Hummingbird: Google Algorithm Update Flies Under the Radar

Another morning, another flurry of Google-related headlines and something about a Hummingbird—what have they changed now? Is it time to panic yet? Well, don’t start stockpiling the keywords and linkjuice yet, because you’re in for a surprise.

The Hummingbird Switch

Remember that iconic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones swaps a bag of sand for a golden idol, to avoid setting off any traps? In theory, it was a brilliant plan. But he misjudges it and winds up triggering the grandmother of all traps, like an Aztec adaptation of Home Alone where he’s the bad guy. Well, you might be surprised to learn that Google pulled a similar switch, right under our noses. Without anybody noticing, they replaced their search algorithm with an update nicknamed “Hummingbird”…and they did it a month ago.  That’s like if someone replaced your car’s engine while you were driving and you didn’t notice. Maybe Indy could take some pointers from Google.

Named for its improvements to search speed and precision, the Hummingbird algorithm is designed to better comprehend full questions, rather than parsing them word-by-word and gleaning an interpretation from the disassembled parts. This holistic approach will allow a more conversational search experience, one that continues to break away from the artificial phrasing that is often necessary to communicate with a search engine. If it lives up to the expectations, Hummingbird will make Google’s search engine smarter and more adept at providing the correct information to complex inquiries.

Pandas and Penguins and Hummingbirds, Oh My!

The Google zoo has been pretty active as of late, with the Panda and Penguin updates still in recent memory, but representatives for the search giant maintain that Hummingbird is a different animal entirely. It’s the biggest change to the overall algorithm since 2001, according to Senior VP Amit Singhal. To borrow a metaphor from Danny Sullivan:

“Think of it again like an engine. [Panda and Penguin] were as if the engine received a new oil filter or had an improved pump put in. Hummingbird is a brand new engine, though it continues to use some of the same parts of the old, like Penguin and Panda.”

"Yep, your penguin's shot. Do you have a spare?"

“Yep, your penguin’s shot. Do you carry a spare?”

The irony is that, while the effects of Penguin and Panda were very noticeable, especially to those in the SEO industry, the Hummingbird overhaul was difficult to detect and went largely undiscovered until Google announced it this week. SEOs remain more concerned about (not provided), the organic search data dilemma, which poses a greater threat to their current operations and is forcing them to do things differently. But would it be such a stretch to suggest that Hummingbird and (not provided) are part of the same Google initiative? I think not.

Hummingbird and (not provided) both contribute to a more content-driven, intention-based future for search engine marketing. By pushing the focus off of keywords and onto context and a comprehensive understanding of content, Google is again raising the bar for good content and obstructing common shortcuts to higher ranking. In other words, the search engine will be better able to see through spun or poorly written, keyword-dense copy, and can more consistently reward rich and informative content. I think we can all agree that that’s a good thing, even if it means we have to revise some of our strategies. The SEO industry won’t die—but maybe it will be reborn as the content marketing industry.

Did you notice Hummingbird? How do you think it will affect the future of Search?

photo credit: Stéfan via photopin cc
photo credit: SkipSteuart via photopin cc


Brent Urmey is an avid reader and writer on a variety of subjects, including social media, SEO, the Wireless industry, and life in Lancaster County, PA. He is a graduate of Drexel University and a survivor of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse.

You can connect with Brent on Google +.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *