What Does Google Hummingbird Mean for My Business?

By Nicole Morreale, Intern

In August of 2013, Google started using a new search algorithm called “Hummingbird.” When this change was announced a month later, it spun the marketing world on its head and forced the industry to rethink how it approaches SEO. Google Hummingbird favors “conversational search,” which can decipher the context of your search rather than just pick out keywords on which to base its results.

For the user, this update improves Google immensely. People don’t think in keywords and, when they search something, it’s often by asking questions. Especially now, with the number of people who search the web using Siri or other voice-activated systems, search engines being able to understand human speech patterns instead of focusing on keywords is becoming increasingly important. With Hummingbird, instead of choosing keywords and guessing at what the most relevant search results are, Google tries to understand the whole question in context to make the answers more useful for the searcher.

What Does Conversational Search Mean For Me?

Again, this update optimizes the search process for the user, but what does it mean for the websites that Google pulls up as its results? Well, with the advent of Hummingbird comes the Information Card. The Information Card is the box that holds the answer to your question at the top of your search results page. Google wants to provide the user with the answer, and the Information Card does that, but at a cost to the websites listed in the results underneath it. If Google offers you the answer to your question at the top of the page, why bother scrolling down? I’ve now come to expect the Information Card and, honestly, get a little annoyed when I have to click through links to find the answer to my question when the Information Card isn’t there.

While the Information Card makes it much easier for the searcher to find the answer they seek, the problem is that it ends up decreasing web traffic for sites that have spent time and money to improve their SEO. The good news is that SEO isn’t affected by Google’s latest update and search engine rankings still respond to improving SEO and posting original content. The bad news is that now you’re not just competing with other companies who provide the same services you do; you’re competing with Google itself.

What Should I Do About It?

So, now we know the problem. But, where some see problems, others see opportunities and Hummingbird offers plenty of those. There are quite a few ways to make sure that search engines can still find you and you’re probably already doing most of them. If you haven’t noticed a change for the negative in your web traffic, then congratulations! You have very little work to do! If you’ve noticed a downturn in your traffic or feel that your traffic could always be improved, read on. Videos are still attractive to users, infographics are still hot, and posting new content will never go out of style, especially if it’s related to current news stories about your industry.

Changes to Consider

  • Answer Questions
    • Pose your article titles in question and answer format or set up a Q&A section on your blog.
  • Update Your FAQ
    • Hummingbird favors sites with pages that are dedicated to specific questions, so FAQs will be ranked better if you link directly to a page that answers the question you use as anchor text. The more landing pages you have that directly answer user questions, the better.
  • Don't Discount Keywords
    • It’s important to note that keywords are still important to the new algorithm. Hummingbird doesn’t ignore keywords; it contextualizes them.
  • Specify
    • Specificity in your titles and content is more important than ever, as is making sure that your content shows that you’re the authority in your subject. If you have a specialty, show it off!
  • Know Your User
    • Make sure you’re building pages that focus on your users’ needs. They may not be searching for you specifically, but if you know what your users want and customize your site to answer questions you know will be asked by someone seeking your product, your site will be much better off.

Ultimately, the new algorithm tests how well you understand what your user wants and how best to give it to them. Google Hummingbird may take some getting used to but, with just a few tweaks to how you approach the content you publish, it will foster a better relationship between you and the consumer.


Nicole Morreale is a graduate of Harvard University and is pursuing her MBA at Syracuse University. She enjoys Pinterest, the Buffalo Sabres, and rocking out to One Direction in the car. 

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