What was the Google Hummingbird Update in 2013?

It has been about seven years Google released the Hummingbird Algorithm update. However, the discussion on how important it was/is to the SEO landscape is still very much hot. If you are new to SEO, chances are you are not really aware of this development and its impacts. And if you are not, consider this as a much-needed ‘refresher course’ to make us understand the impacts of the Google Hummingbird Algorithm Update on the SEO game.

What is Google Hummingbird Update?

Announced on the 26th of September, 2013, the Google Hummingbird Update is a detailed update for Google’s search algorithm. “Hummingbird” is the codename of the Update, and it represents a new generation of Google’s search algorithm. As at then, Google was handling up to 90% of the total search engine requests around the globe. Hence, advancing its algorithm was more of a need than a necessity. The Hummingbird Update came after the Caffeine, Panda, and Penguin updates – in that order. All of these are significant updates to the ranking algorithm of Google – an integral aspect of the search algorithm. The announcement was made public, but only a few watchful users actually knew when the updates were pushed. According to most reports, the updates were already in place a few months before the announcement.

The background to the release.

The Google Hummingbird Algorithm Update came on the mark of Google’s 15th birthday. Before the Update, what used to be the latest algorithm system is Google’s “Caffeine” Update, which came three years earlier. To be fair on the Caffeine Update, it held its own. However, the introduction of the Hummingbird is the most disruptive change to the inner workings of Google as a search engine. With the arrival of the Google Hummingbird, Google’s indexing of sites became faster and more efficient – the same with the rendition of search results. According to Google, the Hummingbird update was designed to leverage Google’s Knowledge Graph. In simpler words, the graph is a carefully-compiled of about 570m concepts and relationships. Google relies on its Knowledge Graph to predict figures and facts about the search terms thrown at it.

What necessitated the Update?

As we have hinted above, Google relies almost entirely on data. This is why it strives hard to acquire and understand data. Data here is not the regular information about users or their preferences. Instead, it is all about the online behaviour of users. The key data collection tool of Google is the Google Knowledge Graph, which has continued to improve and expand over the years. Google wanted to know (and analyse) how users do things, as well as their anticipated outcomes. It needed something more advanced than the Semantic Search to make the search experience even better. Artificial intelligence was just the perfect solution. Google started using AI to predict and understand the intent of users and what their queries really mean. So, instead of focusing only on the keywords, marketing strategies can now factor in other important (but often overlooked) query data that can significantly improve online marketing results.

What changed with the Hummingbird Update?

Part of the reasons most people never noticed the Hummingbird Update was because it was not a total overhaul to the previous Caffeine update. Considering this, it is understandable why only a few people got to know of its arrival. Based on the assertions of Google, the Hummingbird update is a new engine that thrives on new as well as old parts. The design is such that it effortlessly meets the current demands, thanks to its modern technologies. Therefore, the Google Hummingbird Algorithm Update of 2013 is the perfect technology for the advanced search forms, for instance, voice and conversational search. Before 2013, Google users have had to put up with word queries only – a task the Caffeine update handled quite impressively. But with the advent of voice search, Google needed a more improved technology – and that is just what the Hummingbird brought to the table. Google wanted to improve its page matching. According to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, “the goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” So, the priority in the Hummingbird update is “each word in a query,” which “ensures that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words.”

What is the link between Hummingbird and previous updates?

Several questions trailed the release and announcement of the Hummingbird update by Google. One of these was if the release will render other Google updates useless. Well, the answer was revealed in due time, and it was negative. The nature and style of the development of the Hummingbird Update suggest that it is a new search algorithm to singlehandedly power the entire Google Search. However, it still contains the elements found in Panda and Penguin Updates. For instance, the ranking algorithm filters in Panda and Penguin updates were retained in the Hummingbird. Likewise, the Page Layout Algorithm Update and the EMD-Update were integrated into the Hummingbird right from scratch.

What was the impact of the Hummingbird Update on SEOs?

The Hummingbird Update does more than improving the overall search experience of users. As mentioned earlier, Google was keen to create a database of relationships – knowing more about places, things, and of course, people. They are also interested in creating a vital link between these elements. All these are manifested in the Goole Knowledge Graph. That said, it is important to note that the Hummingbird has shown real long-term effects on SEO. The increased focus on search experience has led to a corresponding increase in the accuracy of the search. The emphasis is now on the advanced semantics analysis of every query. What this means is that searchers are presented with more relevant results. How does Google do this? It simply matches the meaning of the query to pages which corresponds to that meaning. Unlike the Penguin and Panda updates, the Hummingbird update did not come with obvious impacts on traffic. The former updates came with a significant drop in traffic, as a result of over optimisation. However, since the current SEO landscape is now more isolated and less linked to inbound marketing, the Hummingbird update will push the adoption of a functional and organic approach to SEO. This means that SEO can fuse seamlessly into social media, online PR, and other aspects of marketing as a separate entity while influencing the overall success of an online business.

How did SEO experts respond to the Hummingbird Update?

Google has done well by trying to make the SEO landscape better and more productive with the Hummingbird update. However, that is only a one-sided effort. A balance would only be achieved if the other side – SEO experts – put in the work to maximise these improvements to get the best results possible for their clients. Well, the experts did not disappoint. To get the best out of the Update and take full advantage of the new, advanced technologies, SEO experts improved on important aspects. We have highlighted these aspects below:

The Keyword Perspective

Before the Hummingbird Update, SEO experts only focus on certain keywords. This changed after the Update. SEO experts started focusing on the group of keywords used. On-page optimisation infused more LDA keywords, as well as internal linking to references. Descriptive anchor texts were also introduced to finetune the links between the keywords and the content of the page being optimised.

Local Search Optimisation

With more search queries coming from mobile devices and local users, it is only normal to prioritise local search optimisation. SEO experts understood this and leveraged on the Hummingbird update and its advancements to finetune SEO localised organic results, and help brands and businesses get into the faces of the right audience, i.e., the local audience.

Google’s Conversational Search

As mentioned earlier, the Hummingbird Update of 2013 champions the conversational search feature of Google. SEO experts, as expected, leveraged on Google’s capability to understand queries rendered in a human-like or more natural way to get more streamlined results for their clients.

Social Signals Integration

Yes, the Hummingbird Update also allowed the integration of social signals into the page of a website being optimised. And SEO experts took full advantage of this to include Google+ buttons for sharing, reviews, and feedback from customers and clients.

Local Social Signals

The Update also empowers SEO experts to pick up the citations and mentions of their clients’ businesses or brands on outer spaces like Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. It helps to know that people are talking about your brand, and more importantly, know what is being said and who is saying it. The information comes handy, especially when it comes to targeting the right audience. Although it took SEO experts a while to completely figure out the Hummingbird update, it is great to see that Google was quite patient and understanding. Unlike other updates where Google penalised websites for not ‘adjusting’ to the changes in the algorithm, drop in rankings due to non-compliance was not penalised. This gave SEO and digital marketing experts ample time to align their digital marketing strategies to the algorithm changes that came with the Hummingbird Update

How about we check some experts’ views on the Google Hummingbird Update 2013?

All we have discussed so far is more of a layman approach and less technical approach to the topic. To do justice to the technical subject, we will be taking a look at some of the experts’ views on the Google Hummingbird Update of 2013. The first thoughts of Ben Tullett, the Head of SEO at Croud.com, about the Hummingbird Update highlighted its silent introduction and how it affects SEO efforts of brands.

“My first thoughts are that, given that nobody’s noticed it, is that it’s true effects will occur over the long term and it’s been more focused on increasing the accuracy of search based on more semantic analysis of each search. This will increase the relevance of the results by matching the meaning of the query to pages which match that meaning. The overall impact on commercially focused search results appear to be minimal and unlike Panda or Penguin updates, there have been no significant drops in traffic due to (real or perceived) over optimisation.

Gerry Brown also had something to say about the Last Hummingbird Update. According to him,

“the Hummingbird will reflect the full semantic meaning of longer search phrases, and should in theory produce more accurate results. For example, Hummingbird will more greatly consider question words like “how” “why”, “where” and “when” in search phrases, in addition to content keywords. Hence Hummingbird moves the emphasis of search from “results” to “answers”. Google also has acknowledged that the number of mobile and voice-based searches is increasing. Such voice searches are in natural language, and may not, therefore, contain the keywords we might finesse on a computer keyboard. These ‘on the fly’ searches are likely to return poor results using a keyword search system.”

Final Thoughts

The Hummingbird’s infrastructure relied on the knowledge graph to thrive. Google wanted to contextually understand what a user is really talking about when they initiate a search. That said, you will agree that it was a giant step in the right direction for Google. Apart from improving the search experience of users, it helps brands and companies to get to the faces of the relevant audience. The Update also highlighted Google’s resolve to remove spam and phase out misleading information by brands and companies just to score cheap SEO points. Although the architecture of the knowledge graph led to the gradual effects of the updates, it pushed brands to refresh their SEO strategies to stay relevant in the ever-competitive business landscape. Do you still have questions or seek clarifications about the Google Hummingbird Algorithm Update of 2013? Go ahead and ask in the comments below. Our experts will be on the lookout to provide helpful answers.

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