Google’s “Hummingbird” Algorithm: What You Need to Know

By Stevie Sleeter, Content & Social Media Manager

Published: September 27, 2013

Just when we were getting comfortable, things have changed once again in the land of Google. In celebration of their 15th birthday, the search giant went back to it’s roots holding a special event in the garage where Google was born and sharing some pretty major news that “affects around 90 percent of searches.”

Google's Birthday Algorithm Changes

Google launched Hummingbird, the latest algorithm change and a namesake that comes from being “precise and fast,” about a month ago and officially announced the shift yesterday at the event. The update, one of the few major algorithm shifts since Google’s launch in 1998, is especially designed to handle complex, conversational queries.

Building on the features of Knowledge Graph (a system that Google launched in May 2012 that understands facts about people, places and things and how these entities are all connected), Hummingbird will better show relevant results for queries that don’t necessarily have simple answers.

For example, a traditional keyword-based search may look like “buy iPhone 5c” while a conversational search sounds like “where can I buy an iPhone 5c on the way home from work?” In the latter case, assuming you’ve told Google where you live and work, the result is much more relevant and useful based on user and context — something we’re sure to see a lot more of in the near future.

People find it more useful to have a conversation, especially when using audio search which seemed a part of the impetus for the change. You can also now easily compare two things, like butter and olive oil as Google explained. “Now you can simply tell Google: ‘Compare butter with olive oil.’ Our new comparison tool gives you new insights by letting you compose your own answer.

“In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words,” according to Search Engine Land. “The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

Now for the big question on all webmasters’ minds — how will it affect our sites?

The reality is if you haven’t seen a huge change in key metrics like site traffic in the last month, you probably won’t. In fact, Google says there’s nothing new or different search specialists or publishers need to worry about. The key recommendation remains the same — produce original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past are still important, but Hummingbird will allow Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.