What Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update means for website owners, designers, developers and content generators

Skynet Google began a series of rolling updates to its algorithm back in August that represent a fundamental change in how it indexes the web. As many people still seem confused about what it actually means for their business or their digital discipline, I thought I would share my main understandings with you.

My recent attendance at a Google seminar helped my various thoughts to coalesce around what the update means for search.

Essentially, there are 6 core initiatives in Hummingbird, each of which I will explore in more detail:

  1. Mobile is the future
  2. Google wants to understand ‘conversational’ search queries and real speech patterns
  3. Things not strings – structured data markup + extended vocabulary now important
  4. Sites must contain in-depth content that ‘stands out’ – people should want to share it
  5. More emphasis on ‘social media signals’ – sharing again
  6. Google+ (you will be assimilated)


1. Mobile is the future

I think we all pretty much knew this anyway.

The Hummingbird update is geared towards making mobile search much more efficient for users.

Sites not optimised for mobile will not feature in mobile search – and will also lose SERPs (search engine ranking positions) in regular desktop search. Therefore, mobile SEO should be approached with just the same urgency as SEO for a main website is currently.

mobile is the future

2. Conversational search queries

As an adjunct to the above, Google have begun to address the difference in mobile browsing behaviour, focusing on conversational searches (which are easier for users to make whilst on the move – maybe while speaking into their phone/phablet).

Search queries like these:

Where do I find someone that can install electronic garage doors?

What year did England last beat Germany in football?

I need an animated gif of Mike from Spaced shrugging and wearing sunglasses


3. Things not strings, entities over keywords

I think this one is very important for developers and designers: core to what Google is doing with Hummingbird is a shift in focus away from keywords and towards intent and semantics.

Sites that assist Google in this mission will be winners (in terms of search results).

Structured data markup is how we can assist Google (and Bing/Yahoo!) – and on certain elements of a website can significantly affect how a site appears in the search results.


4. In-depth content

During the last two years or so, the SEO mantra has been: “content is king”. Whilst this remains broadly true, it is becoming more complex:

“You now need to think about content that truly addresses specific wants and needs. Does your content communicate relevance to a specific want or need?

In addition, you can’t overlook the need to communicate your overall authority in a specific topic area. Do you answer the need better than anyone else?

While much of being seen as an authority involves other signals such as links, and perhaps some weight related to social shares and interaction, it also involves creating in-depth content that does more than scratch the surface of a need.

Are you more in-depth than anyone else? If someone has some very specific scenarios for using your product or service, does your content communicate that you address it? Does your content really stand out in some way?”

- Why Google’s New Hummingbird Algorithm is Good News for Serious Content Creators - by Eric Enge @ Copyblogger

The post-Google Panda approach to content will continue; the main aim of the content is to be information rich and something users would recommend/share.


5. More emphasis on ‘social media signals’

One of Google’s main concerns about its search results is how they can be manipulated artificially – by horrible SEOers like me.

So they’re looking for signals that are difficult to manipulate/spam. Sharing via social media channels is one such signal, and one that has therefore gained more weighting in the Hummingbird algorithm.

Therefore it seems clear that a vital component to SEO will be ensuring that the full complement of social tools and platforms are used and that they pass value back to the brand/company’s main website. Social publishing should be regular and aimed at providing readers the latest information from an authoritative perspective.

Of course, Google+ is a social media channel they can control so…


6. Google+

You want a Youtube account? Then you must have a Google+ account. You want those Google Glasses? You’ll need a Google+ account. Feature your business on Google Maps? G+ etc. Already I’ve seen more people I know who aren’t in marketing joining and creating accounts.

All Google products are being synced to G+.

You. Shall. Be. Assimilated.

Photo: FastCompany/Annapurna

Photo: FastCompany/Annapurna


Written by

TIW's head of search, Jez has been in web marketing and SEO since 1999. His specialties are SEO and PPC, with a dash of market research and analysis

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