Google added yet another animal to their algorithm, this one known as a hummingbird. Google just announced the change yesterday, but apparently the update launched nearly one month ago. Anytime Google announces an algorithm update it means that some websites are going to have to deal with a fluctuation in rankings, and for many this means a small strategy change. The moral of the story: If there is an algorithm update it’s important to know what it is, who it has affected, and how to react.

How the Hummingbird Updates Works

According to Google, the new update is called hummingbird because it is precise and fast. Essentially this “update” isn’t really an update at all. It is replacing the algorithm entirely; not just bits and pieces of the algorithm to improve it like Panda and Penguin. It’s almost as if you have an outdated algorithm and then you switch it completely to something brand new. It’s a brand new engine, but it still continues to use the same way of thinking and the same Panda and Penguin ideas (there will be more Panda and Penguin updates to this algorithm in the future). Search Engine Land got creative and described the update like a car engine:

“Think of a car built in the 1950s. It might have a great engine, but it might also be an engine that lacks things like fuel injection or be unable to use unleaded fuel. When Google switched to Hummingbird, it’s as if it dropped the old engine out of a car and put in a new one.”

It’s definitely hard to get your head around, especially since Google hasn’t had an update like this in years (some experts say 2001 while some say this is a first). Regardless, this change was introduced one month ago and many didn’t even notice.

Different Ways the Hummingbird Update Will Help Users

The update is supposed to cater to the way that people search today, the biggest change being
“Conversational Search.” Today, people type questions into a search engine as if it were a conversation. Something like “What is the best and cheapest Italian restaurant near my house?” might be a sample query. Because of this idea, Google had to change a few ways that the algorithm looks at search queries:

  • Before: In the past, the search engine might have looked for words that match the keywords in the search such as “restaurant” or “cheapest.” As you know, sometimes pages with these two keywords aren’t at all what you were hoping to find.
  • After: With the hummingbird update, Google will understand the meaning behind all of the words as opposed to see only keywords (semantic SEO touches on this idea as well). If you say “near my house” Google might understand your location and make that the priority when it comes time to give you results.

Google had been starting to take this approach in the past; however the hummingbird update takes things a step further and gets the search engine thinking about this for every single query and not just a few.

What the Hummingbird Update Means for Your Business

Once again, because this update was launched one month ago, most businesses know whether or not they were affected (the vast majority were not and didn’t even realize an update had occurred). If you did see a drop in rankings about one month ago, there is a slight chance it was because of Hummingbird, but Google did say it was likely something else. For example, when Hummingbird occurred there were other parts of its algorithm that were changed. It’s not the entire change that affected you, but more likely one small part that you’ve dealt with before—duplicate content, spammy links, etc. It’s tough to know.

In the end, this update does not change the way that you should be optimizing your website. All of the past Google advice still stands, so there is no strategy change necessary.