Google Search Engines

Google’s Hummingbird Update

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An In-Depth Explanation of the Hummingbird Algorithm Update

Hummingbird came along after the Panda and Penguin Google updates and changed the way the Internet worked in a pretty drastic way. Google wanted an entire search query to be taken into account instead of just a few words here and there. The Hummingbird update has actually been referred to as a complete overhaul of the entire Google algorithm. While some of the core elements of the Google algorithm stayed intact, for the most part, Hummingbird completely changed the way a website ranks in Google and definitely threw business owners, digital marketing agencies, and website owners for a loop when their rank dropped after the algorithm updated. But how did Hummingbird affect Google rankings?

What is Google’s Hummingbird Update?

“Hummingbird” is the name of one of Google’s major algorithm updates in 2013. Hummingbird drastically changed the way search engine queries work. Before Hummingbird, Google only took out certain words in a search phrase and brought up results according to those words, rather than the query as a whole. That being said, it didn’t have as much of a negative effect on SERP’s as previous updates, such as the Panda or Penguin update, although SEO agencies reported feeling the effects.

The Knowledge Graph and Semantic Search

The Hummingbird update had the most effect on the knowledge graph and semantic search. A whole year before Hummingbird was released, Google unveiled the knowledge graph. This isn’t an actual graph, but rather a set of Search Engine Result Page features that were designed expressly with the intent to provide quick and relevant answers to any query typed into Google. If you’re curious about seeing the power of the knowledge graph in person, you can run an experiment by typing “Oatmeal Raisin Cookies” into Google and looking carefully at the results. Thanks to the knowledge graph, Google will not only display relevant sites to your query but also recipes, nutritional information and more on the right-hand side of your Search Engine Result Page. But how exactly is Google determining what the most relevant sites are for a query? The answer can be found by looking deeper into semantic search.

Semantic search is Google’s way of reading deeper into a search engine query and displaying the most relevant information according to the intent behind the search, not just the words themselves. For instance, Google won’t just pull up images if you type “meatloaf” into the search engine. Instead, it will provide you with everything you ever wanted to know about meatloaf that exists on the internet, from the most relevant and high-authoritative, to the least relevant and not as authoritative. As the intelligence of Google continues to grow, it will continue to learn about how to read into a search engine query, as well as understanding how people relate to things in the real world.

The Main Purpose of Hummingbird

One of the main purposes of Hummingbird was to translate semantic search from just a concept on the page to a reality that eventually would become the standard. It created a search engine environment that provides users with the best and most relevant information and direction on how to get exactly what they need, when, and where to get it.

Voice Search and the HummingBird Update

Google’s Hummingbird update, in a lot of ways, was a step down the path of mastering the skill of voice search. Google had to be able to understand search engine queries spoken in a natural language, and Hummingbird was another paved highway to the city of perfection in voice search performance. In our modern age, we have to come to understand that technology that can only understand search engine queries by a keyword here and there would never be able to harness the power of gauging the actual intent of a user. The Hummingbird update was designed with the goal of providing more relevant search results in a world of voice search.

HummingBird Paving the Way

While there was some fallout in the SEO community thanks to Hummingbird, the update did do a very good job of keying the world of digital marketing into a plan much bigger. No longer would Google treat a search engine query like a string of keywords. Unfortunately for some, this also meant that websites that had fallen for the plague of keyword stuffing felt the consequences of not having relevant, quality content on their websites. The only way a website owner could ensure his site wouldn’t feel the pain was to make certain that the site was speaking in a language that could be easily understood and that spoke the natural language of a user in their very own words.

Google’s Hummingbird Update for a Developer

If you’re wondering what Google’s Hummingbird update did for web developers, let me paint the picture for you. Let’s say you build a house, and then every week for twenty years you add something to it and have to manipulate the foundation and structure of the house. All of the new additions to the house are nice, but they keep getting added to the side and now things are a really big, horrible mess. Now you have to start from scratch if you’re going to get anywhere. Complete annihilation and rebuilding is the only path that makes sense. And this, in essence, is kind of a picture of what Google’s Hummingbird Update did for web developers. In short, Hummingbird didn’t come along to bring new changes, necessarily. The Hummingbird update came along to pave the way for new changes. It was a brand new foundation of code in which the future of Google’s changes would be established.

In the end, Google’s Hummingbird update changed a lot in the way of how you can rank certain websites for certain long-tail keywords and search engine queries. Websites that publish useful information that match a searcher’s intent not only have the opportunity to rank better locally as well as organically, but also the possibility of getting a SERP feature, such as an answer box or knowledge panel. Your highest SEO priority should be to deliver to a user exactly what they want in an easy-to-read format. And that is why Google created Hummingbird. It is for the purpose of making searches that are much more accurate.

About the author


Jessica Lamber

Jessica Lambert is the Senior Content Writer at Webology SEO.