What is Google Hummingbird?

The new Google Hummingbird algorithm has been a hot topic in the world of SEO in recent months, but what is it? Different to the Panda and Penguin updates, which are specific aspects of the overall Google search engine, Hummingbird seems to be an entirely new version of the algorithm.

The Google Hummingbird Update

Hang on, what is a search engine algorithm?

So, to step back for a minute, a search engine algorithm is the overall formula used to decide how important a site or specific web page is for any given search term, and to then rank it accordingly among other pages that could be seen as relevant. Each search engine, such as Bing (which now also helps to power Yahoo! Search) and Ask, as well as Google, each has its own secret recipe. Google has stated that over 200 factors contribute to its algorithm and in turn, the ranking of a web page.

What makes Hummingbird different?

You could describe the new algorithm as a change of ‘engine’ in the overall Google search engine if it were seen as a vehicle. Some aspects of that engine will remain, like PageRank to an extent, as well as components like Penguin and Panda, which have been well documented and are regularly tweaked, updates. Announced in September 2013, but discreetly rolled out a few weeks before that, Hummingbird was apparently so named because it is “precise and fast”.

This, the first such major update to the search engine algorithm since the early days of Google in 2001, is stated to help link a searcher’s ‘intentions’ to results better, rather than just matching key words used with the importance of relevant pages to serve up the best results. So if you ask Google, “how tall is Ben Nevis?” it might better know to serve up pages that discuss “the height of Ben Nevis” rather than pages that specifically match the term “tall”. This step should better meet the needs of mobile and conversational search users, as people tend to search in different ways when on a mobile advice or when using speech for a search.

What does Hummingbird mean for SEO?

If your search engine optimisation strategy is based on producing high quality content for your visitors and building real relationships online, then the Google Hummingbird effect on SEO for you should not be of any great concern. It may place more importance on writing content that meets the needs of visitors intentions, while requiring less focus on trying to use the specific keywords that you imagine people using in real life. This is natural, as those phrases are going to change more and more as people search in different ways, depending on whether they use desktop vs mobile device or typed vs spoken queries.

As always, content is king, so a strong focus on meeting the needs of your website visitors should lead to sustained and improved results.