Google recently held a press event for their 15th anniversary, where they announced their latest development (and birthday present for users): Hummingbird, a new algorithm that they say will return better results.

Google’s SVP of Search Amit Singhal introduces Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. Photo from Reuters/Stephen Lam.

Google Hummingbird is a search algorithm that focuses on returning better results by looking a combination of factors. Its purpose is to analyze and understand more complex search queries by looking at quality signals approved by Google, PageRank, word selection and context, and other search ranking factors that meet Google’s guidelines.

According to the search engine giant, they named this new algorithm “Hummingbird” because it possesses two characteristics of its namesake: speed and precision. It was quietly implemented a month ago.

Improving on Conversational Search and Contextual Understanding

Unlike previous algorithms that only read and match specific words, the Hummingbird algorithm looks at the meaning and context of the entire statement before delivering results. Google believes that by reading context together with words, they can select more relevant pages to display.

Google gave its “Conversational Search” feature as an example. Say you key in the query “What’s the closest place to buy sushi takeout to my home?” Before, search engine algorithms will only look at “buy,” “sushi” and “takeout” before delivering results. With Hummingbird now in place, Google will look at the context of your query, and it will be more likely to select results in your vicinity.

Google also cited other examples that show the improved quality of search results since the implementation of Hummingbird. For example, a search for “acid reflux prescription” now pulls up general information about treatment. It used to return a list of drugs used for treatment – something that may not be appropriate for the user. Two other examples involving Citizens’ Bank and Pizza Hut reveal that Google Search now directs users to specific pages involving their long-term search queries.

A screenshot of Google SERPs for “acid reflux prescription” showing general information websites and informative guides that show both treatment options and medication

New Algorithm using Old Parts

Penguin, Panda and other previous algorithm updates were exactly what they are called – updates to old parts of Google’s search algorithm. While Hummingbird updates the way Google analyzes complex long-tail searches and returns search results, it is an entirely new algorithm that makes use of old parts – like Penguin and Panda – that work well with the new features.

The last time that Google released a change this big was in 2010, when they released the “Caffeine Update.” It wasn’t an algorithm update, however; it was a change meant to make the indexing system more efficient. According to Google’s Senior Vice President of Search Amit Singhal, the last major rewriting of the algorithm goes back in 2001.

No Change on SEO Guidelines

How does this change affect marketers like you?

According to Google, you have nothing to worry about in terms of traffic volume as long as you follow their existing guidelines. The importance of content relevance, uniqueness, and quality is emphasized no more than ever, especially in terms of covering topics that users may find through longer, more complex queries. Paying attention to the search signals that Google recommends you optimize will help maintain and improve your traffic volume. They added that they haven’t heard any major complaints from publishers that they have lost rankings.

The good news for all our partners is that we’ve thought ahead about these types of updates, and we optimize your campaigns for both exact match and long-tail queries. Because we always follow Google’s guidelines, we did not see significant changes to our campaign rankings and we continue to help your clients rank better on the SERPs.

Talk to your account manager today to learn more about this update and discover how our methods secure you from updates like this. If you’re not yet our partner, sign up today to get the full benefits of our white label SEO program. Keep checking back for more updates!