How soon will Google Hummingbird spread its wings? It may be happening right now

What is Google Hummingbird?

The "Hummingbird" update, Google's latest makeover of their core search algorithm unveiled on September 26, 2013. It improves how Google matches search queries (especially longer, conversational ones) to the docs in its index.

Hummingbirds have no sense of smell, but have very keen eyesight ~ from About.com

For many months by now, Google’s new search algorithm known as “Hummingbird” has been maturing and fortifying its positions in the Google search infrastructure.

Having had an awkward infancy (many people observed irrelevant search results when Hummingbird was first launched), the Hummingbird algorithm is now an integral part of Google search, its impact palpable in an increasing number of instances.

If previously one could spend the entire day looking for a fresh trace of Hummingbird in the SERPs, then nowadays evidence is quite easy to come by.

In this post, I’d like to analyze some recent examples of the Hummingbird algorithm in action (that I personally encountered in search), and give my opinion on what this could mean for SEOs.

But before we proceed, perhaps it’s worth mentioning that there’s just been…

Another Hummingbird-related patent spotted by Bill Slawski

Just recently, Bill Slawski spotted another newly granted Google patent that has to do with contextual search (and context is what Hummingbird is all about). Like many other Google patents, this one had been filed years ago, but granted only in 2014.

The discovery of this patent is akin to finding the bones of a pre-historic mammal, as it lets one peep into the past to see which moves by Google preceded the Hummingbird update.   

In his piece describing the patent (“Evolving Google Search Algorithms”), Slawski dwells on how Google has over the years contemplated different, even contradictory approaches to incorporating search successions into its algorithm.

Even though neither the post, nor the patent give a clear answer to how exactly Google uses search successions to adjust one’s search results, they shed light on how Google groups related queries together (even though these may be separated by unrelated ones) and what identifiers it uses to spot similarities.

Nothing huge it may seem, but this could be another proof Google is determined to draw parallels between a search for say “Flights to Tokyo” and “how can I book a flight to Tokyo”, or related/synonymous searches of other types.

Google Hummingbird examples in search

As of late, the following phenomena have been spotted in the SERPs (obviously related to the Hummingbird Update).

Synonymous search terms highlighted

As some people noticed, the Hummingbird coincided in time with safe search hitting almost 100%. That is, the kind of insight a keyword ranking used to provide one with is no longer there.

That is, one may never know that their website which is optimized for “noumenon” shows up for “thing in itself” (the 2 concepts being considered synonymous by some), unless they happen to perform the actual search for “thing in itself”:

Co-occurring search terms highlighted

Another thing Hummingbird is believed to be paying attention to is which keywords tend to co-occur in certain contexts (are often used together in a sentence, on a page, on a site, etc.)

For example, a colleague of mine was looking for a particular article about (so she believed) 77 tips on speeding up one’s site. She typed in “77 how to speed up a site” – a pretty clumsy search term of course, but she wasn’t sure if it was tips, ways, methods, or something else.

Surprisingly, CDN77’s site got ranked top (!) for the search term.

Obviously, Google has taken note of the fact that website speed and content delivery network (CDN) are often used together or in the same context. Or perhaps it took the liberty of filling in the gap before “­_77” with “CDN77” in that context.

Suggestions based on one’s context

If you search for material related to the Egyptian pyramids and then type in “how tall are…”, you will likely be suggested “how tall are the pyramids” as part of Google autocomplete.

That’s because Google may suggest you search terms based on your previous searches. I’ve observed the same for geographic locations. For example, here is what happens if you search for “flights to hawaii” form New York City – you get suggested NYC’s JFK airport.

More immediate answer instances

Of course Google Hummingbird doesn’t equal the Knowledge Graph, but the new search algorithm seems to be very keen on providing immediate answers to one’s questions (where relevant). The assortment of immediate answer types has been getting bigger, too.

One now gets immediate definitions:

Transit information:

Object comparisons:

Well, sometimes Google is simply trying to do its best:

As you can see, Google did get my question and even highlighted the answer – “The Louvre” – but failes to formulate it in a clear sentence.

Here is another answer to a similar question (please, note how the location is specified in more detail, but again – the snippet is from About.com and mentions the story of Mona Lisa’s notorious theft):

What this means for SEOs

With all these things gradually transpiring in search results after Google Hummingbird, where do we SEOs stand?

1. The keyword is dead

It’s dead in a sense that one should not attempt to nail it by trying to rank for an exact-match keyword phrase. While you may think that your page optimized for keyword X should rank for it, Google may think otherwise.

2. The long-tail is dead

In his article “How Google May Rewrite Your Search Terms”, Bill Slawski talks about the way Google may rewrite long, conversation-type queries so that they make actual sense.

If you think about it, this doesn’t contradict Google’s statement that Hummingbird pays attention to each word in a query while trying to decipher the meaning behind the whole thing.

However, it doesn’t mean that Google just leaves a long-tail query as it is, and returns one the documents that contain the exact query.

3. Look into a wider assortment of search terms

Actually, the best way to get it right is to use the words you’d use naturally while creating content for your site. There is hardly a way to fake it here – just try to use relevant industry terminology as often as possible.

4. Strive for co-citations

Because Google often ties terms (and brand names) that are frequently mentioned side by side together, it’s always a good thing when your brand is mentioned in certain keyword contexts (helps you build you brand) or alongside other reputable brands in your niche.

5. Above all, be relevant

As applied to content creation, this means keeping your site’s semantic whole intact. That is, avoid confusing article titles such as “Mastering Your SEO Zen” or using irrelevant image alt tags that say something like “arrow hitting the bull’s eye” when you mean to say “target audience”.

Final words

All in all, the Hummingbird search algorithm is already here and is here to stay. It will likely only get better at looking far beyond keywords and keyword phrases and instead match the actual meaning of one’s query with the actual meaning of the publisher’s site.

So, the time to make perfect sense is now. And how one can do it will be the topic for a future post (stay tuned!)

Image credit: Steve’s Web Hosting/Flickr

Alexandra Shkalikova heads WebMeUp’s marketing, PR and support teams which she calls Customer Happiness Team altogether. She started SEO and Internet Marketing back in 2007 and spends every day experimenting, learning and mentoring ever since. When not working to benefit the SEO community, Alexandra is a cooking freak, piano amateur and a snowboarder.