Top Lessons you Can Learn from Google’s New Hummingbird Algorithm Changes

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  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Updated: Oct 27, 2013

If you blink these days, Google makes change in their algorithm that can impact your website.

They seem to like catchy little animal-based code names: Panda, Penguin and now Hummingbird.

In real life, a hummingbird might be a fast-moving, beautiful creature that likes to sip from nectar, but in the world of SEO, it can seem more like a pesky insect. Hummingbird is the largest algorithm update in three years, which by nature would make webite owners very nervous as many saw their search engine traffic tank after the rollout of Panda in early 2011. Gianluca Fiorelli expressed the feeling of SEOs everywhere in “Hummingbird Unleashed” on The Moz Blog.

Sometimes I think that us SEOs could be wonderful characters for a Woody Allen movie: We are stressed, nervous, paranoid, we have a tendency for sudden changes of mood…okay, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but that’s how we tend to (over)react whenever Google announces something.

Relax, We’re Going to Show You the Benefits of Hummingbird

What the Heck Is Hummingbird?


Change is scary, especially when it can impact your website’s traffic and your livelihood. Although Google tends to be very secretive about the science behind their algorithm, there is a method to the madness and it’s fairly easy to figure out.

First, this latest update seems to focus on targeting searches that match the way humans think and interact.

The changes are meant to integrate with voice controls. During a presentation by the company discussing what Hummingbird can do, one executive pulled out a smart phone and through voice search asked for photos of the Eiffel Tower. Once the photos were found, she then asked via voice how tall the Eiffel Tower was and Google answered. This type of interactive information gathering is something that users are looking for and will help people who are truly interested in your niche topic find it easily.

Will It Impact Your Site?

WHSR does not recommend black hat SEO tactics. If your site uses black hat, then this update, along with others over the last few years, will likely impact you. However, if you’ve been following our suggestions for writing excellent content and basic, principled SEO tactics, then Hummingbird may help instead of hurt.

Avital Web writes in the Sacramento Bee:

Properly indexed sites are unlikely to have noticed a big change with Hummingbird. Search engine optimization is still beneficial for site users who use consistently high-quality, original content.

Many SEO experts believe Hummingbird is going to turn out to be a positive change, unlike some of the previous algorithm updates, which hurt at first. Instead, those who focus on being an authority on their topic and building excellent content will likely thrive in the new environment.

Eric Enge wrote on CopyBlogger:

We used to speak about content being king, and that in some sense is still true, but it is becoming more complex than that now. You now need to think about content that truly addresses specific wants and needs. Does your content communicate relevance to a specific want or need?

Changes to Keep in Mind Going Forward

What does this all mean for your website. Some things are likely to remain the same no matter what changes Google or any other search engine implements.

  • Write content that informs readers and covers topics not found elsewhere.
  • Provide well-written, top-notch material.
  • Interact on social media.
  • Keep a mailing list and keep in touch with site visitors.
  • Update content frequently.
amit singhal
photo credit: thekenyeung via photopin

What’s New

According to Robin Sharaya at Google Genius, Amit Singhal, Google Senior Vice-President, explained that with the new hummingbird algorithm in place:

Google search engine can make use of more complex search requests a better understanding of the concept of human language, rather than a few scattered words. Such an algorithm improvement is necessary because the data show that many users will enter in the search box to search the complete questions.

  • Make your site mobile friendly. It stands to reason with the new focus on tablets and smart phones that Google will change their algorithm to look at sites that are friendly to these mobile devices.
  • Think ahead about what additional information browsers might want on a topic. One of the biggest features of Hummingbird is the ability to ask for Google to “tell me more” about any given topic. If you write an article about landmark buildings in Chicago, you may want to expand that content into a particular architect, style of building or even topics like haunted locations or tours.
  • Make at least some of your content quickly skimmable.

Online marketing expert Jayson DeMers wrote in an article about Hummingbird on Forbes:

This means it’s even more crucial that your headlines pop, your content reads vertically, and maybe – breaking away for a second here from the common belief that longer is better – your blog posts are succinct, to-the-point, and light enough to read ‘on the go’.

With Morgan Stanley stating in their Mobile Internet Report that mobile device usage will overtake desktop usage in the next five years, coming up with a mobile content strategy is simply smart business anyway. Add to that the fact that the major search engine Google is making changes to meet this growing trend and ignoring making content mobile friendly simply isn’t advisable.

DeMers also makes a recommendation that websites should consider using bit-size teasers that can quickly be read via mobile-friendly e-mails but that lead into more in-depth pieces that users can peruse when they have more time or if they have additional questions about a topic. This method seems like it would work well with the new Hummingbird model of “give me quick info/now tell me more”.

Better Headlines, Grab Their Attention

In “20 Ways to boost Website Conversion Rates” by Jerry Low, it is recommended that you improve your headlines to get a higher conversion rate on your website. This concept can work with mobile devices as well. Those who use their smart phones to browse for information usually have a few minutes between meetings, time on a subway, a couple of minutes in a checkout line, etc. They are skimming headlines and searching for the one that grabs them. If you aren’t writing grab-worthy headlines, then read How to Write a Killer Headline and come up with ones that will get readers to click on your link.

 The Future of Hummingbird

As with all of Google’s rollouts of algorithm “animals”, Hummingbird is certain to evolve over time. Jon Henshaw, writer for Yahoo! Small Business Advisor, made this prediction:

As searchers become more comfortable asking more complex questions – especially with a conversational tone – you’ll be able to capture highly targeted traffic by being micro-focused with the content you create.

Although your fundamental tactics of creating high-quality content in your niche won’t change, you will need to think a bit deeper about the topics you cover, add content to answer additional questions users might have (or risk them jumping to another site) and keep things mobile-device friendly.

Article by Lori Soard

Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.

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