The New Hummingbird Search Algorithm from Google

Written by Nick Stamoulis

Google announced their new search algorithm at the end of September, although they have reportedly been running the new algorithm for a month or so already. The new algorithm is called “hummingbird” and was so named because it was designed to be “precise and fast.” Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land reported that this is probably the biggest change the algorithm has undergone since 2001

Unlike Panda and Penguin, which were updates to the existing algorithm, Hummingbird is a completely new algorithm. Hummingbird still uses Panda and Penguin, as well as other “old parts” from the previous search algorithm, but it’s an entirely new system. Danny’s metaphor of looking at Google as a car, where Hummingbird is the brand new engine in that car (which will still have a lot of similar components from the old engine) is a great way of thinking about this change. Many of the pieces are still the same but the technology has been updated for a modern search world. From what Danny has reported it looks like Google is trying to get better at really understanding what a searcher means, and is looking beyond just matching words to do that.

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.

Trond Lyngbø told Search Engine Land that Hummingbird is a step in the right direction. “It’s a good thing. Google is trying to find the intent behind the queries, and offer a solution.” I know the phrase “it’s now more important than ever…” gets tossed around a lot but in this care it’s really true—site owners can’t execute their SEO campaign in a vacuum. You can’t just optimize for a solitary keyword and think that’s “good enough.” It’s important that you take the user intent into account every step of the way and create content that reflects how a real person might look for information. It’s imperative that semantics are considered when you go about conducting your keyword research and optimizing your website, as well was when you’re creating content (both on and off site). The New York Times summed it up perfectly, with Hummingbird Google will focus “more on trying to understand the meanings of and relationships among things, as opposed to its original strategy of matching keywords.”

So what does this mean for your SEO? Hummingbird is not a change in how Google searches the Web, but rather in the results that the search giant shows. Google is looking to expand the search results to include information that a searcher might actually mean to be searching for that isn’t explicitly stated in their search query. Google says it believes that users will see more precise results, but that Hummingbird is “unlikely to noticeably affect certain categories of Web businesses.”

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