Algorithm Is A Dancer – Google Hummingbird

Do you want to bust the right moves when optimising content for Google’s Hummingbird algorithm? We’ve collated the most reputable best practice guidelines to help you cut a rug online and improve your site’s ranking.

On September 26th 2013 Google announced its biggest update since 2001. The initial shock of this revelation was mitigated by the disclosure that the algorithm had already been live for a month at the time of the announcement.

Hummingbird constituted a complete overhaul of the entire Google algorithm. While Panda and Penguin were changes to a part of Google’s old algorithm, Hummingbird was an entirely new algorithm, specifically designed to focus on the meaning of a phrase, rather than individual keywords. Its goal was to better understand the user’s query.

Aside from making search more intuitive and further developing its Knowledge Graph, Google’s motivation for Hummingbird was to make the web a better, more useful place. A critical element to this agenda was the elimination of black hat search engine enhancing tricks such as content mills and link wheels.

These changes were necessary in order for Google’s voice search to be more effective. Users speaking a query via Google Glass or Google Now articulate it quite differently to how they would type the same search. Hummingbird endeavours to better interpret what users mean when they vocalise such queries.

If this all seems rather daunting, fret not, for if you haven’t been negatively affected by Hummingbird already, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Furthermore, once you adhere to the recommendations outlined hereunder, its introduction shouldn’t negatively impact your online activites.


Despite all the hype, the reality is that unless you’re trying to break the rules, a white hat approach will mean that SEO should remain unaffected. If you consistently publish quality content then Hummingbird will make no difference.

In fact, for SEO professionals it can actually be a positive thing, as it helps to weed out the black hats that make unfounded claims that they can get a site on page 1 of Google SERP within a week by dint of shady tricks such as keyword stuffing. The powers that be at Google regard such activity with scorn, penalising practitioners heavily.

Hummingbird is also a boon for publishers and writers, as long as the content they produce is worthwhile. The algorithm is intended to help eliminate irrelevant content and spam, instead placing more weight on industry thought leaders and influencers.

Google’s Structured Data Markup dovetails nicely with this too, as it allows Google to better index content and present it more prominently in search results and surface it in new experiences like voice answers, maps and Google Now.

Hummingbird also has an impact on link building practices. The algorithm seeks to identify questionable practices, such as inferior guest blogging, by evaluating inbound links in a more complex manner.


Hummingbird acknowledged the significance of mobile devices to search. Since its introduction mobile responsive designs have taken on increased importance. This highlights how critical it is to have a mobile content strategy. An increasing percentage of readers will access your content from smartphones and tablets, so it behoves you to create content with a mobile-first mindset.

A substantial part of the impetus for Hummingbird’s creation was the change in user behaviour when searching on Google. With many people now using voice when searching on mobile rather than typing, it was necessary for Google to modify the search experience to yield results for this type of inquiry. Google recognised that since it’s easier to speak than type on a soft keyboard, this user behaviour was not going to change, hence the development of a new algorithm.


Semantic search aims to improve the accuracy of search results by considering user intent and how the subject of a search relates to other information in a wider sense, or its contextual relevance. It focuses on delivering relevant results by determining what a user really means, rather than just throwing up results based on a string of keywords.

Hummingbird heralded a new focus on the relationship between search terms. This marked a leap forward from interpreting queries by identifying the most important keywords from a search. 

Hummingbird works in such a way that it can better understand a question. It looks for the meaning behind the words, rather than just the words themselves. It looks at the entire phrase to decipher that meaning.


Google’s Knowledge Graph – the database of all the information that it’s collected – has become quite sophisticated over time.

Searches are progressing from short, keyword driven inquiries to more closely resemble the way users speak. Hummingbird is an essential cog in Google’s attempt to understand searches of this format.


Essentially, it’s necessary to create content that answers users’ questions rather than just trying to rank for a particular keyword. The goal of Google’s progressive algorithm changes is to incentivise webmasters to publish the best content of its kind. Google’s aim is to deliver answers to those who search, so if you produce content which answers people’s questions, then you’re on the right track.

Unlike the quick fixes which helped sites that experienced demotion when Panda and Penguin were introduced, if your site has under performed since Hummingbird’s launch, there really isn’t a way to recover those keyword rankings you once held. However, it is possible to gain new traffic by finding ways to be more thorough and complete in what your website offers.


As Hummingbird is concerned with phrases, rather than keywords, the use of long-tail keywords has gained importance, from a SEO perspective, since its introduction. Consequently, content beginning with commonly used phrases has also garnered increased traction.

Long-tail keywords are essentially phrases which are employed by content creators in order to get their work picked up by search engines. They are phrase-based, so in order to increase visibility for your site, it’s advisable to pepper it with various phrases rather than just stuffing it with as many individual keywords as possible. Hummingbird is more intelligent than it’s predecessor and recognises keyword stuffing, issuing penalties accordingly.


Simply put, optimizing pages and sites for Hummingbird, requires the creation of great content that your audience wants and finds useful. Ergo, to make your site Hummingbird-friendly it’s recommended that you: 

  • Diversify The Length Of Your Content

Mix up the length of your content, by interspersing shorter articles among longer ones, to meet all your readers’ needs.

  • Produce Visual Content

Infographics, videos and even simple visual elements like charts and graphs can add some depth to your content. They’re also easily skimmable and can illustrate complex ideas effectively.

Industry appropriate language is key to content performance. Writing content which includes apt terminology demonstrates to Google that your site is authoritative and valuable. Don’t let fear of alienating potential readers preclude you from seizing this opportunity.

It’s not easy to compete online, but Hummingbird is designed to ensure that those who trade ethically are rewarded. Consequently, there is now an onus on site owners, content producers, SEO professionals and publishers to concentrate on quality and integrity in their online activities. This is forcing everyone to step up to the plate, resulting in a better all round user experience.

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