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The Google Hummingbird Article You Should Have Read

Google's Hummingbird engine update was released on September 27, 2013, and has caused quite a stir in the world of SEO. Ironically released on the "birthday" (15th anniversary) of Google, Hummingbird was a long awaited change to the way that search queries were processed, and SERPs were presented to users. In this post, we will explain what you need to know about the Hummingbird update, and how this will affect your SEO and results for 2014.

1. Hummingbird is NOT an Algorithm Update

Hummingbird is not an algorithm "update", it is an integrated update to Google's search engine at its core. Whereas Panda and Penguin affected up to 15% of search queries after all the updates for them were rolled out, Hummingbird affects more than 90% of all search queries. Let me say that again, Hummingbird affects more than 90% of all search queries done on Google. That's huge, considering that over 5,922,000,000 searches are done on Google EACH DAY. (source link)

What does that mean, and why did they do it? When Hummingbird was introduced, it allowed the Google search engine to do it's job better by providing an improvement in semantic search. The trend for internet users today, is for users to use a process called "conversational search". Conversational search is when a user types in a query that is closely related to they way that we naturally speak, rather than searching based a structured set of keywords and location. With Hummingbird enabled, Google can now provide better answers to long-tailed queries, even if the page or website is not specifically optimized for them.

I Thought Panda and Penguin Were Important Algorithm Updates, How is Hummingbird Different? You would be correct for thinking so. Google's Panda and Penguin were updates to the search engine algorithm, but not a replacement of the whole, as with Hummingbird. Think about Panda and Penguin as parts of a machine, and Hummingbird as the machine itself. You may need to repair parts of the machine to keep it running, but may not need to replace the entire unit. Hummingbird is a whole new machine, but continues to use parts from the old one.

Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land explains Hummingbird in his FAQ: All About the New Google "Hummingbird" Algorithm:

"Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query ñ the whole sentence or conversation or meaning ñ is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words."

2. Keywords Are Still Important to SEO

If you didn't have keywords to determine what you offer, you wouldn't get very far in the world of SEO. Google's algorithm continues the trend of mathematically combining the mix of data that determine the relevancy of a page, that has not changed. What has changed, is the individual factors that matter when determining the aforementioned relevancy. Taking what we know from what Google has mentioned about improving search for users, we can determine that the following factors are still weighted heavily.

Factors That Matter

Structured Data Markup: Google likes being king, and one of the ways it stays that way is presenting data and links in a different way, and further differentiating one type of data from another. Using structured data such as location, review and product markup provides more information to the search engines about what you are specifically trying to tell them. This provides an additional benefit to your click through ratio, by having your information stand out to users. You can see a direct result of this when using Google+ Authorship, which allows your Google profile picture to be displayed next to your site links in the SERP. (Search Engine Result Page)

Mobile Optimization: Hummingbird makes a big change in the way that mobile locations are interpreted. For example, your smartphone has location services available, and is often enabled when you buy it by default. When you do a search in Google with your smartphone, your location is taken into account, whether or not you include location info in your search. Having information on your website that combines location info and good strong content about what you do or offer will be combined into the query that is delivered.

Still don't get it? No problem. Lets take a look at an example for my own personal site. My company offers SEO services in St Louis, (and nationwide, but we will use my local location for the purpose of this example). If you were to type in "SEO Company in St Louis" from a mobile device before hummingbird, you would get a result from websites that target St Louis directly with their content. After Hummingbird took place, you could do the same search from your phone without the location in the search query, and have it return almost the same result. In addition, other locations inside of St Louis could be searched for, such as Clayton, Ladue, or Kirkwood, and the same webpage would pop up. Hummingbird KNOWS these locations are sub communities of St Louis, and displays the result accordingly. (whether or not location info was presented in the search query). Google is using the location data given to it by the phone's location, to determine the best possible search result. This isn't particularly new with Hummingbird, but the way it has been implemented has changed.

Google+ and Social Trust Factors: It's no secret that Google wants it's social platform Google+ to be number one, so much so that it began influencing it's search results based upon your activity in Google+. Using Google+ is essential to helping Google identify your brand, and to connect it with related information and people. This is one of the ways that Hummingbird has improved Google's search results, in that it forces a company to have higher "social trust factors" to rank higher, rather than just ranking the first person that registers a domain based upon a keyword and their location. An example of this would be if you are trying to rank for "Red widgets in Austin", you would just throw up a landing page under the domain "", and instantly rank well. Google now looks at all the items related to the site and brand mentions as a whole, (rather than focusing on exact match relevancy) and determines if showing that domain really helps to answer the question or query the user has typed.

Links Links and More (Quality/Relevant) Links: Google has stated that it does not want SEO's obsessing over PageRank data, but that does not mean that quality and relevant links are not important. Links help Google understand what data and concepts are related on the web. They also have strong meanings to Google about the credibility of your site and business as a whole. Hummingbird did not kill off the importance of good linking, but went a bit further to implement the importance of it, along with social signals.

Keyword and Content Creation: Many SEO's now debate over the importance and usefulness of optimizing around keywords, and the importance of this in the future. Quality content and keyword optimization go hand in hand. The main difference after Hummingbird is: does your content and keyword choice best answer the question asked by your user, rather than "how can I optimize this page to rank for this keyword".

3. Content (Marketing) is King

Google states that you need to have high quality content on your site, and that will in turn help you to gain higher positions in the search results. This hasn't changed with Hummingbird, although the meaning behind it slightly has. Rather than see all your great info in one place, Google wants to see mentions of great content in multiple areas, and see people interacting with it through shares and re-posts. This doesn't mean it wants to see exact duplicates of your information in multiple places, but relevant content that is linked and stringed together where appropriate.

By having users do the hard work for it, the Google algorithm can see what trends with the most amount of users, and project the most popular and relevant result to a query based upon this information.

4. Page, Domain, and Author Authority

Page Authority, Domain Authority, Author Authority, three big things to to look at when optimizing for 2014. These can be applied to Hummingbird when you think of how it helps Google and the user at the same time. When the new engine was introduced, it allowed Google to use a different set of factors to gather the data required to rank a site effectively. Lets go through them one by one.

Page Authority: First of all, what is it? Page authority was introduced by MOZ (formally SEOMOZ). the technical definition is: "Page Authority is Moz's calculated metric for how well a given webpage is likely to rank in's search results."

Directly from MOZ's site: "Page Authority is Moz's calculated metric for how well a given webpage is likely to rank in's search results. It is based off data from the Mozscape web index and includes link counts, MozRank, MozTrust, and dozens of other factors. It uses a machine learning model to predictively find an algorithm that best correlates with rankings across the thousands of search results that we predict against."

Domain Authority: While page authority rates an individual page, domain authority looks at the domain as a whole. What this includes is link metrics, (inbound and outgoing link strength), linking root domains, and so on.

Quote from MOZ's article about domain authority: "Domain Authority represents Moz's best prediction for how a website will perform in search engine rankings. Use Domain Authority when comparing one site to another or tracking the ìstrengthî of your website over time. We calculate this metric by combining all of our other link metricsólinking root domains, number of total links, MozRank, MozTrust, etc.óinto a single score."

Author Authority: Author authority is a bit tricky to understand, but can be explained in a simple way. Google+ wants you to use their platform for sharing information and articles, and will (potentially) reward you for doing so.

Google has officially announced author authority as a way to verify and rank content based on a variety of factors. Here are some of the things that Google will look at when establishing Author Rank:

  • How long your Google+ Account has been established
  • Who you link to, and how often
  • What type of interactions your posts have (how many +1's, how many times your article is shared, etc)
  • Frequency of posts, and shares from your profile
  • Domains and sites you are a contributor to

While these factors might not have a direct immediate affect on your traffic, they will influence it. Even though the first 2 that were mentioned were strictly MOZ products, you can bet that if you have links coming in from high domain authority and page authority sites, you will see the benefits of that. Author Authority is more a case of using the social platform Google+ to it's fullest extent, and getting people to interact with your content. However, don't be fooled into thinking that this only applies to Google's social platform. When your name is mentioned across the web, Google can factor that into your overall Author Authority depending upon when and how often it is found, regardless if it is using the authorship markup. To help you understand this further, MOZ posted a great article last November about Using Social Signals for SEO.

You can test to see if your site is properly using the structured markup testing tool. Please click this link if you need instructions on how to link your Google+ profile to your content.


Additional Links: If you would like to read more on Google's Hummingbird Update from SEO's leading experts, please visit some of the links below. If you found this article helpful, please follow David Kley's Google+ Page for the latest posts and SEO tips. You can also follow the official Web Design and Company Google+ profile here. 

Search Engine Land
SEO Round Table
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