Google Hummingbird Upgrade and Implications on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The stealth introduction of Hummingbird, Google’s most substantive algorithm upgrade since 2001, was announced a few months after it occurred. A search algorithm is a system that sifts through the raw results when you enter a search term or phrase; algorithms allow search engines to return the results it assesses as the most relevant to your query. Google stated that it chose the moniker Hummingbird because its namesake is “precise and fast.”

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) managers somewhat anxiously wondered whether their previous efforts had to be changed. Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, addressed the question of whether SEO was dead: “No, SEO is not yet again dead.” He added that the goal remained the same, which is to produce original, valuable, high-quality content, and that “Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.” Sullivan emphasized that providers of valuable content that link relevant websites to their own sites will still continue to rank well, which is good news for providers of fresh, high-quality content.

What is the Google Hummingbird Update?

Google’s evolution in producing search results that are responsive to what the user needs led to an upgrade from the Penguin and Panda algorithms. If the search results are not what the user wants, other search engines become the consumer’s go-to choice.

Rather than producing results based on keywords alone, Hummingbird is able to interpret natural language, or complex queries. Users are already accustomed to performing longer queries, refining their own searches to avoid sifting through pages of results to find what they are looking for. Further, the expansion of voice-activated searches with Smartphones and tablets necessitated an algorithm that can handle complex phrases. When people speak a query rather than type it, they tend to use longer phrases.

How SEO has Changed

In the early days of SEO, content mills churned out many thousands of spammy content that basically held the keywords together, with less attention to the value of the content, and more focus on keyword placement and number usage. These excesses led to the practice of keyword stuffing, but Google’s algorithm adapted to reward increasingly useful content that used keywords and keyword phrases more organically. Conversely, stiff-sounding content that was stuffed with keywords was punished in the rankings, in favor of natural and valuable text.

The need for useful content will also increase the need for writers and editors who can produce and refine thoughtful, valuable pieces. The change in SEO practices includes building sites with numerous pages that anticipate what the users might want. This approach can provide content for users that are in various phases of the buying cycle.

How the Google Hummingbird Upgrade Affects SEO

Google Panda algorithm rewarded unique content, but Hummingbird prefers useful content. Robert Charlton, the moderator of WebmasterWorld, noted, “It's no longer just a single page and its title satisfying a query... It becomes a whole site satisfying a range of users.” Roberts believes that with Hummingbird hovering the background, sites should optimize for overall customer satisfaction, rather than optimizing content for primary and secondary keywords. He added that the new algorithm would yield results that de-emphasize the creation of “a collection of content farms and more a collection of pages created with the user genuinely in mind.”

Works Cited:
Schwartz, Barry. “SEOs Adapt to Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm.” Search Engine Roundtable, 9 October 2013. Web. 24 October 2013. <>
Sullivan, Danny. “FAQ: All About The New Google ‘Hummingbird’ Algorithm.” Search Engine Land, 26 September 2013. Web. 24 October 2013. <>

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