches with similar keywords, even if the original site has solid, original, and valuable content relating to the search term?

    Time will tell.

  • Troy Inderlee

    I have seen a change in the quality of search results recently although it did slip under my radar. Occasionally I would use Google search as a type off instant fact/spell checker and a useful encyclopedia of a sorts. The quality of my search returns has increased greatly. So much that I have been using it extensively these past few weeks without even realizing consciously that there was a change. This article explains a lot. I would bet that with the introduction of keyword encrypting Google is relaying more heavily on keywords and not less. The reason for encryption being that the improvements in these type of searches would not be possible if every SEO and computer hack had access to the more powerful algorithms and seemingly higher dependence on tying user submitted keywords. With the desired results leading to enhanced user experience. Google is very smart and innovative. There is no mistake why they are leading the whole direction of the internet. I don’t think it’s some kind of conspiracy to take over the world or even about money or power any such nonsense I see written on the internet. I perceive them to be our benefactor and I hate to say it but in these times even a protector of sort’s. A kind of nice Big Brother as opposed to what we would have if the web were to fall into the wrong hand’s let’s say of any or every government of the day.They are the modern day holder of the Holy Grail. My thought is that they do not have a choice. Being the leader’s of the online “free” world, that role has been assigned to them. If they didn’t except it and rise to the challenge to exceeded everyone’s already high expectations it would be definitely at there own and here is the #key OUR peril. Somebody has to lead the charge of internet innovation or it would be ripped to shreds by the baser instincts of man. This shit ain’t science fiction no more. I’m sure the good folks at Google realize this. Why do you think they will spend any amount or work ceaselessly to alway’s be bringing in the very best and brightest that the earth has to offer? I believe we have reached a pivotal moment in the history of mankind. One as has never been seen before and that has the very destiny of every being on the planet that’s here now and for generation’s to come. Either “We” collectively you, me and most importantly Google succeed or we fail. The entire result’s if the latter could probably be not even be imagined by Google. We get into a whole new realm of thought here where the answer’s could only rest in the mind of God.
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  • Sahil

    I have been in the top ranking for more than a month but this algo hummingbird threw my website to 5th page ,the main page of the website is not anywhere in the google searches now as it was before the upgradation of google’s algorithm..Its out of my knowledge where is my website’s index page/main page from the search..I can just see the inner pages.Because of this i have lost many to the customers as my website is not in the top .I am totally helpless .Google has ruined my business 🙁

  • Ashutosh

    Hi Marcela,

    Google HummingBird is the talk of the town as everyone seems to be talking about it. People are making their own guesses, their own calculations and their own strategies but I do believe that good content is going to bypass every other strategy. Quality and relevant content seems to be the foundation behind the latest Google updates. In itself, it is one of the best strategies that fuels the other strategies automatically including social media. After all, if the content is good, everyone likes it and it starts spreading like fire in a forest.

    Thanks for sharing your deep insights about the latest update from Google.

  • Pawel

    I think G+ be more like FB for a 1-2 years – so much info we give for BIG G and they know what do with this

  • Pedro Miguel Costa

    What I still don’t understand is what will happen in the Google Adwords?