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What Google's Hummingbird Update Really Means

If there was any doubt about the speed at which Google is developing semantic search at a global level, the announcement of Hummingbird, Google’s latest semantic algorithm update, should make everyone sit up and take notice.

Timed to coincide with the celebration of Google’s fifteenth birthday, Hummingbird takes semantic search, which is all about natural language processing and search query intent, and adds three new levels to it.

Complexity – Semantic search is all about machine intelligence. Hummingbird renders Google search capable of handling much more complex search queries in an even deeper search-query related way so that first, successive search queries about the same topic (from Eiffel Tower’s height, age, history and construction to Justin Bieber’s marital status) are now analysed and linked so you do not have to provide the same key terms to search for things. The complexity of this that takes search query data, understands it, links it and retains it and then answers it through the Knowledge Graph, is reflected in the next two levels of Hummingbird.

Comparison – With the adjustment of the algorithm to account for more complex search queries Hummingbird can now turn Google from a search engine to a Comparison Engine, at a voice command. This used to be the role reserved for the end-user: you would do two searches, find the best results of each and then manually compare them to make a decision or get the information you needed. Now, the leg work is done by Hummingbird. “Empire State Building vs Sears”, for example brings up a comparison chart of the stats between the two buildings and a comparison of their height. “Olive oil vs Butter” compares the nutritional facts of the two food substances.

Prediction  - More complex search queries, once they’re understood, provide greater data to Google search that can be used to widen and deepen the search results. “Museum Art History” can bring up local museums and links leading to Expressionists, Cubists and Impressionists, art movements that, should they appear, are linked to the local exhibits. This broadens the search inspired knowledge horizon making the use of search a more fulfilling experience.

The takeaway here is that search is getting smarter. With Hummingbird, which affects 90% of searches worldwide, Google will serve more semantic search results and, by the same token, collect more complex search query data that will be used to hasten the next iteration of semantic search. More search results are being served as a result. Businesses that used to rely on simple keyword strategy to rank in search will find themselves in a tailspin, particularly since Google has stopped reporting keywords in Google Analytics making it harder than ever to create a comprehensive SEO strategy around them.

This is a real transition from “strings to things” where search understands concepts rather than just words.

For a fuller introduction to the intricacies of Semantic Search check out:

Join The Conversation

  • Oct 10 Posted 3 years ago Doc Sheldon

    Great post, David! I agree with your take that the Knowledge Graph is the key to Hummingbird's ability to better match results to queries. I also think that although Hummingbird will now enable Google to speed up the propagation of KG data, it's likely that the inevitable increase of adoption of semantic markup will speed that process even more.

    Fun times we find outselves in, eh?

  • Oct 10 Posted 3 years ago dubaicompanions (not verified)

    as HB is nice to feel a quality work but what are the future observations about humming bird ? is this also have few guidelines to webmasters to follow ?

  • Oct 7 Posted 3 years ago rahulm

    It is great achivement for google and also very positive for all webmaster at the same time. Google always given importance to its user and modified its search pattern to get better result for the end users. Hummingbird update is advance lavel update i hope this will boost the confidance in Google user.

  • David Amerland's picture
    Oct 6 Posted 3 years ago David Amerland

    Phil, I have been away for a week speaking at SMX East in NYC so I am sorry I am getting to this so late. However, seeing how you took the trouble to add your comment here, it would be a shame not to reply. First, while I accept that the robot voice may not be to anyone's liking, I would take you to task on the content value which explains a complex subject that affects all online marketers, succinctly and in a way that helps you understand what it is that you need to do. 

    You do not necessarily need to know a lot about me but content for content's sake is pretty much the exact opposite of what I have been pointing out for years and since we are at the point where we are discussing SEO merits, Google has never treated embedded code as a "good thing" whatever that may actually mean. 

  • David Amerland's picture
    Oct 5 Posted 3 years ago David Amerland

    Mark, just back from SMX East that was in NYC where the question was discussed at length and where Googlers pitched in with ideas. Basically, Hummingbird represents a whole new set of ranking signals. Quality content is key but if you can start to implement schema.org mark-up, while not a ranking signal, it certainly helps in presenting rich snippets in search that increase the CTR which in turn is a positive signal. G+ Authorship is also a requirement, now. 

  • David Amerland's picture
    Oct 5 Posted 3 years ago David Amerland

    Nicky, thank you for letting me know and I really appreciate this. 

  • Oct 4 Posted 3 years ago Phil Munro

    As search gets smarter, I wonder how long it will be before Google starts to penalise sites for stuffing poor-content videos like this?

    The robot voice is irritating, the "hand drawn" presentation is awful, and the content of the video was poor aside from the commentary (which as already pointed out, the robot voice was irritating). It literally adds nothing to the article.

    I thought "why would someone make a video of this? Why not just write out the commentary instead?" Then it hit me - it has now come to this; Google decides to interpret embedded videos as a good thing, so now people cobble together lame auto-generated videos to tick the "video on webpage" box, and fudge their way up Google.

    The natural evolution of the web perhaps, but like everything else, Google will catch up with it eventually and start penalising "video for video's sake" .

  • Oct 2 Posted 3 years ago Nicky Helmkamp

    Hi! Just wanted to let you know that we featured you in our Monthly Resource Roundup http://www.aseohosting.com/blog/2013/10/seo-content-marketing-and-social-media-the-best-of-september-2013/


  • Oct 2 Posted 3 years ago dubaicompanion (not verified)

    nice explanation about hummingbird by google. It can be a revolutionary update for those who are running with standard optimisation of the website , supporting natural link buliding by not to be a part of buying spam links.

    website witn full descriptive details will get rewards under this update which is comparatevely good and informative.

  • Sep 30 Posted 3 years ago getprintedshirts.com Hello David, and thanks for writing this. I follow you on G+ and read pretty much everything I see you write on semantic search. What I'm wondering is there something us web site owners should be doing right now to our web site to make it more hummingbird friendly? Like adding more schema mark up to a site ? Or is it more about just sharing good content socially like on G+ ? I know there's properly a ton of answers to my question but if you had to say just 1 main thing that would increase search results for a website semantically what would that be. Again thanks for sharing you knowledge. By: Mark White
  • sandatvang's picture
    Sep 27 Posted 3 years ago sandatvang

    Google's Hummingbird update very good! its userfully for everbody!

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