Google Update - Hummingbird

Google Hummingbird is the latest of Google’s algorithm updates – the rules that influence the rankings of websites in the Google search results.

The Hummingbird is the smallest species of bird, but the Google update by the same name is the biggest since 2001. So, you might be wondering what this new and seemingly contradictory update is, and how it will affect your search engine optimisation efforts.

What is the new Google update?

Before you despair and assume that all your ranking efforts have gone down the drain, relax! As with all Google updates, the purpose is to improve the user experience and relevancy of search results.

While Google Penguin and Panda aimed to lower the rankings of sites with low-quality links and content, the new algorithm is designed to bring users the best results for searches by responding to whole queries rather than just a couple of words.

Conversational Searches

First, let’s take a look at what Google is doing differently. As more and more users rely on smartphones for search results, voice searches are becoming more frequent. When queries are spoken rather than typed, they tend to be more conversational, taking the form of whole questions rather than just a few keywords. It’s not just voice search, though – even typed searches on desktop are becoming longer and more conversational.

The Knowledge Graph

Google is eager to set up a two-way conversation with users by fully answering the questions they ask. As part of this, search results may now include the Knowledge Graph, which stores detailed information about hundreds of millions of concepts, and their relationships with each other. This gives searchers instant access to information that answers their query.

For example, when you type in “Mona Lisa”, a Knowledge Graph, as shown below, appears on the right of the search results page, showing you pictures, a Wikipedia description, and technical details. A “people also search for” category at the bottom of the Graph also suggests other pieces by the same artist, and other related artwork, thus giving users access to a whole breadth of information without leaving the search results page:


Google update: Knowledge Graph


Natural Language Processing

Another dimension to Google’s increased focus on conversational search is natural language processing, which answers questions accurately by understanding how words work together to create meaning. Google understands user intent by processing the grammatical structure of a query, the meaning of the words in a collective context, and identifying the main entities involved, among other things, and is incorporating this into its search results through the Hummingbird update.

So, now you know a little about Google Hummingbird, what does the latest Google update mean for you?

What the latest Google update means for your business

As the Hummingbird Google update is so recent, it’s difficult to show how it has affected rankings. The changes imply a number of things, though, and there has been much speculation about what it means for search engine optimisation.

In terms of how you optimise your site, the things that are important for ranking well are largely the same as they were before this latest Google update. You should still spend time creating content that is valuable to users, as well as gaining links from sites that focus on similar topics.

To help you get the best from Hummingbird, here are some tips for how to approach website optimisation.

Top tips for responding to Hummingbird

1. Focus on quality content

Google has long stressed the significance of quality content that gives visitors useful information. This remains paramount. Google might be putting more emphasis on topical relevance signalled by synonyms and related concepts within your content and site as a whole.

You will find that search results are related to entities, not just keywords, as might be suggested by Google showing us fewer keywords in its website analysis tool Google Analytics. Having prominent keywords in your optimisation strategy is important, but it’s increasingly important to show broad relevance and to understand the meaning of your content within your website and the wider context of your business. If the content you produce doesn’t ‘fit’ or doesn’t seem relevant to what you do, it will struggle to rank well.

2. Create relevant links

Google values links to your site from sites that are topically relevant to yours. Ensuring your backlink profile is topically relevant (i.e. that sites relevant to your link to you) will help Google to understand what your pages are about and therefore their relevancy to searchers. As Hummingbird takes effect, you can expect to see even more emphasis on the relevancy of links as Google strives to better understand the context in which your business sits.

3. Tell Google what you mean

Google has long been moving away from displaying search results simply because they contain a literal match for words being searched for, and the Hummingbird update is no exception. It wants to make sure that the results fit the meaning intended by the searcher.

As search engines cannot understand meaning in the same way as human readers, you can tell Google what you mean by using semantic mark-up in your content. This helps them decide what you’re talking about when you use terms that could apply to vastly different concepts. It is not as complicated as it sounds, and involves adding some simple information into your HTML tags. If you’re not much of an HTML buff, have your web developer take a look at

4. Offer more than simple facts

One fear is that the Knowledge Graph will take away the necessity of leaving for certain information. Going back to the Mona Lisa search, for example, someone looking for basic information about the painting would not need to visit a website to get the information they need, as it is all presented in one place by Google. So, websites that specialise in providing popular facts might lose out on visitors.

To avoid becoming redundant, you should focus on providing more detailed information, as well as plain facts. Historical accounts, stories and opinion pieces are all examples of things that people will not be able to find just by glancing at Google.

Google Hummingbird is the next stage of Google personalising results for users, without penalising website owners. If you provide detailed, useful content that focuses on long tail key phrases, you are likely to appear for people’s search queries.

If you would like help responding to the implications of Google Hummingbird or any other update on your website, contact us, and we’ll be glad to assist.

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