What Does Google Hummingbird Mean For SEO?

A detailed look at google’s new Hummingbird algorithm and what it means for SEO.


So, the big SEO news today is that google has officially announced an update to their algorithm – google Hummingbird.

To clarify, this is not simply additional filters or penalties (like Panda and Penguin), this is a full blown new algorithm, the biggest change since google Caffeine back in 2010. As Danny Sullivan puts it, it’s like google getting a brand new engine.

But Wait My Traffic Hasn’t Changed?

Have you noticed a change in your traffic from google today?

Well… you wouldn’t!

Although officially announced today, the new algorithm was actually rolled out about a month ago; somewhere between the 21st and 22nd of August.

So, if you are looking to see if Hummingbird affected your rankings, then this is the period to check in your analytics.

We Kind Of Guessed It….

Although, google didn’t come clean until today there was a lot of talk in the SEO community about an update around this time.

I personally saw changes in the organic traffic for a couple of my sites and I’m pleased to report they were positive ones.

One of my affiliate sites for example saw traffic increase from around 200 organic visits a day to about 350 (see below).


Why did my traffic increase? Well, keep reading to find out!

What’s New With Google Hummingbird?

According to google, one of the main aims of Hummingbird is to improve results for ‘conversational style’ searches.

This way of searching has become much more widespread over the past few years and certainly makes sense for them to focus on.

Danny Sullivan puts it well in his article (linked above), so I won’t try and reinvent the wheel here and will quote him to explain what conversational searching means and the improvements you should expect to see in search results.

Conversational search” is one of the biggest examples Google gave. People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation.

“What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?” A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says “buy” and “iPhone 5s,” for example.

Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

It is thought that this will also mean better matching for long tail phrases, which I would say looks accurate based on my increased traffic.


google say they chose the name as, just like the hummingbird, their new algorithm is ‘precise and fast’, so we can also assume that there should be an improvement in speed of results.

Personally, I don’t think this will make much of a difference as google has always been pretty lightning quick really. I’m reminded of a stand of up comedy routine I saw few years back where the comedian describes a sales call from an electricity supplier…

Salesman: ‘Hello Sir, are you interested in changing your energy provider?’
Customer: ‘Why should I change?’
Salesman: ‘Well, we offer a better, faster service!’
Customer: ‘Really? Well, I pretty much turn on my plug and the electricity is there instantly. Can you improve on that?’

Anyway… back to google!

How Will Hummingbird Affect SEO?

So, what does google’s new algorithm mean for SEO and what should you be doing to increase your organic traffic post update?

Well, as far as I am concerned, the singer may have changed, but the song remains the same! Everything that was rewarded before this update will continue to be rewarded and in some cases more so.

We’ve been saying content is king for years, but with the improved matching for long tail phrases and conversational style searching it looks like more than ever, high quality, well written, authoritative content will be rewarded with traffic.

I have long been a proponent of writing for your visitors, not the search engines. I can normally tell when an article has been written with a list of keywords/density in mind, it just doesn’t read well and seems forced.

If however you pick a topic and write naturally, you will find that keywords/phrases will be included organically in the document without you having to think about it. You will also get lots of different long tail combinations, which will be rewarded by google Hummingbird. Great!

The increased traffic on the affiliate site I mentioned above is testament to this.

I haven’t done anything pro-active on the site SEO wise for over a year, so the increased traffic can only be from the update (and the date matches exactly).

What the site has is around 40 high quality articles, written by me on a topic I am knowledgeable about.

The articles are on average around 1,000 words long and, as they are written naturally and not for the search engines, they include loads of different long tail phrases which are now bringing me increased traffic (off topic… I could monitor this until last week when google stopped sending keyword data, but that’s a topic for another day!).

So, if you have been doing things right you have nothing to worry about.

Oh, and if you want to know how to do things right, have a read at these articles…

Or to summarise, as I did on this thread on webproworld: –

  • publish high quality content
  • offer a good experience for your visitors
  • write for your readers
  • make sure you’re set up for authorship
  • build your network
  • be patient
  • be nice to people 🙂

So Don’t Fear Hummingbird!

This latest update from google is nothing to be afraid of and, if you are an ethical internet marketer who focuses on producing high quality content and building relationships, then your traffic should, if anything, increase post Hummingbird.

Like any algorithm update, there are however likely to be a few things you can tweak to improve your rankings, so be sure to subscribe to the blog by email, or follow me on twitter and I’ll share any new tips as soon as I have them!

Has your traffic been affected by the google Hummingbird update? Do you think the new algorithm is a positive step by google? Have you noticed any difference in results when searching? Do you think it’s all a big fuss about nothing!? Let me know by dropping a comment below!

About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

Tom Jamieson - September 27, 2013

Another bang up job here, David. Your post is very informative and easy to understand. I saw a slight dip in my traffic from Aug 22-24, but it has since rebounded and is actually a little better now. Hopefully the upward trend continues. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insight and knowledge. Have a great weekend!

    David McSweeney - September 30, 2013

    Thanks Tom, glad to hear your traffic has rebounded and increased. Those who are doing things the right way should have nothing to worry about from Hummingbird, or indeed any future algo updates.

Denis D. - September 29, 2013

I created my blog way after the update so I can’t comment on my traffic changes, but I want to comment on a couple of points. When I write I always write for the readers and not the search engines and that is mainly because I don’t know how to fill up my posts with specific keywords. I just write posts to tell or teach my readers something and everything I write comes natural and not forced. I think this should work in my favor over the long term. Also beaing nice to people is extremely important. I believe there is such thing as karma and the more people you are nice to, the more this will come back in a positive way to you in the future. Be nice to people, help them, and teach them what you know and you will be rewarded in more ways than one.

    David McSweeney - September 30, 2013

    It will definitely work in your favour Denis and yep, karma is very much a part of the web. Give and ye shall receive!

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