Hummingbird Review: Google’s New Algorithm

Last week Google celebrated its 15th birthday the only way a business founded on a famous formula should, by announcing a revised version. The formula I’m referring to of course is Google’s famous algorithm, which has just had a major update named after one of the worlds smallest birds, the Hummingbird. Why name a significant business update after this little winged creature? Well, Google felt it summarised exactly what this update meant for the future of its algorithm – “precise and fast”. So in the same fashion we’ve written a “precise and fast” blog post to outline exactly what this means for SEOs and the search industry:

When Did This Happen?

Google officially announced this algorithm update took place a month ago.  No exact date was given. However, thanks to MozCast it’s predicted this went live on August the 21st.

How significant is the update?

Google’s search chief Amit Singhal confirmed this is the biggest algorithm update since 2001, one that would impact 90% of world searches. That’s significant! My favorite summary of how significant this update is comes from Danny Sullivan’s breakdown on Search Engine Land:

“Think of a car built in the 1950s. It might have a great engine, but it might also be an engine that lacks things like fuel injection or be unable to use unleaded fuel. When Google switched to Hummingbird, it’s as if it dropped the old engine out of a car and put in a new one. It also did this so quickly that no one really noticed the switch.”

Overall, Google’s search algorithm is a big change in terms of the search engine’s mechanics. However, it isn’t as big a game changer to the SEO world as previous algorithm updates like Penguin and Panda. The Hummingbird algorithm update redefined how Google interprets users search queries while Penguin and Panda refined the “quality” of the websites ranking within their results.

SEO signals remain the same. The Hummingbird algorithm just allows Google to process them in a superior way (or so they say!). If we use a similar car analogy, Penguin and Panda updates were new tyres compared with Hummingbird’s new engine.

What Has Changed?

Google is more interested than ever in a user’s intent when searching, with a focus on the queries contextual meaning. With Humminbird, Google is paying more attention to the sequence of words appearing within a user’s query, rather than just focusing on a few important keywords.

In the past Google would take the following query: “What’s the closest shop to a buy a Sony TV near my office” and return web results focusing on “buy“, “Sony” and “TV“. Google now aims to consider all words within the search query and will try to interpret the full meaning. Essentially, Google is trying to work out that this user is in fact searching for a shop selling Sony TVs  that is located near the user’s office. Not an easy task!

Google has also improved its ability to link search queries with content across the web. This has resulted in the expansion of the Knowledge Graph segments to provide additional enriched information.

Are There Any Examples?

Below we have included a few different examples of Google interpreting a user’s intent:

Considering all keywords:

Below is a screen shot of “apple vs muffin” and “compare pizza and burger”;

Hummingbird - Google Search Data Comparison

Google now displays a Knowledge Graph containing comparable information.


Google learns from your pervious searches

who wrote pride and prejudice

where was she born

Jane Austen starts a conversation


Not only can it learn from search history, Google evaluate the context of a search by considering external factors, such as location. We predict the expansion of Google Now.

The above examples focus on the Knowledge Graph. However, Hummingbird is designed to apply the same principles to all web pages ranking across all search results.

What’s Google’s Objective?

Google have recognised that the intent behind a search is very important. Users require information quickly on the move. That’s why Google introduced voice search in 2009 and the Knowledge Graph in 2012. And as Google expands into the wearable tech market with Google Glass (and a rumoured watch), search must remain useful.

But is voice search the future? If so what about Siri, which is powered by Bing? Could this impact Google’s presence on iOS devices? Time will tell.

Google is still focused on returning the best possible results to its users, however the search giant still needs to take a few extra steps to being able to tell me where I can quickly pick up a Sony TV near my office.

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