Google Hummingbird

Google HummingbirdLast week Google announced that they had made the biggest change to their search algorithm since 2001. They also announced that they had done it a month ago and nobody really noticed. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to pay attention to it though.

With the moniker “Hummingbird”, this change is a complete rebuild. Fitting then that they announced it on their 15th birthday (Yes kids, Google is only 15). It is designed to be faster and to give more meaningful and accurate results to searches.

What’s so great about Hummingbird?

The old Google algorithm was based on finding relationships between words and the content of web pages. To really oversimplify it, if I search for “Irish Search Engine Optimisation Companies” then Google looks at this page and sees how well it matches up for that phrase (word by word) and decides where to rank it.

Hummingbird understands relationships between words much better. Using the example above Hummingbird is able to distinguish “Search Engine Optimisation” as a phrase within the search term, understand that I am looking for a company that does optimisation and give importance to pages that come from Ireland. In theory this page shouldn’t rank too well for it at all because the page is not about an SEO company, it is about a major change to the Google algorithm.

The old algorithm wasn’t too bad at giving good results, but Hummingbird is build to better understand those relationships and handle them better and faster. In fact Google is moving towards understanding conversational questions and has been for some time. That ties in with spoken search and what they are already doing with knowledge graph. Google Hummingbird understands comparisons and relationships between objects better now  (what’s the difference between a peach and a nectarine) and will be improving much more over the next while.

Are Penguin, Panda & Associates. now dead and buried?

Sorry, some parts of the old algorithm worked perfectly well and are incorporated into Hummingbird. Both the Panda and Penguin updates worked so they are very much still with us.

What percentage of search queries does Hummingbird affect?

90% according to Google. That’s a lot of queries!

Why did nobody notice the changeover to Hummingbird?

The switch was made overnight. However I take issue with the assertion that nobody noticed. I’ve seen a lot of interesting movement in SERPs lately. There has been lots of daily movement in searches related to SEO for example. I have also seen some more stable changes that happened rather suddenly and were not explained by anything I did or anything that competitors did. However in general there has not been anything like the huge movement in ranking that occurred with the rollout of the Penguin update.

Is Hummingbird the only change recently? Can I blame all movement in the last month on Hummingbird?

The short answer is no. Google stressed that a fall in rank over the last month was not necessarily due to Hummingbird. That may be true, or it may be smoke and mirrors, but I personally suspect there has been a Panda or Pandaesque update in the last month at the very least. That is based on one site in particular which dropped 75% traffic overnight and which has problems which could leave it vulnerable to Panda.

What does the Hummingbird overhaul (it’s more than just a little update) mean for SEOs?

If you are an SEO or do any optimisation then you will be wondering if you need to change how you work as a result of Hummingbird. I know I am.

SERP for Dublin Airport Car ParkHummingbird is also supposed to give more accurate results from a single site. In other words deeper, but more relevant pages should show up for a search over the front page. So if I search for “Dublin Airport Car Park” we see some interesting results now. Rather than list the main DublinAirport.com page first we get specific related pages to the car parks. Of particular note should be the directory structure and how that relates to the order of results. The parent page is listed first with child pages listed after that. If I searched instead for “Short term parking at Dublin Airport” the third result becomes the first.

Disclaimer: These results may have been the same before Hummingbird (I can’t check it now), but either way the example illustrates what Google claims Hummingbird does.

It looks like rich content and long tail keywords are going to be more important from now on (or a month ago on in reality).

What it does not mean is creating a separate page for every possible nuance of a search phrase. In the Dublin Airport example there is a clear page hierarchy. That is important.

50 pages targeting “short term”, “short stay”, “Overnight”, “Long Term”, “Long Stay”, “Vehicle Parking”, “Short Term Vehicle Parking” etc is not likely to improve ranking. Instead, it is likely to make all the pages rank less well. And quite rightly too IMHO.

After that it is hard to tell what effect the release will have on SEO work at this early stage. I suspect good original content with rich keyword usage (variations and associated words) are being further rewarded by Google Hummingbird. That’s great news for people who write for people, and not so good for those among us who still tend to use the same exact phrase throughout a page. There is little evidence to back that up though given the lack of major upheaval in the ranks. It is more of an intuition / observation than anything scientific.

Have you been affected by Hummingbird?

Have you gained or lost rank in Google in the last month? Have you noticed anything else odd. As always I love to hear opinions and so do the other readers of this site. Leave your comments below.

About Ian Wortley


Ian is one of Irelands leading SEO consultants with over 8 years experience in the Irish market. Ian discovered his love of all things internet related in 2005 and has been living nearly exclusively online since then, causing much worry to friends and family, but getting great results for clients. Contact Ian: Phone: 01 6854806 Mobile: 086 3817149