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Google’s Hummingbird Update Explained and SEO Strategies

It’s universally understood that Google’s Hummingbird update changed the way the search engine produced query results. In the past, you could enter a query but then still have to sift through the results to piece together enough relevant information to get the answers you were looking for, especially if your query was nuanced. At worst, you’d have to re-enter your query with different wording until Google understood your specific request.

But with the debut of Hummingbird, user frustration quickly diminished. The algorithm changed how Google interpreted queries, understanding them in a more human-like and nuanced way.

Launch Date: August 22, 2013

Hummingbird is extremely beneficial to Google’s users. Back before Hummingbird, Google’s search results would answer your query exactly. While this might sound appealing, it wasn’t a good method for getting in-depth information or answers to the questions you had. Many times, the search results would be short answers with no additional information or resources to help you learn more. Hummingbird changed that.

What Google Hummingbird Impacted

While your site won’t be penalized like with other algorithm updates, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by keyword stuffing or incorporating low-quality, spammy, or irrelevant content.

The Hummingbird update enables Google to serve users better by addressing not only keyword searches but user intent as well. In order to do this, Hummingbird scans sites for two things:

Keyword stuffing

The Hummingbird update was created to better perceive what a user is looking for based on intent, not just on keywords. For this reason, you need to ensure that you choose your keywords carefully, and your site’s SEO should be optimized so that Google’s web crawlers know exactly what your site is about. If you don’t do a thorough job with your site map, descriptions, keywords, and any other labels Google assesses, you’ll see that your rankings will be lower than sites with an optimized SEO plan.

Low-quality content

As with Google’s other updates—Panda and Penguin, up to this point—one of Hummingbird’s purposes was to sift out low-quality sites so that users can spend less time looking for answers and enjoy a better search engine experience.

How The Hummingbird Algorithm Works

Unlike the Panda and Penguin updates, Hummingbird didn’t have a widespread negative effect on websites. For the most part, Hummingbird was received as a very positive update to Google’s algorithm. The goal of Hummingbird wasn’t to punish sites. The whole purpose of the update was to offer more nuanced results based less on exact keyword match and more on semantic understanding of a query.

In addition to providing users with results that better matched the implied meaning or intent behind their search, Hummingbird brought Google’s knowledge graphs into greater popularity. Search became more relevant because Google finally understood subject matter the way we do: in a nuanced fashion.

As a result of Hummingbird’s razor-sharp understanding of how we as users understand queries and keywords, there has been an overall decrease in the diversity of Google’s search results. Google is getting better and better at understanding what we want, and Hummingbird was the first step to delivering better matched search results.

How to Update Your Website To Take Advantage of Google Hummingbird

Hummingbird is not a penalty-based update, which is great for site owners. But just because you won’t be penalized, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the update into consideration when building or editing your site.

Take advantage of keyword research tools

Knowing what keywords to include on your site can be tricky. Using a keyword research tool can help you know what words and phrases will give your site the traffic you’re looking for: traffic that results in conversions.

Adapt to voice search

With more and more users taking advantage of AI voice search systems like Alexa, Siri, and the Google Home, you need to consider how to adapt your keywords to those tools. When a user makes a voice search, they are going to use a more conversational approach and will be less concise in their queries. Determine what kind of phrases your target audience will use, then adjust your content accordingly.

Take advantage of synonyms

Hummingbird searches for content that matches both the keyword and synonyms of the keyword entered into the query. Expand your keyword research to focus on synonyms and co-occurring terms to diversify your pages.

Optimize anchor text

Your anchor text is up to you, so choose text that Google will rank high. Use keywords in your anchor texts, but make sure to surround your links with keywords as well.

Conclusion: Make Your Site Work for You

Hummingbird is a fantastic update to Google’s algorithm. It benefits users all around, and if you’re using your SEO correctly and putting in the work to build your site smartly, it will work for you too. By doing your keyword research and including the subjects, ideas, and keywords your users are searching for—and by keeping great content on your site—you’ll see your rankings climb. Hummingbird essentially rewards sites who are clear about their content and provide an exceptional experienced to Google’s users, which is Google’s ultimate goal as well.