What is Google Hummingbird and How Does it Affect You?

Last month, Google released a completely revamped algorithm, replacing the existing one for the first time in more than 10 years.

That’s a big deal.

Even Panda and Penguin, which affected millions of sites, were revisions not complete overhauls. So this new release – dubbed Hummingbird by Google – is huge.

But it’s not quite the sledgehammer that Panda and Penguin were. In fact, most of us didn’t realize it had been released until Google announced it last week, nearly a month after the roll out.

So what could be so fundamental and yet so subtle that flew completely under our radar for weeks? Let’s take a look.

First, What Is Hummingbird?

Hummingbird is a move away from keyword matching in search, and toward latent semantic indexing – in other words, a sort of natural language search.

We know Google’s algorithm has gotten very, very smart in recent years, but until Hummingbird, it still relied, at least to some degree, on keywords. The exact phrases used by users when searching for something.

But those search phrases have gotten very complex in recent years. People now type long questions into the search box, not just a few words, and they expect exact answers. If I typed in:

How long will it be until the next nascar race in Florida? 

I want to know exactly when the next Nascar race in Florida will be. It’s possible someone may have used that exact term on their site, but unlikely on a grand scale. So the new search algorithm is designed to understand enough of what I’m asking in that question to go and find a match that answers it.

The fact that Hummingbird affected 90% of queries is even more alarming, and yet again, no one noticed at first.

Specifically, here are some things that did change with Hummingbird:

In-Depth Articles

Google is taking greater advantage of longer, authority content on topics with the In-Depth Articles results for general searches. If you type in something like “government” or “internet” you’ll get Google’s standard search results, followed by this:

Government screenshot

Those are considered in-depth articles on the topic of government and so they show up on the front page, but lower because they are older.

Analytics Data

We talked about this in Episode 7 of the podcast, and it makes more sense now. Google is no longer providing as much keyword data in Analytics. For most of our clients, we’re only getting 40% of queries now. According to some experts, that could drop to as low as 10% and then disappear completely sometime next year. Keywords are being heavily deemphasized by Google.

Social Search

Hummingbird is all about context, and nothing puts more context into a conversation than social search. Google+ will play a big role here, as will other social signals that Google pulls from (i.e. everything but Facebook). Authorship, hashtags, communities, and Hangouts will all be part of this.

Link Analysis

Hummingbird still uses backlink data to determine rankings to some degree, though this is only one of 200 or so indicators, and it’s believed to be less important today than it was 15 years ago when Google was launched.

So what does this all mean?

Right now, not very much. It had very little or no impact on SERPs and we saw no traffic changes for any of our clients outside the normal scope of month over month increases.

What it does mean is that we now know Google’s focus moving forward, relying more heavily on machine intelligence to figure out the answers to questions instead of matching queries by keyword indicators, and with time that will be very, VERY good for people who focus heavily on inbound marketing, branding and content creation strategies.

It just remains to be seen how some factors, like social, image and video search will be made a part of that algorithm as it continues to evolve. You can be sure we’ll keep an eye on it, however.


  • Micah Abraham

    Micah Abraham is the owner and lead content writer at Great Leap Studios (https://GreatLeapStudios.com) and High Volt Digital (https://HighVoltDigital.com).
    Micah has over 15 years of content writing and digital marketing experience, and has owned and operated Great Leap Studios since 2013 and High Volt since 2022.
    He has a degree in Psychology from the University of Washington, and has researched and written content on a wide range of topics in the medical and health fields, home services, tech, and beyond.
    Micah lives with his family in California.

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