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The Google Hummingbird Algorithm: The Beginning of Contextual Search Results

Today marks Google’s 15th anniversary. And with birthdays come birthday presents. But oddly enough, Google has decided to give us all a gift instead, by announcing a brand-new algorithm: the Google Hummingbird algorithm. However, the Google Hummingbird algorithm is unlike previous algorithm updates such as Panda, Penguin, Freshness, and others. In fact, this isn’t an update at all. The Google Hummingbird algorithm is actually a completely revamped version of their search algorithm which helps Google better understand the implied intent and context of a search query, allowing them to return better search results that are more relevant to the searchers’ intent.

The Google Hummingbird algorithm is here!


What Is the Google Hummingbird Algorithm?

So far, we know very little about the Hummingbird algorithm, besides that it was apparently implemented under the radar sometime in August, 2013. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land was the first to bring the algorithm to light, having learned about its introduction in a press event some Google executives held yesterday at the Silicon Valley home were Google was first launched 15 years ago. Having covered search engine news since 1996, Danny was able to wield his mighty reputation to gather a few more details on Hummingbird from some well-known top Google executives: Amit Singhal and Ben Gomes. To try to keep his explanation as simple as possible, Danny compared this algorithm change to that of an engine swap, and not necessarily a modification like the infamous Panda or Penguin algorithms.

When asked to give an example of another algorithm change Google introduced that is comparable in size to this algorithm, the Google executives struggled to reference another time when the company introduced an algorithm of this size, impact, and nature. Amit stated to his knowledge that the last time a change this significant happened with their algorithm was back in 2001. And, of course, there was the Google Caffeine update which was a significant change in their system, but that affected how they indexed pages, not how they presented them to the end-user.

How Will the Google Hummingbird Algorithm Affect My Websites Rankings?

It’s really difficult to determine the effect the Google Hummingbird algorithm is having on search results at this point. From what I’ve gathered, the purpose of the Hummingbird algorithm is to help Google present webpages which are more in tune with the searchers’ intent, versus just a page that has the specific words used within the search query throughout its content, headers, Meta tags, and backlinks. What this means to me is that long tail search queries will start to play a more pivotal role in organic online marketing.

And as this algorithm’s goal is to better understand the intent of the searcher who is using phrases (or as Google refers to it, “conversational search”), unusual traffic spikes or dips are unlikely to happen, as only exact match keywords (like “plumbing Irvine”) would have such a drastic impact on inbound search traffic to a website. Nevertheless, I encourage you to check your Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools accounts to see what, if any, impact the Google Hummingbird algorithm has had on your organic search traffic.

Personally, I believe the most significant impact this algorithm will have on the search engine world is that it will force webmasters to stop focusing so much on the progress of exact match keywords (a.k.a. “money keywords”). At this point, I expect many of you reading this will be laughing hysterically, thinking, “Right buddy… Let me just go saddle up my unicorn so I can deliver that message to my clients.” Well, before you laugh your socks off, allow me to share a 2009 post from Rand Fishkin, where he references a study done by HitWise in the year prior that outlines exactly how important long tail keywords really are.

Understanding “Fathead,” “Chunky Middle,” and “Long Tail” Keywords

First: Yes, this study is more than five years old. But considering that Google has only progressively gotten better at understanding a user’s intent, I’m willing to wager that the percentage of long tail keywords contributing to one’s organic search traffic volume has only increased since then. The post that Rand Fishkin initially referenced is apparently no longer available on the Experian website; however, we still have Rand Fishkin’s post on “Illustrating the Long Tail” to reference.

In his article, Rand Fishkin breaks up the types of keywords that were referenced in the HitWise study within three different groups: fat head, chunky middle, and long tail. I have placed below his graph on “The Search Demand Curve” to better illustrate this data for you.

A graph of the search demand curve showing the importance of long tail keywords in Google organic search results.

Source: Rand Fishkin,

As you can see above, the fat head accounts for the top 10,000 keywords from the study, making up just 18.5% of the total search traffic. The chunky middle consists of roughly 11.5% of monthly searches, and long tail keywords account for the other 70%. Keep in mind that these numbers are based off of just 3 months’ worth of sample keyword data from search engines, with adult search terms filtered out, so the actual size of the long tail could potentially be much, much longer.


Keep your friends and clients in the loop regarding the Google Hummingbird algorithm:

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So How Can I Take Advantage of Google Hummingbird?

The most important thing you can do is to understand the intent of visitors on your website. In fact, I’m asking you to think like Google does. Tom Anthony from Distilled does a great job of breaking down the differences between implicit and explicit searches in his Moz blog, “From Keywords to Context: the New Query Model,” which should help you better understand how Google interprets search results. But allow me to summarize his points:

Tom talks about how Google may deliver varying results to you based on a number of different conditions. For example: if you type in “fast food” on your desktop computer at home, Google may just show you results for fast food restaurants within the immediate area. But if you do the same search while on a bike or driving a car, Google would interpret that you can cover a much larger distance, and therefore will display results for fast food restaurants outside of your immediate area; he references this as an implicit search. And with the public announcement of the Google Hummingbird algorithm, it is clear his train of thought was pretty spot-on.

If you are an iMarket Solutions client, you are most likely a contractor in the HVAC, plumbing, electrical, or general contractor industry; so your website’s visitors will almost always be using implicit queries (as you provide a service to fill their needs). Fortunately, we already have strategies in place for our clients that tend to the specific needs of their customers for each of the different services they provide, and for all the different regions they service. As a client, if you want to know what else you can do to help us improve your organic search engine visibility; I strongly recommend you read my previous post on “How Your SEO Company Is Like Jerry Maguire.” I give three SEO tips on exactly what you can do to help complement our current SEO strategies.

If you’d like to learn even more about the Google Hummingbird algorithm, read what Danny Sullivan reported on here.

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