Google’s Hummingbird Update is About Speed and Precision

Reading Time: 6 mins

About two months ago, Google changed their ranking algorithm. They called it ‘Hummingbird’ because according to them, it’s ‘precise and fast’. However, they only announced the change a month later on September 26th. Since then we have been waiting to hear more about how it has impacted search results.

About Hummingbird

The latest Google update focuses on Conversational Search

Hummingbird is different to previous algorithm updates because it’s essentially a brand new search algorithm – a celebration of Google turning 15! According to Google’s search chief, Amit Singhal, the last time Google did something to compare was back in 2001.

In more recent algorithm updates, Google has focused on weeding out spammers. This one’s a little different. Hummingbird’s focus is on ‘conversational search’, that is, returning results that better match an entire search query rather than a few words within the query. This may tie into developing voice technologies, especially with Google’s upcoming Google glasses (AKA: Glass), but it’s also one of the ways that people are searching on their mobile devices at present – by voice. If you’re not really sure about how conversational search works, take a look at the link above and if you’re not already using Google Chrome, you’ll definitely want to switch to it after reading Search Engine Land’s post.

Essentially what Hummingbird is doing is listening to conversations and trying to decipher the meaning behind the words, or trying to figure out, exactly what the searcher is looking for. A traditional Google search would have Google focusing on specific words in a query.

For example, ‘Where’s the nearest digital agency that can build me a retail website?’ Previously Google might have picked out ‘digital agency’ and ‘retail website’ and provided data that matched these words, perhaps pages that contained the words, or pages that linked to other pages that contained the words. Hummingbird will take things a step further by trying to assess the entire meaning of the sentence with the goal of providing the user with the results he/she is looking for – in this case, nearby digital agencies that offer ecommerce services.

Google has said that Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in a query, instead of disregarding what appear to be less relevant words and instead of putting all the focus on link strength. Their goal: find pages that match the meaning instead of pages that just match the words. Of course, this isn’t to say that links don’t matter anymore. They certainly do as they are still social signals to Google that others find your website relevant.

What does this mean for SEO?

Does this mean search engine optimisation is dead? No. SEO isn’t just about keywords or links. It’s about doing the things that get your website to rank for specific keywords and now, for specific QUERIES. SEO should focus on attracting the target audience that will find your site relevant and useful. While we’ve previously said to stop obsessing over keywords and SEO best practices (like how to write a title tag), that’s only been because much of SEO is about ‘logic’. There’s not always one right way to do something. If you can understand the logic behind what Google is trying to do – rank pages in order of their suitability with regards to the search query, you’ll be fine. Just keep producing high-quality content.

What was the impact of Hummingbird?

Hummingbird is one of the few updates to cause very little complaint. If you have lost traffic from Google, don’t automatically assume it was due to this latest update. Since going live, there have been few people crying out about lost rankings. In fact, you may even find your site is doing better!

What to do when you hear about an update

Every time Google updates their search ranking algorithm, they give it a name. We’ve moved from Panda to Penguin and now to Hummingbird. It’s good to stay on top of these updates, ensuring you understand HOW they might affect your own website ranking, but there’s no point in panicking. Unless you’re doing something you really shouldn’t be doing (like artificial link building), you probably won’t have too much to worry about.

Every time you do hear about an update or a change in the algorithm, give it a bit of time before checking your website statistics in Google Analytics. Look out for a rise or a drop in traffic and then drill down from there. Why have you lost the traffic? Have you lost it on organic search (that’s a tell-tale sign), or is it a specific keyword? Bear in mind that sometimes when Google updates their ranking algorithm, there’s initial flux before things settle down. If you’re really worried, be sure to check your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you’ve been penalized because Google doesn’t like something you’re doing, they will usually send you a message. Don’t however rely on it. You may just drop in the rankings. Also, make sure that you are running regular reports to ensure your positioning.

Do you want to know more?

If you believe your website has in fact been affected by Hummingbird and would like to work with someone on your SEO, or would like to set up Monthly Ranking Reports, go ahead and get in touch. We’d also love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below if you know of anyone that’s been affected – good/bad!