Google Hummingbird: What You Need to Know



Google rolled out a new algorithm recently that will likely add another piece to the already complicated puzzle of search engine optimization. On the eve of the search and advertising giant’s 15th birthday, it unveiled an algorithm called Hummingbird. Google is taking a slightly different approach with this algorithm and is making an attempt to interpret the meanings and relationships behind the words and phrases instead of its previous practice of matching keywords and queries.

This concept is not new, as Google has been making moves in this direction in recent years, but it is significant that the company’s newest algorithm is based solely on semantic search or user intent. This algorithm is also unique in that, unlike Google Panda and Penguin, which were updates to its current algorithm, Hummingbird replaces it.

On Search Engine Land, founding editor Danny Sullivan describes it in this way:

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. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

This news is quite big since Google’s senior vice president of search Amit Singhal told Sullivan that this is the first time the algorithm has been written since 2001. Although it’s a big change, transitioning to it is not an issue. Google, in fact, rolled out Hummingbird about a month ago, so it’s reasonably safe to say that the transition has been seamless.

The new algorithm seems to be a further extension of Google’s Knowledge Graph that was introduced last year. In a recent blog post Singhal wrote about the company’s 15th anniversary, he explained a new feature that consists of comparisons and filters in the Knowledge Graph. According to him, this feature will help answer questions that don’t have a simple answer. For instance, if you’re trying to find out the amount of saturated fat in butter as compared to olive oil. Singhal says you can tell Google: “compare butter with olive oil.” The new comparison tool will reveal an answer such as:

Google Knowledge Graph Example

If you’re wondering where Panda and Penguin fit into this, you have a legitimate question. Both of these topics have received tremendous press in the SEO world and rightfully so. However, each of these were simply updates to the algorithm. While technically speaking they are no longer factors, I feel certain that elements of their updates were incorporated into Hummingbird.

Another question that many have been asking is in regards to Google’s Page Rank and other ranking factors. It’s long been known that Google looks at over 200 signals in order to rank search results, though Page Rank always seems to gain the most attention. The Hummingbird algorithm is still looking at ALL these factors though.

In terms of SEO, the impact seems to be minimal at this point. In other words, there have been no alarms raised about dropped rankings. Time will likely give a better indication as to the true impact on SEO.

What is clear is that search is advancing. For consumers, this is great. I have personally noticed a change in Google’s results of late. I’ve conducted several unofficial tests in which I query my exact thought instead of rewording it based on keywords. The results have been quite good. This means that search is getting smarter. For SEOs, this also means the game is getting harder. As the language of search advances, search marketing becomes much more difficult. Add social media, mobile, and all the other verticals that are quickly intersecting, and the landscape appears challenging. But, this is not bad. It’s actually a good indication that our voices are being heard. We just have to make sure that we are advancing along with these developments.

Images courtesy of and respectively.


Abby Johnson

Abby brings a unique perspective to the mix because her background consists of both traditional broadcast and public relations to now the world of online. She is very skilled at looking at the big picture and understanding how to get the message across to a particular audience.

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