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Hummingbird: Google’s New Search Algorithm

Have you heard of Hummingbird? Chances are, you probably haven’t—but if you’re a marketer or SEO professional, it can be very important to you.

Hummingbird is Google’s new search algorithm, which determines what results appear (and in which order) when someone does a search on Google. Hummingbird went live about a month ago, so if you’ve noticed a sudden drop in traffic over the past few weeks, it’s possible that it was due in part to Hummingbird (although Google is constantly making a host of tweaks and updates to its various systems, so it could be due to a combination of factors).

Google says that Hummingbird hasn’t changed the most important thing that affects your rankings: good, high-quality content.

Search Engine Land explains the basics about Hummingbird in FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm. Here are a few quick answers to some common questions:

What’s a “search algorithm?”

That’s a technical term for what you can think of as a recipe that Google uses to sort through the billions of web pages and other information it has, in order to return what it believes are the best answers.

What’s “Hummingbird?”

It’s the name of the new search algorithm that Google is using, one that Google says should return better results.

What about all these Penguin, Panda and other “updates” — haven’t those been changes to the algorithm?

Panda, Penguin and other updates were changes to parts of the old algorithm, but not an entire replacement of the whole. Think of it again like an engine. Those things were as if the engine received a new oil filter or had an improved pump put in. Hummingbird is a brand new engine, though it continues to use some of the same parts of the old, like Penguin and Panda

The new engine is using old parts?

Yes. And no. Some of the parts are perfectly good, so there was no reason to toss them out. Other parts are constantly being replaced. In general, Hummingbird — Google says — is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of ten years ago, with the technologies back then.

What type of “new” search activity does Hummingbird help?

“Conversational search” is one of the biggest examples Google gave. People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation.

“What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?” A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says “buy” and “iPhone 5s,” for example.

Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

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. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

Again, Google stresses that the most important thing you can do to improve your search rankings is make sure your site has high-quality content. If you lack the resources or expertise to develop strong content in-house, we can help. Learn more about the copywriting and content development services we offer at KEO Marketing,


With more than 25 years of hands on marketing strategy and operations experience, Sheila Kloefkorn is dedicated to developing marketing strategies and plans that help clients succeed. Some of the world's largest brands have depended on Sheila for marketing programs that delivered tangible and substantial results. Specialties: B2B marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales strategy, marketing strategy, competitive marketing strategy, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), mobile marketing, email marketing, website design, marketing plans.