Google Hummingbird: Small But Deadly

While most of us were waiting with baited breath for Google to announce another animal-beginning-with-the-letter-p algorithm update, the search engine giants ruined our Sesame Street sense of fun with their latest update: Hummingbird. Let’s find out how the world’s smallest bird factors into Google’s latest algo change, and what this means for the seo industry moving into 2014.

Quick Facts

Google Update: Hummingbird
Launch Date: September 2013
Key Point: This is the first time since 2001 that Google has rolled out a completely new algorithm.
Summary: Aims to provide more conversational search results that convey the entire meaning of a page, rather than specific words.
What this really means: Google added a bunch of semantic, colloquial and conversational terms to its dictionary.

Semantic Searches


As we have known for many years, Google has taken semantic variations (also known as synonyms) of search terms into account when providing results. For example, a search for “cheap televisions” may yield similar results for “cheap tvs”. Hummingbird makes this function more powerful than ever.

Thanks to mobile devices, more vocal searches are occurring every day, meaning that more conversational terms are being entered into search engine. Instead of searching for “cheap televisions”, I might ask “where can I buy a cheap television”, or for “televisions I can afford”.

Providing Answers

Google Hummingbird puts pressure on site curators to not just provide rich, informative content. They need to provide ANSWERS. Answers, that is, to the questions that search engine users pose. This reminds us of the glory days of Ask Jeeves – the polite net butler who would scurry off and bring your results back to you on a silver platter.

If we’re to provide answers to our audience, how do we know the questions? This is where research comes in handy. Site owners must know their niche, research trends and find out what people want to know. The popularity of Wikipedia tells us that people seek knowledge. If we want to reach them, we have to become, here’s a key word, authorities on our subject.

What Hummingbird Means for SEO 2014


When creating web content, Hummingbird makes it essential to use LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). LSI is a complicated term for the analysis of written documents that identifies patterns of word placement. For example, the words “for” and “example” occur next to each other frequently, therefore establishing a trend. This is a very simplified version of the analysis at work; in addition to identifying word placement, the theme and style of a body of writing can be determined using LSI. How do we use this data to write search engine optimised content? We need to use plenty of synonyms and terms related to the main keyword. For example (there it is again), if we write about Tiger Woods, we must include words like golf, America, tournament, and champion. If we write about cars, we can talk about engines, motors, BMWs and safety. Writing in the first person (“I’m going to tell you a bit about icecream…”) is also set to be a big winner, and ties in nicely with Google’s heavy-handed emphasis on social searches and social network integration (read: making everyone use Google Plus).


TIP: Include FAQ sections wherever possible to snatch up conversational keyword searches.


Carrying on the conversation between website and user must extend beyond the site itself and onto social networks. Google Plus, of course, is the network of choice for obvious reasons, but the power of Twitter and Facebook is still a forceful ranking factor. Google Hummingbird also makes it clear that hosting your own forum, answer base or even active blog comments area will lend weight to your ranking campaign.

In Summary

Hummingbird is new but not shocking, and currently the impact on rankings has been negligible. Take a look at our experiment Google Hummingbird In Action for more information.