Hummingbird Pivot and Context Identifiers

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Hummingbird Pivot and Context Identifiers

With all the recent news regarding Hummingbird, conversational search, and context identifiers, it appears a storm is brewing in the SEO world.  Will the culmination of all this activity form a larger system or break apart into a simple weather glitch?  Let’s review the recent developments and their correlation to each other.

The Perfect Storm

With Google US currently holding nearly 60 percent of the market share (Microsoft/Yahoo share around 30%) it seems as though nothing has changed. And with Google’s total Advertising Revenue on pace to eclipse 45 billion in 2013 (approx. 15% Y/Y), is there reason for concern?

A “perfect storm” is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.

Just as trust and authority became the direction of strategy over the past few years, Google came along offering more “transparency” to web masters and the public in the form of additional insights related to refreshes and algorithm updates. All this seemed to be on the up and up, but was received with mixed reviews.

How Do You Search?

I recently watched my wife search on Google for Thai food in our area. It frustrated me to see the way she searched, in a long tail question form typed directly in Google Search, “where is the best thai restaurant in burlington nj”. I’ve spent years and years developing strategies around search and other keyword searches.

But I am not so naïve to think people don’t search in different ways. I certainly search different and would most likely have searched , “thai restaurant 08016” or similar. My thought has always been this gives me a quicker path to my answer or need. Maybe. Maybe not. So, since there is no wrong or right way to search, is there a wrong or right way to SEO?

See the two example query results below – I still prefer my results.



Query:  “Where is the best thai restaurant in Burlington NJ”


Query: “thai restaurant 08016”

With both of these queries we are given much different looking SERPs, but similar information.  I certainly prefer the results provided from the direct query, but the conversational query does a good job of presenting a direct result.  The question then: are these results being affected by Hummingbird or other contextual identifiers?  And if so, will SEOs be able to determine how to optimize for better results?

The Hummingbird Pivot

There has not been an outcry from the update, which reportedly affected 90% of search queries. To be fair, the debate over whether Knowledge Graph plays a large roll in Hummingbird is still waging. Gianluca Fiorelli dissects with his interpretation of how Google solved the need of delivering the best results based off semantic search.

I tend to agree with this well thought out interpretation, which leads us further down the road toward context identifiers and inverse document frequency. The “Ranking Based on Reference Contexts” patent granted this month reassured me that as much as anchor text is becoming irrelevant, the windows to the left and right of the actual link have become more important.

This brings me back to my example illustrated above about the relation of results based upon query type. Specifically, related to conversational query vs. a direct match query. Identifying how a person searches is not something that is available with limited time and resources and not truly tested to be effective, especially now given (not provided).

But what is so amazing about Hummingbird is the infrastructure to better allow social signals as a ranking factor. So, is Hummingbird related to synonyms and context, conversational search and/or social signals?

Context Identifiers

Following the (not provided) roll out to almost 100% it is quite difficult to understand whether the query strings are bringing traffic. Although Google does allow for organic keywords to be seen through AdWords, along with several Webmaster Tools workarounds, and creative processes generated throughout the community.

It yet another irregular paradigm by Google. Build great sites with great content, have off-site contributions and you will be rewarded. However, how can we measure traffic from poor keywords effectively without this data?

What’s Our Next Step?

So, should a digital marketer take the community interpretation at its word and go with a strategy of context identification, synonyms, and references? I continue to see positive results given the strategies of the community as well as those listed within this piece. But, it is extremely rough on the seas and I still see the potential for the perfect storm.

Featured image provided with creative commons:  morse87
Screenshots taken 11/19/2013 at

Todd Bailey

Todd Bailey

Founder /Editor at pushStar Digital
Todd Bailey is the Founder/Editor of pushStar Digital. He works as Director of Search for Gen3 Marketing as well.
Todd Bailey
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  • Rick Noel

    Nice post Todd. Its interesting how we all have different search styles. My wife and children use Google in ways that would not cross my mind. Some of us use a variety of operators on a daily basis (site:, links: inurl:, etc.). Many of these operators are outside of the experience of an overwhelming majority of Google users.

    There is no question that Hummingbird will cater to the average user/masses. As computing cycles become cheaper, keyword not provided reaches 100% and algorithms become stronger at “understand” language intent and context, I too see a perfect storm brewing, especially for SEOs. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sean Hecking

    Todd – Good thoughts on query types. I have found that a good strategy for combating different query types is to think of how someone might be searching. Most people search for solutions or problems. “How to fix a flat bike tire” or “Bike flat tire repair kits” may return different results. One is an article search, the other is a product search. Google is getting much better at knowing which is which. A good strategy will address all of the potential search types.

  • seoplus+

    Excellent post… couldn’t agree more in terms of the content surrounding the anchor links become more and more important. Thanks for sharing.

  • Grant

    Nice Article!!
    I kinda see Hummingbird and knowledge graph either being the same thing or two part of the same monster. It also seems that the knowledge graph will grow in how much it changes the searches, as it obtains more “knowledge”. Its really not that uncommon for G to name projects different names throughout the creation process or even down the road. Nor is it uncommon for them to just simply throw out a curve ball. After all isnt that what exactly what hiding the searches phrase does. It throws a giant curve ball at how the knowledge graph learns and then how it reacts to that. Giant curve ball!!!

    The funny thing that I did was determine how the optimal customer (since I work face to face) searches. I simply ask them what they searched to find me. I found that the “Optimal Customer” would usually be very lazy in their search. No questions, usually dropped the s or ing, and also usually reversed the term Indianapolis painter into painter Indianapolis. Now with this some(or more) of that ability has gone away. There’s just no way that knowledge graph will ever figure out that I like to paint for the workaholic,, pot smokin executives with more money than time to get more than a few quotes.

  • aceclue

    While it seems difficult for webmasters to optimise their content based on various search strings, what i do personally is to brainstorm the likely search querries and then, find and optimize for a search terms that could likely impregnate the brainstormed possible querries. I think hummingbird favours more general terms

    I quite agree with positive effect of the left and right wall content of generic anchor text, it works for me on microniche sites