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What Is Google Hummingbird?

Posted October 22, 2013
3 minute read

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, wait, it was a bird. Google Hummingbird to be exact, and it’s yet another new way for Google to rank the web.

I understand your inclination to throw your hands up in frustration over another major search update. I don’t blame you. In the last 18 months, Google has made a series of significant updates (code named Panda and Penguin), that can drastically alter which sites you see in the search results page. While it’s still early to understand the full effects of the new Hummingbird update, it’s important to understand the distinction between this update and the ones that came before it. Let’s dive in...


How is Hummingbird different from Panda and Penguin?

On a fundamental level, Hummingbird is a much more significant change. Panda and Penguin were tweaks to an existing formula (the Google algorithm) that targeted specific practices. Panda changed how Google evaluated content and Penguin changed how Google evaluated links. Hummingbird is simply a new algorithm altogether.

A popular analogy that’s been used is that of a car engine. Panda and Penguin were analogous to changing the oil and replacing an air filter, while Hummingbird is like using an entirely new engine. Google has not re-invented the concept of how the engine runs, but it’s now using fresh components. Google considers the Panda and Penguin update to be very successful, so it’s likely those “parts” were plugged into the new engine.


When did it start?

Hummingbird launched in August of 2013, but was not publicly announced by Google until September. It is worth noting that the major SEO news outlets did not report seeing major changes in August, a month prior to Google going public with the update. This suggests the changes imposed by Hummingbird were not large enough to be noticed (at least, not by most).


Why is Google launching a brand new algorithm?

15% of the searches Google sees every day have never been seen by Google before. With over 1 billion searches done daily, that means 150 million brand new searches are done by users each day on Google.

One of the main objectives of Hummingbird is to increase accuracy on these long-tail queries, or searches containing several words. Google does this by trying to understand the meaning behind what the user is searching, i.e. semantic search. The idea is that Hummingbird can now process these millions of unique searches in faster, more effective ways.


Does this kill SEO?

As long as people use search engines to find things, understanding how to rank in them will be important. So no, this is not killing SEO. The methods for getting ranked will evolve over time (as they always have), but for now the principle remains the same: create high quality, unique content.


Is this going to kill my Google traffic?

If you haven’t noticed major changes in your organic search traffic, that’s certainly a good sign. The loss of keyword data makes this harder to analyze, but if the rankings you track haven’t fluctuated significantly and your total organic traffic volume is unchanged from pre-August levels, you’re likely in good shape.


Is it making Google better in the big picture?

Yes. Well, that’s the hope, at least. Google has big hopes and dreams for what search can ultimately become, and this is another step towards reaching that vision.

It’s very likely the experience of using Google in 10 years will be very different from what it is today. From never having to manually type your search to having Google understand what you’re asking without asking it directly. Hummingbird is considered the new engine that can transport us into that future.

Topics Search engines, Google

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