By on October 8, 2013 | 4 Comments

How to Hum to the Tune of Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm

On September 26, 2013 the Web was buzzing (or shall we say “humming”) because of a new announcement from Google. The hype was about a change in Google’s algorithm-a change that could potentially affect 90% of search results. With perceived implications to the SEO realm, headlines came pouring out from all major news sources stating messages such as: “The New Hummingbird Era,” “The Most Significant Change in Google History” and “Don’t Get Eaten by the Hummingbird.” Ok, I made that last one up, but you get the point. The funny thing is this update happened over a month ago and, although many people in the industry saw this coming, the media is only now reacting.

Knowledge Graph

Before we go into the details behind Hummingbird, let’s take a brief look at the reasoning and trends that led to its development.  In May of 2012, Google’s Knowledge Graph was released and announced as the future of search. The focus of the Knowledge Graph is on turning search more conversational.  According to Amit Singhal, the purpose is to “answer, converse, and anticipate” search queries.  Here is a video that discusses the Knowledge Graph in more depth:

“We’re in the early phases of moving from becoming an information engine to a knowledge engine.” stated Johanna Wright, Google Product Management Director.

The Need to Expand

This raises the question: If Google already had the knowledge graph, why was it necessary to update the search algorithm? The answer is quite simple: the knowledge graph had some serious limitations. The “conversational search” and voice search ability were primarily restricted to Knowledge Graph answers, which was heavily used by the Google Now mobile app (Google’s personal digital assistant). With apps being the greatest long-term threat to Google’s search-based business model, it was time to take the next logical step and expand on the more “human” search experience that is being used in the mobile world (or as the kids in SEO say, Long Tail Search terms).

Hummingbird is designed to apply the Knowledge Graph technology to billions of pages across the Web. The purpose behind this new search algorithm is to focus on the entire conversation, or meaning, of a user search, instead of just matching a few terms.

The Hummingbird Algorithm

With all that said, does that mean that the Penguin and Panda updates have been thrown out? Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land said it best:

“Panda, Penguin and other updates were changes to parts of the old algorithm, but not an entire replacement of the whole. Think of it again like an engine. Those things were as if the engine received a new oil filter or had an improved pump put in. Hummingbird is a brand new engine, though it continues to use some of the same parts of the old, like Penguin and Panda.”

When Google initially announced the new Hummingbird algorithm update, they demonstrated the search on a mobile device instead of on a desktop. Of course, this was no accident. The future of search is moving towards an increase in mobile usage. Mobile users want fast results, ease of use and less interface heaviness.  When users search on mobile devices, it is easier to use voice queries (not to mention it is illegal to text/type and drive in most states). Voice queries tend to use a more conversational tone or end with a question.

SEO and My Site

Although Hummingbird really is a big deal and has some exciting new enhancements, it doesn’t change much in regards to standard white-hat SEO practices. If you haven’t seen any changes in your rankings by now, then you probably were not affected by this update (again, it was launched over a month ago). Google’s recommendation would probably be to go on with business as usual and continue to cover all your on-site SEO bases (title tags, image alt text, meta descriptions, etc.). It is also crucial that a well-integrated content and Social Media strategy is in place.

Content and Social Media are closely linked together and directly affect your search engine rankings. Some of the ranking factors that Google uses are social signals (it is vital that you have a Google+ account), author authority (if you haven’t associated your Google+ account with Google Authorship markup yet, now is the time) and relevant content. Above all, content drives the Internet. It is imperative that every article written, both onsite and off, is directly relevant to your audience, and that it positively contributes to the Internet as a whole (think new and useful information).

I hope this information is helpful (and stopped any panic attacks). Did I forget to mention something about the Hummingbird update, or do you have something you would like to contribute to the discussion? Please feel free to leave a comment!


J.R. Oakes is in charge of developing and managing our comprehensive approach to search engine optimization for our law firm clients. In this role, J.R. constantly analyzes and adapts our SEO strategy to address the constantly changing factors that go into high search engine rankings. Follow JR on Google+.

Ken Hardison says:

October 15, 2013 at 5:13pm

At PILMMA, we’ve been teaching our members about long-tail search for some time now, we’re grateful for the input we get from Consultwebs.
Like the early days of the Internet, it’s all about high quality content.

Andrew Miller says:

October 17, 2013 at 6:18pm

I couldn’t agree more with you Mr. Hardison. Creating quality content that has a real purpose to educate and inform the reader is what the internet was founded on and will always be the key to online success (no matter how many changes are made in a search Algorithm). Thank you for the comment and we appreciate all the support from you and PILMMA.

Dale Tincher says:

October 17, 2013 at 6:34pm

I also agree, Ken. PILMMA does an excellent job of providing reliable, up to date information to lawyers who want to improve their Web and other marketing. Gimmicks no longer work. Web success is primarily achieved through high quality, relevant content that is visitor and search engine friendly and attractive for linking; designing for conversions; proper targeting; and user activity.

Dale Tincher says:

October 31, 2013 at 1:15am

Google’s Matt Cutts provides additional excellent information about Google’s direction during his Keynote at PubCon 2013

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