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Google Announces “Hummingbird” Algorithm

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Google celebrated its 15th anniversary with a press event last week, where they officially announced their latest algorithm: Hummingbird. According to Google’s executives, the change was made to handle users’ increasingly complex queries and searches conducted through voice search on mobile devices. The new algorithm update was quietly implemented about a month ago.

Google vice president Amit Singhal discussing the Hummingbird algorithm

Google vice president Amit Singhal discussing the Hummingbird algorithm
(Image from Stephen Lam/Reuters)

An Improved Focus on Context

Instead of focusing on exact match keywords, Hummingbird takes the context of the entire search query into account before displaying results. By doing this, the search engine can pull up more relevant results.

Google cited their “Conversational Search” as an example of a search activity that Hummingbird improves. For search queries like “What is the closest French restaurant to my home?”, Google used to displayed results that include the words “French”, “restaurant”, “my,” and “home” from different locations. With the implementation of Hummingbird, Google is more likely to understand the location of your home (if you shared that information with Google), and that you’re looking for a French restaurant you can actually visit.

Google also mentioned some specific examples of how Hummingbird improved the quality of search results, like how searching for “acid reflux prescription” now pulls up pages with general information about treatment instead of a list of drugs. Another example they gave was how searching for “pizza hut calories per slice” would display links to specific pages on the Pizza Hut website.

Improved search results for “pizza hut calories per slice”
The search results also display websites with “nutritional information” about Pizza Hut’s products, which makes a lot of sense in terms of relevance and context.

Not a Mere “Update”

Penguin and Panda were updates that replaced or modified parts of Google’s existing algorithm. Hummingbird is an entirely new algorithm built on new parts and old parts that still work for today’s search demands and technology.

Google has not released any technical details on how Hummingbird works, but they have mentioned that it is the biggest system update they’ve made since the “Caffeine” update in 2009, and the largest algorithm overhaul made since 2001.

Hummingbird’s Effect on SEO

Google says SEOs and online publishers don’t need to worry about in terms of post-Hummingbird traffic and rankings as long as they keep producing relevant, unique, and high-quality content. There have been no major complaints from publishers about rankings since the update was quietly applied a month ago, which supports Google’s claims. The changes caused by Hummingbird will come in the form of more precise search results for Google users.

If you did lose traffic in the past month, Google says it could be because of other parts of the algorithm that are constantly being tweaked or improved, and not Hummingbird itself.

We’ve always emphasized the importance of high quality content and optimizing for long-tail and complex search queries in our SEO campaigns. Talk to us for search engine optimization consulting and other SEO services to keep your website performing well throughout algorithm changes and overhauls.

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