Understanding the Google Hummingbird update

Google Hummingbird: Keep Calm and Optimize On

Lori Gariepy SEO Leave a Comment

Share this Post

On September 26, 2013 Google announced the launch of their new algorithm, which was code named Hummingbird. Unlike the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, Hummingbird is a complete replacement (with some of these important updates built in). It had actually been fully operational for approximately one month prior to the announcement, and since then Google has revealed little information about it. As a result, search marketing professionals everywhere have been panicking about what negative impact this new algorithm will have on their organic traffic and how it will change the practice of search engine optimization (SEO).

Truth be told, the launch of Hummingbird has not caused any loss of organic traffic and rankings. SEO has not changed and there is nothing new or different that SEOs or publishers need to worry about – it’s business as usual. If anything, the new search algorithm has reinforced the importance of SEO best practices.

What is Google Hummingbird?

The purpose of this new algorithm is to provide a more natural search experience. As stated on AP News, Amit Singhal, senior vice president at Google said that people, “now routinely enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics.” I would hazard a guess to say that people have always searched this way, and it has taken Google 15 years to figure out how to deal with it. A small percentage of us trained in SEO may enter short keyword phrases when we search, but that is not the norm. In fact, Google stated that this new algorithm affects approximately 90% of searches.

Hummingbird better understands natural language and can now provide answers to more complex search queries such as complete sentences and full questions. This has become more important with the increase in voice-based searches from mobile devices, as well as the ability to ask questions aloud via voice search on your desktop in Google Chrome. Google can even recognize the context of subsequent questions and provide answers that relate back to the original question. For example, “What is the weather forecast for Barrie today?” followed by “What’s the temperature?” This new question/answer technology creates a more natural conversation between the searcher and Google. And Google is now able to serve web pages that match the whole meaning of the query, not just a few keywords.

Are Keywords Still Important to Google Hummingbird?

Search engine results used to be about matching keywords and phrases rather than the true meaning of the query. While the new algorithm presents a shift from results to answers, keywords will not go away completely.

Hummingbird has confirmed that the majority of searches are long-tail queries with low search volume and frequency. As we know, such long-tail keyword phrases also tend to have higher conversion rates. The keywords within a query are still important – our focus should be on incorporating them naturally into our content. Use grammatically correct phrasing with less emphasis on placing keywords upfront in headings and sentences in an unnatural way. The goal is to provide answers to real-world long-tail questions using natural language.

Do the Same SEO Rules Still Apply to Google Hummingbird?

Yes, the SEO best practices that we have shared here on the gShift SEO Blog are still important. gShift’s Hierarchy of Web Presence Optimization methodology will continue to keep your web presence safe from Google’s constant algorithm changes.

Here are some topline SEO techniques to follow as they apply to Google Hummingbird:

Technical SEO Foundations

  • Machine-readable content – ensure your website is accessible, crawlable, and indexable. Embed structured data (Schema.org and related markup) in your HTML to help Google understand the context of your web pages.
  • Structured data – ensure that information is structured to answer the questions people ask. This can improve clickthrough rates in organic search results when displayed as rich snippets; it also provides the information Google needs for the Knowledge Graph.
  • Information architecture – ensure all web pages are within four clicks of the home page, with simple readable URLs.
  • Avoid duplicate content – use canonical directives to indicate the primary URL you want the search engines to crawl.
  • Build a mobile-friendly version of your website.

Optimized Content Marketing

  • Content is still king – continue to publish fresh, original, high-quality content that answers the questions your target market is searching for.
  • Put visitors first – address the real needs of the people who visit your website and provide them with relevant, useful content.
  • Understand your audience – what matters to them, and tell them how you can help.
  • Be an authority – provide thought leadership on a specific topic and answer related questions better than anyone else.
  • Optimize at the page level – focus on one topic per page with links to related content, use straight forward page titles, synonyms and long-tail keywords.
  • Types of Content:
    • Question and answer content format, e.g. How To’s, interviews, FAQs, answer the 5 W’s, Ask the Expert
    • Wide topic coverage – don’t rewrite the same topic in several different ways, Google knows it’s the same
    • Current news/events; answer questions on current topics
    • Videos
    • Infographics
    • Publish unique information (e.g. proprietary research)
    • Educational resources – build awareness and trust, include target keywords, earn authority in your space

Social Signals

  • Create link- and share-worthy content – make it easy for people to like, tweet, +1, pin and share your content with social sharing buttons on every page of your website.
  • Share your content with your audience on social networking sites that make sense to your business to help build audience relationships and engagement.
  • Google+ Business Page – link your company’s Google+ business page to your website to help ensure your business exists as an entity in the Knowledge Graph.
  • Use Google Authorship – connect your web content to the Google+ accounts of the people who contribute to your website to help build trust with your audience.
  • Get reviews.


  • Increase domain authority – obtain quality backlinks from topically related websites or sections within sites.
  • Expect that most links will (should) be earned passively/naturally.
  • Get to know the influencers in your space – build relationships with authors, publishers and clients who will link to your content.
  • Contribute to relevant online communities.
  • Anchor text – ensure it matches or relates to the web page being linked to.
  • Remove bad quality links – use the Google Disavow links tool if/when needed.

There’s No Need to Panic about Google Hummingbird

Google’s shift towards context-based semantic search not only provides a better user experience for searchers, it also provides a more level playing field for brands and marketers. Continue to follow SEO best practices and commit to an optimized content marketing strategy providing helpful content to your target market on a regular basis. As a result you will build trust and credibility with your audience who will engage with and share your content, which in turn will grow your domain authority and reputation with the search engines to improve and maintain your web presence and organic rank.

What has your experience been with Google Hummingbird so far? Do you have any questions or concerns about the new algorithm? Please post your comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *