November 7, 2013 by Ryan Miller
Google’s latest animal-dubbed algorithm update is called Hummingbird, and was first introduced to the public at the end of September, though the update had been in effect for about a month prior to the official announcement. As part of this announcement, Google has stated that 90% of all searches will be affected by Hummingbird. Now that this update has been public knowledge for about two months now, it is time to get to heart of what Hummingbird actually is and how it will affect search.
What is Hummingbird?
Hummingbird is an algorithm update focused on answering search queries that are longer, more complex and more conversational in tone than classic precise keyword searches. Since many of these searches are voice-based as well, it has lead Google to build Hummingbird so that it can be more interpretive and answer queries and questions as a whole, rather than being reliant on matching precise keywords word-by-word in the query to keywords in the returned results.
Due to this approach, Hummingbird will not apply any sort of ranking penalties to a website for not being specifically optimized for the algorithm update. Rather, the update only seeks to provide highly relevant search queries by better understanding the searcher’s intent. Sites that ranked for shorter, more precise keyword terms prior to Hummingbird should not see any impact to those rankings. This is a striking contrast to Google’s previous updates Panda and Penguin, which targeted and evaluated a website’s content and its backlinks, and then decided whether that website should continue to rank at all if it didn’t meet the guidelines of the update.
So, even with Google stating that 90% of all searches will be affected by Hummingbird, remember this specifically is targeting how searches are being processed and keywords being extrapolated to provide results, especially from longer queries. Because of this, most websites will not see a remarkable or noticeable change in their search traffic with Hummingbird. Compare that to the approximate 12% of search results affected by the Panda update and the approximate 3% of search results affected by Penguin in 2011. Even with these smaller percentages, it caused a massive shift in what sites were being returned in search results, and sites could definitely see via their analytics a noticeable increase or decrease in Google traffic depending on how they were impacted.
Essentially, Google search is continuing to learn and understand language as a whole as it is used by real humans such to sharing information naturally communicating with one another. As such Hummingbird takes into account things like grammar, synonyms, concepts, and connections between concepts to fully parse the query provided.
Optimizing for Hummingbird
Google has noted that there is actually nothing new or different that SEOs and content creators have to take into consideration with Hummingbird. If you didn’t see any major issues with your Google traffic during month of September (when Hummingbird was released without anyone knowing) your site was not negatively affected by this.
Instead this just reinforces the notion that Google is focusing more and more on onsite signals, especially quality content.
In light of Hummingbird, content creators should continue to:
- Write content with topic keywords in mind, and continue to incorporate those terms into Title tags, headlines and the article.
- Write content understanding the specific and target audience it is intended for
- Present the material in a way that it is naturally engaging and makes the reader want to share the content
- Avoid writing thin and low-quality content
Meanwhile web publishers and designers should continue to use or begin to implement:
- Canonical tags to avoid publishing or syndicating duplicate content
- Schema.org markup language to better organize specific onsite content
- Open Graph markup tags to organize META content
In short, websites should continue to produce high quality content that is written with actual human readers in mind, and published in a way that Google can index and understand the content.
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