How Will Google’s New Hummingbird Algorithm Affect Search and Impact Your SEO?

September 30, 2013

Big news in the SEO world. Google launched an entirely new search algorithm about a month ago – and nobody seemed to notice, until now. Google is acknowledging that it has launched what it calls “Hummingbird”, not an algorithm update but rather a completely new algorithm altogether. That’s right, an entirely new system of sorting through, valuing, indexing, and ranking the world’s websites.

Just to clarify, Google has not completely changed the way it ranks websites. Rather, as Google explains it, Hummingbird is a refresh – after so many updates and refinements of the search algorithm over years, Google decided to reboot its algorithm to create a finer distillation of all its newer rankings factors. Simply put, Hummingbird is designed to help the search giant deliver better results than ever before. But what does this new algorithm really mean for the state of search, and more specifically for your website’s visibility online?

In this blog posts, we’ve examined Hummingbird’s most pressing issues to give you everything you need to know.

What is Hummingbird?

This new algorithm, which according to Google representatives was named Hummingbird because of its improvements to the search engine’s precision and speed, is reportedly the biggest change to Google’s algorithm in over a decade.

A New Search Algorithm? Is It Time To Panic?

Yes, Hummingbird is a new search algorithm. But there’s no reason to panic. As we said, Hummingbird is like a Google Search relaunch. All the recent SEO trends and new ranking factors still apply, perhaps just a little more so. According to Google, the difference between the Hummingbird relaunch and search algorithm updates like the Panda and Penguin updates is this: Panda and Penguin were updates rolled out to target and penalize over-performing websites, whether it was bad content or unfriendly functionality (as with Panda) or toxic links or spammy meta content (as with Penguin). On the other hand, the new “Hummingbird” algorithm is intended to refine Google Search overall and improve the entire search experience as a whole. Google’s main goal is to return the best results possible, and that’s what they’ve set out to do—or at least, make another big stride in that direction—with this Hummingbird Algorithm.

Google uses an analogy to explain. Think of Google’s algorithm as an engine of an old-model car. Over the years, elements of the engine have been fixed, fine-tuned, and even replaced. This isn’t like that. This change is not to a particular element of Google’s algorithm or a part of their engine, it’s the equivalent to an entirely new engine being placed under the hood of that car. While some of the parts that worked well will still remain, in essence, we’re looking at a whole new engine—better, smoother, and faster than before.

How will Hummingbird Affect Your Site?

Hummingbird has been out for nearly a month, which means its initial impact has already begun to show in your rankings and search traffic. Most marketers and business owners are probably wondering: how will this impact my business? What do I need to do now? As a rule of thumb, if you have been optimizing your site based on what we know about Panda and Penguin and getting your site in compliance with Google’s best practices, your site should continue to see its rankings rise and its traffic increase.

What Does Hummingbird Mean for the Future of SEO?

More broadly, there’s the question of: what Hummingbird means to the future of Google Search and how this is going to impact SEO in the big picture? Here are our educated assumptions, based on everything Google has told us and what the SEO industry leaders are saying…
Despite many rumors to the contrary, PageRank will continue to be a ranking factor. PageRank was the brainchild of Google co-founder CEO Larry Page, and was the earliest differentiator between’s Google Search and Yahoo! Search. PageRank has historically placed significant value on a website’s inbound links in determining the site’s popularity and overall authority. While PageRank remains a major piece of the Google Search puzzle, it has been somewhat diluted as Google diversifies its algorithm with other ranking factors.
Additionally, other Google Search mainstays will retain their significant. For example, high quality onsite content will continue to be a major ranking factor, as the quality, relevancy and popularity of a webpage’s content will continue to impact the overall ranking of that page. Meanwhile, a website’s popularity amongst its peers will continue to shape rankings – although what Google uses to measure popularity is certain to evolve, as Google’s search engine considers social sharing, content marketing, brand mentions and natural backlinks as major components of a website’s online visibility.

Search Gets More Conversational

The biggest change Hummingbird has ushered in is Google Search’s ability to provide a Q &A style search forum for certain queries. This is especially important for question-based search queries. According to Google, the new search algorithm should be better equipped to answer what they call “conversational searches.”
Google is noticing significant shifts in the way users search. More and more users are searching by voice functions on their mobile devices , conducting search queries in the form of a question. For example, users will ask their smartphone “where’s the best Thai restaurant near me?” Thus, having an algorithm that’s capable of answering conversational questions is paramount to Google. Conversional search queries can’t be answered well when specific terms alone are targeted, so the whole query must be analyzed in order to answer it appropriately, and that’s exactly what Google Search is trying to do.
The changes Google has made are very much a query-by-query basis, and this shouldn’t be causing sites to loose significant rankings. If you haven’t lost traffic or dropped in the rankings in the last month, you’ve probably made it out unscathed. But if you have noticed a change in rankings, here’s what’s important to remember…

What you know about SEO still applies.

As far as your SEO campaign is concerned, very little has changed. If anything, Hummingbird might do a better job of revealing quality elements on your site, or certain things on your site that need to be improved. It’s sort of like cleaning under your couch: Google Search might discover some new things it didn’t see before, but nothing crazy.
The key is to stay focused on what you’re doing: building better content, improving your technical SEO, and sharing value that will drive powerful links from relevant sites.
Ultimately, the lesson to be learned from Hummingbird is this: focus on the customer experience. Google’s customers are its searchers. They know the better they make their search results, happier their users will be, the more searches will be conducted on Google, and the more money advertisers will be willing to pay for Adwords keywords. As a business owners and webmaster, you should do the same as Google as focus on providing a better online customer experience. This means creating a more technically sound site, with stronger designs build for better conversions, more quality content, better social engagement and more community outreach. If you stay focused on pursuing these goals, you’re going to build a site that customers and Google will love.

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