17 Oct 2013

5 Myths About Google’s Hummingbird

HummingbirdA little under a month ago Google announced a new “engine” (so to speak) for its search engine. Hummingbird sits at Google’s core and incorporates all of the existing algorithms with new query handling technology that should bring results closer to user intent. To explain the new engine in a very basic context, Hummingbird, uses NLP and semantic search to better understand what a user is looking for.

Now of course with any new development in the SEO industry, we see countless speculations and rumors flying around faster than a …..well….hummingbird. ;) So to try and put some of these myths to rest early on, I am going to hit a few below.

Hummingbird Is An Algorithm

An algorithm is simply a set of rules that a computer will follow to solve a specific problem. Search engines use algorithms to solve the problem of finding something. So if we look at Google in a very basic way then yes Hummingbird is an algorithm. But within the context of which most SEOs talk about search, Hummingbird isn’t an algorithm, but rather the “engine” that is run off of existing algorithms. Penguin and Panda are specific algorithms designed with explicit intent. When we use the term “search engine”, Hummingbird, is the “engine”, not a new algorithm.

Hummingbird Kills Link Building

I have no idea how this rumor may have been started. But the fact remains that Hummingbird shouldn’t have any impact on link building. Yes links have become less of a ranking factor over the years, but Penguin had the largest impact on link building than any other change Google has made. Because Hummingbird strives to perfect user intent we may see some sites that typically don’t get traffic start getting more, but this isn’t because the sites or their pages will be ranking higher but rather because Google will be serving the user more accurate sets of results. Therefore, link building will still be needed to drive pages with in existing results.

Hummingbird Forces Long Tail Optimization

I will admit that when I first read about Hummingbird I though, “hmm long tail keywords”. However, now after looking at the patent and reading some really great post, I can now see that optimizing for long tail terms won’t help more than it already does. This is because Hummingbird doesn’t try to do a better job at understanding long tail queries, but rather it tries to rephrase them in a way that brings the best results closest to the user intent. For example lets say that I search for “How can I find the cheapest hot dogs in Albany, NY?” Hummingbird might take that query and do something like this [How can I find the cheapest hot dogs in Albany, NY?] = [cheap] + [hot dogs] + [Albany, NY] Which means that pages that only are optimized for those terms will rank. Therefore in a weird way, Hummingbird takes long tail queries and makes them smaller.

Hummingbird Causes Traffic Surges/Declines

When Hummingbird was first announced I went and looked a handful of client sites to see if we could document traffic changes. I found a few had changes around the time that Hummingbird supposedly launched. But the truth is, Hummingbird should cause changes in traffic the same way other Google changes have. Unlike Panda or Penguin, Hummingbird isn’t applying a quantitative score or value on a page or domain. The main processing takes place at the query level. Therefore it is hard to imagine a case where a site will see traffic surges or drops as a result of Hummingbird. Can Hummingbird be responsible for increasing traffic over an extended time? Sure, but it will require building the right content that matches closely with user intent.

Hummingbird Is Something We Need To Obsess Over

There doesn’t seem to be a real way to optimize for hummingbird other than to have an intimate understanding of your target audience. So spending a lot of time trying to understand how to game this change won’t help you actually get more traffic. Therefore, web master should spend more time on understand the needs of their audience, and then creating content that meets those needs. In the end this is the basis for basic internet marketing. So Hummingbird actually changes very little.

What are you thoughts on Hummingbird? Am I wrong about anything above? Let us know in the comments!


  1. twitter_DonnaFontenot October 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    The only point I’m unsure about is the one on traffic surges / declines. I know of one site that took a huge dive at the time we assume Hummingbird hit. I’m starting to think Panda might have happened at the same time though, so it may be that, but the timing correlates nevertheless. Other than that, definitely agree with the article. Thanks for the thoughts, Joe!

    1. Joe Hall October 18, 2013 at 10:45 AM

      Donna, I saw somethings too around that same time. But what I saw doesn’t really match up with what Hummingbird is supposed to be associated with. If you think about the premise of Hummingbird, it wouldn’t make sense that this would create big changes for traffic in a short amount of time unless a domain is depended on a few head terms that they loose traction for.

      1. twitter_DonnaFontenot October 18, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        Right, Joe. And actually, I’m wondering if maybe that’s it. If the site was dependent on a phrase that now gets reparsed a lot, then that might explain it. Maybe.

      2. ChaseSEO October 23, 2013 at 4:53 PM

        Look, hummingbird was more of an infrastructure change than an algorithm update. THey may have had to ‘rebuild’ a few older processes in the old algorithm but you shouldn’t be seeing ‘hummingbird’ rank changes… yet. The new infrastructure was introduced so that future algorithms can incorporate the knowledge graph and the language understanding of queries will likely be future focuses for updates.

  2. Daniel October 18, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    according to Moz. hummingbird is not an algorithm but rather a change in the structure of Data

  3. Victorino Abrugar October 19, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Great post Joe! Can we call Hummingbird as an algorithm, and Panda and Penguin as algorithm updates?

    1. ChaseSEO October 23, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      No. It’s not an algorithm. It’s an infrastructure update… like Caffeine.

  4. Tom A Denton October 29, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    In my opinion, Humming bird is now forcing us as marketers to do what we should have been doing a long time ago and that is to build relationships with our audiences and to provide them with quality content instead of trying to sell them all the time, which is what I get in my emails.
    You are correct about hummingbird and optimization. With the new hummingbird upgrade google is relying less and less on keywords. You are being asked to write for your audience rather than for the search engines. Which in my opinion is how we should have been going in the first place, remember it’s your audience that puts money in your pocket and not the search engines.

  5. Donna Wallace November 11, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    You have addressed many of the myths that I was questioning myself. Thank you for clearing up the areas that didn’t seem to be making much sense in the SEO world. Great post.

  6. twitter_SpookSEO November 27, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    “Hi Joe,

    I believe that Hummingbird doesn’t have any impact on link building. What I know is Penguin 2.1 has the largest impact on link building than any other change Google has made.”

  7. St Louis SEO December 27, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    I have been following you on SEO chat, and I like the way you approach things. I agree with all your views on Hummingbird, and have had similar thoughts on what it actually is. You are correct in saying that it is an ENGINE rather than an ALGORITHM change, a point that most people miss. I cant stress enough to my clients that you really need to know the intricacies of their goals and business market to help them rank well. Overall, very good post.

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