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.


Google Search Plus Your World Launches…and Changes Search Up

Oh me oh my. Google sure does know how to get the buzz going. Their launch of the new “Search Plus Your World” update has the entire Internet marketing world in a tizzy. (Mashable has coverage of the launch if you’re just catching up.) If you missed the news, the basic idea is that Google will now offer real time Google Plus results and postings as part of their search results. Looking for music? They’ll point you to some musical artists you can follow on Google Plus, want to know how to make tiramisu, they’ll scan for recipe postings from within your circle.

They plug it all in a new ad:

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of mixed emotion on this one. Sure, it’s great to have access to data influenced by people you trust, but let’s also be realistic and remember that Google Plus isn’t exactly the major player in this field. (There are literally hundreds of Facebook users for every ONE active Google Plus user.) Google did include real time Twitter results in it’s search listings at one point in time, but that deal expired earlier this year.

Danny Sullivan has a good take on it over at Search Engine Land where he reminds people that Search Engines are supposed to send people to the BEST place to find what they need…without prioritizing their own content. He writes:

“That’s how search engines are supposed to be. They’re supposed to send you away to the best information, even if they don’t have their own in stock.”

and goes on to say:

“Today is different. Today’s change is one of the few times where I’m thinking “What the hell are you doing, Google?”

While it’s not uncommon to find the search and marketing pundits weighing in with thoughts, Google’s latest move even has Twitter issuing statements of complaint.

For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.

Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.

We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.

While it’s easy to argue that Twitter has its own vested interest in making sure its results are listed, the reality is that it goes well beyond Twitter. (Don’t forget, Google did once carry Twitter’s results as part of real time search, until Twitter ended the agreement.)There are hundreds and thousands of social networks being used by people around the world to stay connected and share information. For some people, it’s Twitter, for others its Facebook, or Tumblr or Pinterest or Orkut or…the list goes on and on.

Now, it’s not like Google OWES a listing to other web sites. However, it seems a little disingenuous to sell your update as something earth shattering if it’s only going to affect a small portion of the social media user base of the web.

Looking at this from the social media marketing perspective, I’ve got a few thoughts of my own.

It seems like a good way to push business into Google Plus if they hadn’t already bitten. When I work with clients, my top priority is getting them the most bang for their buck. That means we rarely focus on up and coming networks UNLESS there is already a significantly active population of their target audience. If I was marketing to marketers, or young professional techies…Google Plus would be high on my list. If I’m marketing an online toy store or a local restaurant chain, it’s not even going to ding on our radar. It’s just not worth the investment for most small to mid size businesses until the consumers show up.

And the consumers just aren’t showing up. Sure, they flocked there in droves to give it a look, but then they headed back to Facebook to continue their social networking like always. If Google can’t convince the consumers to join, the next best option is to force business owners to come and set up shop in the hopes consumers will follow. Dangle the threat of lost ranking opportunities and you’ll get the business owners. After all, no matter how popular social media gets, search is always going to be core to the online customer acquisition process.

While this move isn’t enough to make me start telling people to get their Google Plus accounts up and running for their business just yet, it is enough to prompt a closer look at how the new integration will impact search results and how that impact might require us to change our strategies down the road.

I’m sure more news and commentary will pour forth this week as well. In the meantime, I’d also recommend Lee Odden’s post on the topic. He has some great commentary from both the user perspective and the marketer perspective over at Top Rank Blog.