Google Hummingbird – 7 Myths and What It Means for SEO


At the end of September 2013, Google announced a major change in the way the process content. Nicknamed Hummingbird, this change has once again set the world of SEOs abuzz. Tips and advice as to how you can survive this change started cropping up on the net and not a few misconceptions are already leading people towards the wrong direction. This article hopes to make things right by setting the expectations. We start out, of course, by debunking some of the more popular myths currently circulating about Google’s Hummingbird.

Myth #1: The Hummingbird is a New Algorithm

To determine whether the Hummingbird is indeed a new algorithm or not, we must first define what an algorithm really is. According to, an algorithm is “a formula or set of steps for solving a particular problem.” A Wikipedia article says that in the world of computers and mathematics, an algorithm “is a step-by-step procedure for calculations.”

Based on the above definitions, therefore, an algorithm is used by a search engine to solve the problem of locating relevant content for users. Google announced that the Hummingbird update uses semantic connections to gain a better understanding of what users are searching for and thereby deliver results that are closer than ever to users’ intent. In the most basic sense, yes, Hummingbird is an algorithm.

So why are we saying that the claim of Hummingbird being a new algorithm is a myth? Well, when you consider the context within which SEO practitioners discuss search, you will realize that Hummingbird is really more of an engine operating off of Google’s existing algorithms rather than an algorithm in itself. Simply put, when you conduct a search, Hummingbird is the engine that brings you results based on Google’s algorithms.

Myth #2: The Hummingbird Can Cause an Improvement or Decline in Search Rankings

Google may not have discussed the specifics of the Hummingbird, but one of the things they did say was that it affects about 90% of online searches. This has led many online marketers to believe that they need to make quick adjustments to their website so as to prevent their SERP rankings from suffering. Take note, though, that Google only announced the implementation of their latest update more than a month after it was actually launched. If your rankings had been affected by this update, you certainly should have noticed by now.

One more thing you need to bear in mind is this direct quote from Google, “Hummingbird is focused more on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests…” Let me emphasize again that the focus in on “ranking information” and the basis is an “understanding of search requests.” Furthermore, the announcement from Google is that the update affects about 90% of queries, not search results. The update is aimed at better processing of queries, rather than at targeting and penalizing sites that don’t meet their requirements (as previous updates like the Panda and Penguin were designed to do).

Myth #3: The Hummingbird is Likely to Cause the Death of Link Building

It isn’t clear how this myth started becoming a reality in the minds of many online marketers. But just as with any of Google’s updates someone’s going to predict the death of link building and SEO itself. While it’s true that link building has become a lot harder in 2013, this development really has nothing to do with the Hummingbird and more to do with the Penguin update. It was, after all, the Penguin update that had the greatest negative impact on link building among all the updates Google has recently implemented.


It was the Penguin update, not the Hummingbird, which caused the greatest negative impact on link building. photo by jronaldlee

It is normal for us to see some sites start getting more traffic as a result of the Hummingbird update, but the reason for this is not related to any link building activity. Rather, it is because this new “engine” is aimed at providing more accurate results based on perceived user intent. It is therefore still important for you to establish a link network that’ll help make your web pages more relevant to searches related to your industry or niche.

Myth #4: The Hummingbird Can Cause an Increase or Decrease in Web Traffic

As mentioned in Myth #2, the Hummingbird update neither targets nor penalizes web pages and domains for any perceived violations. It is meant simply to enhance the search experience based on user intent. Any change in the processing of online queries can therefore be seen only at the query level. Just as it is unlikely for the Hummingbird to affect search rankings, therefore, it is also highly unlikely for the update to affect web traffic in any significant way.

There may have been websites that experienced an increase or decline in traffic at about the time the Hummingbird was launched, and the update may indeed affect your web traffic over an extended period of time, but that effect will likely have more to do with your ability to provide content that matches the intent behind searches conducted by your target audience than with Hummingbird in and of itself. If you want to increase traffic to your site, you really should worry more about how relevant your content is to the needs of your target market than about any effect the Hummingbird might have.

Myth #5: The Hummingbird Necessitates Long-Tail Optimization

At first glance, it may indeed seem like the Hummingbird makes long-tail optimization necessary. If you take a close look at the patent and read up on the update, however, you will realize long-tail optimization won’t do any more for your site than it is already doing at the moment. The reason for this is that the Hummingbird doesn’t try to understand long-tail queries in themselves. Rather, the update strives to rephrase those queries into short-phrase searches and then deliver results that are as close to user intent as possible.

Let’s say, for example, that you type in this query: “Where can I get the best-tasting pizza in New York?” The Hummingbird will then apply semantics to your query such that it determines the connection between the words “get,” “best,” “pizza,” and “New York.” Pages that are properly optimized for these terms are therefore likely to rank well in the search results. In a roundabout way, therefore, the Hummingbird actually encourages the opposite of long-tail optimization. Rather than focusing too much on creating exact matches for long-tail search in your content, you should focus more on optimizing your pages for the most relevant niche- and industry-related keywords.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can start stuffing each piece of content on your site with as many relevant keywords as you can without sounding too weird. Keyword stuffing is still very much a no-no. Furthermore, the Hummingbird takes into account the relationship between keywords in a single query, rather than each keyword individually.

Myth #6: You Should Worry about the Hummingbird as You Did with the Other Google Updates

Any way you look at it, there’s really no concrete way of optimizing your web pages for the Hummingbird other than to gain a deep understanding of the needs of your target audience and write to address them. As we’ve repeatedly said above, the update affects neither search rankings nor web traffic in any significant way. Spending most of your time trying to find ways of “surviving” this change is therefore simply a waste of your precious time, effort, and resources.

You’ll be better served spending your time gaining a better understanding of your target market’s needs and then creating products and web content that directly address those needs. If you recall, this advice is actually a basic tip given to all Internet marketers. It, in effect, cements the fact that the Hummingbird really changes very little from the point-of-view of SEO, as the changes all occur at the search level and will therefore affect only the experience of the online user.

Myth #7: The Hummingbird has Killed SEO

I know we told you not to worry too much about the Hummingbird because it doesn’t focus on targeting and penalizing websites for perceived violations. It has also been said a number of times that this latest Google update is expected to give users more accurate search results. So perhaps you’re thinking SEO has become an antiquated concept with the emergence of this new Google algorithm. As long as you have relevant content on your site, you’re okay, right? Not necessarily.

Remember that when Google announced the Hummingbird, they said there was nothing new for online marketers to worry about. In the simplest of terms, this means searches will be processed in an entirely new (and hopefully better) way, but you should continue doing what you’re supposed to be doing to optimize your web pages. It’s still important to keep your content fresh, relevant, interesting, and well-written. Additionally, it’s still important for you to link to authority sites and engage your target market on social media.

Now that we’ve debunked some of the most popular myths, perhaps you’d be interested in knowing what this update will actually mean for users and marketers alike. Here are some useful facts about the Hummingbird and other Google updates you’d do well to bear in mind:

A Mobile Future

When Google announced the Hummingbird update, there were a lot of references to mobile search, such as, “pull up you phone and…” This shows that Google has a clear understanding of how important mobile has become. This should tell you, at the very least, to ensure that your web pages are all optimized for mobile search.

Moving further into the realm of mobile, you’ll notice how voice has become increasingly important, especially with Apple bringing Siri into the picture. Google has acknowledged the growing importance of voice search and has, in fact, made speech input the primary interface of Google Glass. You can therefore expect the next Google updates to focus on enhancing the voice search experience.

Natural Language

If voice search is expected to become more popular with the growing popularity of mobile search, then you can also expect online searches to be characterized by the use of more natural language in a search query. Hummingbird is actually a recognition of the fact that searchers pattern have evolved into longer search queries. More natural language will mean the queries will become even longer. Google acknowledges this probability; hence, the Hummingbird. This update, after all, is designed to take in long-tail queries, interpret the intent behind those queries, and deliver the most relevant results.

This update recognizes that people aren’t looking for keywords per se, but for answers to their questions that just might contain certain keywords. This makes it important for you as an online marketer to understand the needs of your target audience so you’ll be better able to predict the intent behind their queries as well. That is the best way for you to succeed in the world of the Hummingbird.

Social is here to stay

You should continue working on building site authority and becoming the subject matter expert because the recent changes implemented by Google point to their growing desire to include results only from the most trusted sites. This makes it even more beneficial for you to use Google+ and Google Authorship to your advantage. There may come a day when Google+ shares might influence a document’s authority, as this has been hinted already.

Optimize for Searchers

Rather than being so concerned about optimizing for Hummingbird, you should be more concerned about how you can optimize your web pages for your target audience. As we’ve repeatedly emphasized on this article, the biggest effect of the Hummingbird is on the results that come up based on the intent behind searches. You need to make sure, therefore, that whenever a user searches for anything related to your niche, you have a relevant answer.

You need to understand what questions your target market could possibly have and make sure your web content provides direct answers to those questions. You need to understand what your target market could possibly need and then make sure your content directly addresses those needs. You need to understand what problems your target market could possibly want to solve and then make sure your website has the solution to those problems.

Since it is now clear that modern SEO requires you to gain a better understanding of your target market, you need to know how you can possibly gain such understanding. Here are some tips:

  1. Acknowledge that your web content has about four or five different types of audience, with each type of audience searching for the answers to different sets of queries.
  2. Analyze what these types of audience are currently getting from their searches and brainstorm how you can improve their search experience.
  3. Structure your site such that a different page will cater to the needs of each type of audience.
  4. Conduct keyword research to determine the common topics being searched by each type of audience.
  5. Gather qualitative data about each type of audience by conducting surveys, talking to your existing customers, and monitoring social media conversations and activities of your target audience. 

As soon as you’ve successfully gained useful insights about your target audience, it’s time for you to make sure your site has every piece of content that could possibly answer their questions and address their needs. This means you have to create content. You also need to make sure your site content is of excellent quality in terms of relevance, freshness, and manner of writing. For one thing, you may want to set aside one page dedicated to highly relevant Q&As or FAQs. You could also post content where you ask some of the questions you believe your target audience is constantly asking in their online queries and then provide detailed answers to those questions.

The time of looking for cheats and using questionable tactics in getting good rankings has long become a thing of the past. If there were ever still doubts in your mind after the Penguin and Panda updates, the Hummingbird has certainly made it clear that the thing to do at this time is to offer real value to your target market. This value should come not only from top-quality products and services, but also from top-quality site content.

Instead of asking how you can rank for a certain query, therefore, you need to start asking what the best way to answer certain questions is.

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Traian is Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+. He is also the author of the Ecommerce SEO book.


7 Responses to “Google Hummingbird – 7 Myths and What It Means for SEO”

  1. Nathan Whitaker said:

    Dec 07, 13 at 4:39 pm

    What a great post on the Hummingbird update. I think this is a great addition to Google’s algorithm as it means there will be an even greater need to focus on creating content that is aimed at really serving your target market, as opposed to creating content simply for the purpose of rankings.

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  2. Shital Bhalani said:

    Dec 12, 13 at 2:30 am

    The problem with SEO is that majority of business owners don’t understand what is it for. They think that if they hire SEO specialist – they will do better in SERP (which is very logical conclusion and expectation). However in order to get the most benefits (especially in online business) the business supposed to be build around SEO. You have to understand what Google wants from you and Google wants high quality search experience for their customers so in order to rank well you need to concentrate on customer’s experience on your site.

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