A Guide To The Google Hummingbird Update

Next in our Google algorithm series is Google Hummingbird! All algorithms that are released by Google have one shared goal: to improve the search results for users and to help them find what they are looking for in the shortest time possible. Google Penguin and Google Panda focused on spammy SEO techniques and poor-quality content whereas Hummingbird’s main aim is to ensure that the websites in the SERPs contain the information the user is looking for and fits the context in which the user was searching.

Google Hummingbird was released without warning on 20th August 2013 and was only announced a month later to explain to webmasters the fluctuation in traffic that many were experiencing.

Hummingbird changed search for users dramatically. Not only were webmasters still competing with each other to prove to Google that their content was worthy of high SERP rankings, they now had the impossible task of competing with the Knowledge graph.

Knowledge graphs are an information card that appears at the top of the search results when you search for a specific keyword or key phrase. These information cards give you a summary of the topic you are searching for that is specified by a source that Google deems relevant, high quality and trustworthy. For example, in the below screenshot the information has been provided by Wikipedia. The knowledge graph is beneficial for the user to help them find the information they require by simply entering their chosen key term however this is not very beneficial for webmasters. Although it gets site content into the public eye it does mean that the user is not clicking through to read more which means they are not getting traffic to their site therefore their rankings do not improve even though their content is engaging users. The Knowledge graph also means that anyone that ranks highly for the chosen key phrase still may not be seen as they are overshadowed. For example, the below screenshot is the knowledge graph that appears when I searched for the term ‘Google CEO’:

Prior to Hummingbird, Google delivered search results depending on the words within the phrase that the user searched. However, since the traditional days of search many features such as voice search have been implemented so users are searching differently. A few years ago, people may have searched for ‘post office Birmingham’ whereas now people are searching for ‘where is my nearest post office’ which is more specific and can be tailored to each user’s location. In the days before Hummingbird, Google may have returned the user a list of all post offices within the Birmingham area or a post office that is in Birmingham but not ideal to get to for the user. Hummingbird is all about Google understanding the context of what the user is searching for and returning them the most relevant content in line with their search term as the algorithm helps Google understand what the user is really searching for.

The search results have also changed. Before Hummingbird if a user searched for ‘leaflet printing’ the sites that appeared to rank highly in the SERPs would send the user to their homepage where they had to navigate their way to the leaflet information. Since the Hummingbird update, the sites that appear before the user will lead them to the specific category/page/article that is specifically about the term they searched for. This is extremely helpful for the user and shortens their searching time, however this may be problematic for webmasters if a page on their site ranks higher than their homepage.

Google Hummingbird: Overview & Impact

  • Google Hummingbird enables Google to understand the context in which search queries are written
  • The traffic fluctuation that many webmasters experienced when Hummingbird was released may not have been caused by the release and may have been caused by the constant changes in other algorithms, says Google
  • Since the Hummingbird release search is move efficient for users
  • High quality, relevant content is still the most important factor of ranking above your competitors
  • Hummingbird does not penalise sites but encourages them to improve their content and write it with the user in mind
  • As Google are showing pages in the search results that may not be your homepage it is important that all your pages are optimised
  • Hummingbird was estimated to affect 90% of all searches!
  • Google can now understand what you are really searching for rather than just delivering you results that are loosely based on the words within the search

Have you read our previous articles about Google Penguin and Panda?