SEO, Google Hummingbird and Conversational Search Algorithm

Vintage Illustration of hummingbirds

Google launched a new algorithm named Hummingbird and it promises to be "precise and fast.” Google Hummingbird is the first change to Google’s core algorithm since it released “Caffeine” in 2010. Hummingbird currently affects 90 percent of Google searches worldwide according to Amit Singhal, senior VP at Google.

So what exactly is Google Hummingbird and how does it work? Let’s answer a few questions and take a look at some of the key changes and improvements to Google’s search capabilities.

Does Hummingbird mean that the “PageRank" algorithm is dead?

In a word no. Page rank is an essential component of Google in general, and it is only one of over 200 major components that make up hummingbird. Hummingbird will still look at page rank (how important links to a page a deemed to be) along with other factors including whether Google believes that the page is relevant, is of good quality, the words used on the page and many other factors. 

Google’s Caffeine overhaul in 2010 focused on speed and integrating social networks into the search algorithm, what are the main changes with Google Hummingbird?

While Panda, Penguin, Caffeine and other updates were just tweaked to the old algorithm; Google Hummingbird is an entirely new animal. (no pun intended) If you think of Google’s search algorithm like a car engine, Penguin and Panda were like changing the oil filter and the fuel pump. Caffeine was a complete overhaul and tune-up of the old "engine". Hummingbird is like a complete engine replacement. While it still uses some of the old parts, Hummingbird is a complete and fundamental improvement to the overall search experience. 

Hummingbird is a vast improvement over the old search model. Google describes the Hummingbird as a “Conversational Search Engine.” For example, let’s say you are doing a search for “the closest place to buy an iPad from my office.” A traditional search engine, or pre-Hummingbird Google, would look at key words in that phrase to determine the outcome, such as “buy” and “iPad”.

Hummingbird focuses on the meaning behind the phrase to intelligently infer and then provide more accurate results. It may understand “place” to be a brick-and-mortar-store. If you have made previous geographic search requests, it will automatically know where your office is located. By inference, Google can go beyond just matching words. Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in the query; the entire sentence is examined to provide results that are more contextually meaningful.

What other Algorithm features have changed?

Hummingbird is almost a reinvention of traditional search. Google did a lot of analysis into how people use their engine to perform the search. The contextual search algorithm was only one improvement, although a big one, that was included. Additional features that have been added to Google Hummingbird includes autocomplete, synonym recognition, voice recognition, precaching, universal search and contextual recognition. These features teamed with Hummingbird’s faster speed and improved accuracy make searching easier than ever before.

Google’s advanced voice queries allow your computer or tablet to answer you back. Users can ask Google to compare two items, generate a list of songs from a particular artist, or pull statistics about the French economy for example. The search query will answer you back and then remember the context.

Does this change mean SEO is dead?

No, Google has stated that there is nothing new or different regarding SEO for publishers to be concerned about. The rule still applies; have interesting, unique content. Markers that have been important in the past still apply. Google Hummingbird just allows them to process SEO more quickly and hopefully in better ways.

Will I lose traffic because of the Hummingbird Algorithm?

Hummingbird quietly went live a month ago and was just announced. If you haven’t lost traffic in the past month, you’ve made it through the shift unscathed. If you were going to be affected by the switch over, you would have noticed by now. For the most part, there’s been no public outcry from publishers about lost rankings. Google has said that this is a query-by-query effect and may improve some searches, especially complex ones.

Could Google's switch to Hummingbird have a negative effect on my Website Rank?

Probably not. Again, the switch happened about a month ago and there has not been any increase in consumer complaints with Google. People complain when they have problems and don’t notice when things get better.

Google’s largest overhaul of its algorithm since 2010 was done quietly and appears to have been an enormous success. Their primary focus, shifting to a contextual, conversation search from a word-by-word approach, is a significant change. How it will affect results moving forward is still open, but the overhaul was put in place silently, weeks ago, right under our noses, and there have been no major complaints reported regarding search engine placements, and rankings so if you haven’t been affected, you most likely won’t notice and changes.

Google Hummingbird has quietly improved search. By parsing full questions, and identifying and ranking the answers from the content they’ve indexed, Google has made search more precise and relevant. Combined with the speed and efficiency of their new Hummingbird update, Google has effectively moved search further into the new realm of semantic search where search engines are becoming cognizant of the meanings behind the words. Search has just become more intelligent, and no one even told us about it, until now!