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Google Hummingbird: The New Google Algorithm and What You Need To Know

For the past few weeks I'd seen a pattern repeating itself across the board with most of the clients that I do SEO and content marketing for, small drops in Page Authority and Domain Authority for every domain I was monitoring. I also observed some big leaps up the SERPs for content that was previously ranking poorly.

Despite suspecting that change was afoot, Google remained unusually quiet and while speculation was rife amongst those of us involved in SEO on a daily basis, nothing had been confirmed. That was, until 26th September 2013 when Google came clean and admitted that the new algorithm had been up and running for the past month.


Panda and Penguin were updates which changed part of the algorithm, but Hummingbird has replaced the old algorithm and it’s the biggest change in 3 years. It’s not just a major update or refresh, it’s an entirely new ranking algorithm.

This latest news comes hot on the heels of Google’s announcement that in future, all searches will be secure and as such, keyword data will no longer be available in Google Analytics. Not only this, but many website owners have spent the last few months dealing with the effects of the major Penguin refresh which hit earlier this year and had far reaching effects, making ‘bad’ SEO not just unsuccessful, but ensuring guilty websites were actively penalised.

Hummingbird aims to deliver results which are precise and fast

Whilst specifics are still somewhat patchy, Google has confirmed that Hummingbird focuses on ranking information based on more intelligent and naturalistic search requests. In short, Google is getting smarter and is now better able to understand the relationships and relevance of words and phrases, instead of just considering a bunch of individual words.

Google Hummingbird At A Glance

  • Many of the existing rules and weightings still apply, so don’t stop doing what you are doing if your activities are based on Penguin pleasing, sustainable and ethical content focused techniques
  • A sizeable 90% of all searches are likely to be affected by Hummingbird though the full extent and reach of its effects is currently unknown
  • Known as Semantic search, more naturalistic or ‘conversational’ search terms (which tend to be long-tail in their nature) are now more important than ever
  • Google still wants to return the most relevant, accurate and useful search results to its users, Hummingbird provides a more sophisticated means for Google to deliver this
  • There is now less emphasis on individual keywords and more emphasis on their collective (semantic) meaning
  • PageRank remains an active ranking signal and Google claims that there is nothing massively different that SEOs need to be doing or worrying about


If you’ve not noticed any significant changes in the last month, then it looks like you’ve escaped unscathed. Some of the effects we’ve seen have been small however and could easily be missed, including small losses in Domain Authority and drops down SERPs for some previously highly ranking content, while other, less obvious content has risen up.

For some time now, the emphasis has been upon providing useful, high quality content on websites and blogs and upon optimising content towards long tail keywords. This simply means that future SEO activities will be more focused on longer, semantic search terms. In real terms, for those who have already adapted their content marketing and SEO following the Penguin update earlier this year, very little is likely to change.


Join The Conversation

  • eva lam's picture
    Dec 14 Posted 3 years ago eva lam

    I don't think Hummingbird represents too much of a threat to those who have walked a 'straight line' with respect to Google's best practices. Most of the shoddy link builds were hit via Penguin, and shoddy content pages hit via Panda. 

  • raghavraaz's picture
    Oct 9 Posted 3 years ago raghavraaz

    Is it possible Google Adsense may experience a growth pattern as more and more businesses may have to rely on Google’s Adwords strategy. Is Google doing all these updates to force people to you use their paid service?

  • Vf2's picture
    Oct 8 Posted 3 years ago Vf2

    Ah yes...Penguin 2:1. Those modest gains I mentioned ? Wiped out. And more.

    Frankly, I'm getting kinda tired that as a small business owner, I'm seemingly at the whim of whatever Google decides I should/shouldn't be doing to run my company in such a way that it has a fighting chance of appearing on p1 o.n.o of a search.

    You do your best; you follow advice; you spend a ton of time which you could spend far more profitably on actually earning a living jumping through Google's ever-smaller hoops. And for what ?

    I don't have limitless funds to buy-in SEO and I object to the fact that in any field of commerce, a company can operate the kind of monopoly and exert the same kind of influence that Google does. This cannot be a good thing. You can't play a game if you don't know the rules and Google seem to delight in keeping theirs a secret; observing and changing them when they feel like it. What's OK today might not be tomorrow. Or it might. Who knows ? Who'll ever find out ?

    I can't offhand think of any field in any industry in which just one company says, "Jump !" and we all dutifully respond, "How high ?"

    Misquoting the immortal line from Network only slightly, "I'm mad as hell and I don't want to take this anymore..."


  • ubersocialmedia's picture
    Oct 8 Posted 3 years ago ubersocialmedia

    Thanks for your feedback David, it's always a challenge trying to strike a balance between providing enough useful information but still making it accessible.

    I've seen lots of dips and rises over the past few weeks and even more on Friday when Penguin 2:1 was launched - i'll be glad when the dust settles, but you are right, it never gets easier does it? Constantly having to evolve what we do in order to keep up; I love it all the same though!

  • ubersocialmedia's picture
    Oct 8 Posted 3 years ago ubersocialmedia

    Hi Tony thanks for your comments.

    I personally take it as a given that search engines want to return the most relevant and useful results. If a search engine doesn't do that, then people quite simply aren't going to use it.

    Semantic search requires a 'smarter' algorithm to make sense of more sophisticated search terms, it's far easier to serve up content that simply matches a keyword; the fact that Hummingbird looks at the meaning and intent of long-tail search terms however indicates that it is more sophisticated than it's predecessors.

    At the time of writing, detailed technical information was unavailable so I too, am looking forward to learning more!

  • ubersocialmedia's picture
    Oct 8 Posted 3 years ago ubersocialmedia

    Thanks for all of your feedback and comments. I'm looking forward to seeing how things pan out.

  • Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago lalitburma

    Only producing good content is not good enough unless and untill you have good number of followers.

    After adding great contents you need to make it go viral though different social media platforms.

    Google ranking is like a recipe where every ingredients are important. If one miss than your recipe will not taste good, though great content is the core of this recipe.

    This is a nice read from Forbes by Jayson - http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2013/05/23/the-3-pillars-of-seo-in-2013-content-links-and-social-media/


  • Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago Carl1981

    Not good for my MFA

  • Kelly Calhoun's picture
    Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago Kelly Calhoun

    Hummingbird seems like it's going to be a good system after we all get over the inital shock of losing the keywords.  The best part is taking the semantic meaning of the phrase instead of the individual words.  I like that, a lot.  Thank you for writing this article!

  • Mike Fitzpatrick's picture
    Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago Mike Fitzpatrick

    Yes exactly. And I think that if you did your SEO well, with transparency and concentrating on quality, you will just have minor adjustments to make. Hummingbird is a natural progression.

    Anyone with a quality product, great otpimised website, building product awarenes through social and industry leading websites have little to worry about.


  • twoodo_team's picture
    Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago twoodo_team

    I'm glad that more is being done to cut out black hat techniques. This will raise the bar for content writers overall - and writing is no easy task! 

  • Vf2's picture
    Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago Vf2

    Thanks Shell, an excellent and informative article. First time I'd been aware of yet another Google tweak. 

    As the owner of a business getting around 60% of its trade via its Google ranking, I'm now trying to figure out whether our latest modest rise up the charts - following an alarming dip a couple of months back when Google last fritzed around with Pandas/Penguins - is due to the recent SEO wash'n'brush-up on our site, or a beneficial Hummingbird effect.

    It never gets any easier...

  • Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago Tony PERLA

    • <blockquote><i>Google still wants to return the most relevant, accurate and useful search results to its users, Hummingbird provides a more sophisticated means for Google to deliver this </i></blockquote>

    Nice comment, but nothing you say proves this point.

    We'd need, really, more factual information as to how the algorithm works and, perhaps, even how we should take it into consideration by changing the way our keywords are listed on AdWord accounts.  

  • Tim Chambliss's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago Tim Chambliss

    What if building automobiles or delivering electricity to your home had the same mysterious nuances of the SEO business. That would be flat dangerous ("well, here's how you've BEEN doing it but there are some changes that you need to make in your process that are very importnat - we just ain't gonna tell you what they are") It's just unfair to small businesses.

    We cry "uncle" as Google has us in a serious headlock, but at what point does the backbone of the US economy say "screw it" and go back to running newspaper ads and telemarketing.

    My clients are really close to that point.

  • Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago CAman1955

    Google is making sure quality content is promoted and shown in their search results.

    You can't game the system anymore.

    All you can really do is create good content and that should be the goal of any internet enterprise.



  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    I hope to make your top 5 list some day. 

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Site wide links (unless they are your navigation) are not considered good practice. 

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    I suspect the black hatters are suffering. 

  • ubersocialmedia's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago ubersocialmedia

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Randy. I must say, I don't see anything (yet!) that has made me believe I should be concerned about the new algorithm. I think it may be seen as more devastating by those SEOs who have been somewhat resistent to change the outdated methods they had come to rely on.

    For anyone who is content marketing the 'right' way, that is to say, is doing their best to produce quality content rather than keyword stuffed gibberish, and using a broad range of broadcast channels, then adapting their methodology to get the most out of their activities shouldn't be a big or difficult step.

    I'm looking forward to reading more information about the effects observed by other website owners and SEO's and I'm also looking forward to finding more out about any new signals or significant shifts in weighting.

  • Randy Milanovic's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 3 years ago Randy Milanovic

    Some marketers and search engine optimization experts are treating the news as a sort of virtual earthquake that couldn't have been more devastating or unexpected; others are treating it as the next logical step in search engine evolution, which is what it actually represents.

  • ubersocialmedia's picture
    Oct 2 Posted 3 years ago ubersocialmedia

    Thanks for your feedback Ego.

    Google hasn't provided much more information at the moment, but the general feeing is that quality, theme relevent backlinks that provide you with a natural backlink profile are still worthwhile yes.

    Don't make the mistake however of pursuing link building in high volumes. Google is looking for signals that show people like and value the content on a particular website, so creating great conent that people will share on social media and via bookmarking sites, is for me, more imporant for the time being.

  • Oct 2 Posted 3 years ago egodasa

    thats great information about google hummingbird algorithm.my web is affecting too because of this algorithm.

    i have a question,is baclinks still important for our site to get a higher position on SERP?

    and how about sidewide backlink?is this good like old algorithm?

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