Google’s latest algorithm; Hummingbird, was pushed live around a month ago, although it was only officially announced on Friday 27th September 2013.

What is Hummingbird?

Google’s Hummingbird, named so as it will make Google “precise and fast” will affect around 90% of all searches; allowing Google to apply more context to users’ search queries. The update focuses more on Google’s Knowledge Graph– an encyclopaedia of more than 570m concepts and relationships that allows Google to anticipate information you may want to know about your search term.

Hummingbird is Google’s solution to the changing way in which people use search engines across different devices, in different locations, and at different times of the day.

With the increase in mobile searches, and capabilities such as voice search, people are interacting with search engines in very different ways; using very different keywords, and often more likely to ask questions.

Better Search Term Understanding, Context, Semantics

Hummingbird puts far more emphasis on context, than individual keywords. It brings the capability of understanding entire phrases and questions, rather than individual words within them.

It also allows Google to consider other signals in its results, such as the user’s location, time of day, previous searches, and other information previously shared with Google. This gives a far more personalised and accurate set of results to the user, making for a better overall experience.

Conversational Search

One of the most significant changes to the way Google works is ‘conversational search’. This has been live in Google Chrome for a number of months, using specific pieces of information, but has now been rolled-out to the whole Google Index.

Conversational search allows users to conduct a search or ask a question; which can then be followed-on with another search where the previous search will be considered for context!

For example: If you start by asking Google “who is in the latest Calvin Klein perfume advert?” and follow up the search with ‘where can I buy it?’, Google will take into account the context of the first search when giving you results for the second search. Historically, it would have treated them as separate search queries and would not have given you brand information in the second search.


What has the impact been so far?

It’s still early days, but even though Hummingbird was implemented a month ago, most website owners haven’t noticed significant changes. It’s safe to say the short term impact hasn’t been very dramatic.

However,  it’s likely that websites with a developed content strategy that have carried out on-site SEO over the past 12 months will benefit from the algorithm update more-so than thinner websites.

SEO will likely change and focus more on the following:

  • Creating good quality, interesting and unique content, with the aim of appearing in more places and giving sites a chance of being ranked higher.
  • Less keyword stuffing, more use of conversational tone.
  • Telling Google more about your website by using, for example, Structured Data Mark-up.
  • Optimising for mobile searches, as these, and voice searches, are undoubtedly where the market is moving.

What Do Brands Need to Do?

As SEO becomes less about keyword data and more about customer engagement, websites need to provide users with quality, engaging, shareable and linkable content.

Sites that have focused on providing genuinely helpful and relevant content and have adopted a conversational approach will reap the benefits and certainly gain more visibility. Conversely, sites that offer poor quality, thin content and have tried to “cleverly” stuff keywords in strategic places, will most likely need to re-think their strategy or face losing a significant portion of visibility.

Hummingbird will require brand owners to take a more serious approach to the use of their websites. Over the past few years, there has been more emphasis on using social platforms, which is not incorrect; but should not be done to the detriment of brand websites. It shouldn’t be one or the other, as they’re two different tactics in the inbound marketing mix.

The lesson is obvious; be the best, provide the best answers by knowing and serving your customers and Google will reward you.