Google has unveiled its most significant algorithm update since 2001, and they did it completely under the radar. No one even knew it was in the works, let alone that it had been implemented, until after the fact. Known as the Hummingbird update, it’s impacting about 90% of searches. What does it mean for your online marketing efforts?
There’s a simple, one-word answer: Nothing.
Continue following best practices
As long as you’ve been following best practices all along, you don’t need to sweat the Hummingbird update for even a second. Google hasn’t changed its position on high-quality, valuable content. That’s still at the top of its priority list. And as long as you’ve been emphasizing that in your online marketing efforts, Hummingbird shouldn’t affect your business at all.
The Hummingbird update, while it’s true that it’s the largest in over a decade, doesn’t change what Google is looking for. It merely makes the search giant’s methods for filtering out low-quality, spammy content from top-quality valuable reads more effective.
So if you’ve still been squeaking by with shoddy content or been sliding under the radar successfully using grey-hat SEO techniques, now might be a good time to switch up your tactics.
Hummingbird was implemented about a month ago, according to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land. But it does carry one notably stark contrast from its predecessors: Its name. Previously, major Google algorithm updates have been notoriously named after black-and-white animals, presumably to represent the so-called black hat versus white hat SEO techniques it aimed to distinguish.
Instead, the Hummingbird is a brightly colored bird that some people try to attract specifically using sweet nectars and brightly-colored feeders. Why the sudden change? Sullivan says Google chose the name to signify “precise and fast,” exactly what it’s aiming for with its search results.
Of course, publishers are still looking at Hummingbird with a wary eye. That’s because after Penguin and Panda, thousands of websites saw their rankings tank, even a few using solid SEO practices. It took a lot of effort for some sites to recover, and some had to completely re-tool their SEO approach. But here's the other thing: Penguin and Panda weren't actually algorithms, but changes to the existing algorithm. So in theory, Hummingbird is a pretty big deal.
Time to take out the competition
There is, however, a good chance you could benefit from Hummingbird. If your competitors have been engaging in grey-hat SEO tactics, they’re more likely to take a hit from this latest update. And that spells opportunity for you, since you’ve been towing the line and churning out top-notch content since the days before Penguin.
Hummingbird will change the user experience
Google users are more likely to see noticeable changes post-Hummingbird. With the aim of providing even more relevant, valuable search results to users, Hummingbird acts is designed to respond to search queries more like, well, a real person.
While the Penguin and Panda updates resulted in significant outcry from publishers who suddenly found their sites tanking after holding the coveted first-page positions for months or years, Hummingbird -- even though it's a new algorithm -- hasn’t yet produced much fuss. Hummingbird has actually been compared more so to an update in 2010 called Caffeine, which was also a major change. However, Caffeine focused more on the way Google indexes content rather than the way it filters content.
The sites that found themselves exiled or severely wounded after Penguin and Panda were making use of practices Google considered as attempts to game its search algorithm, techniques that actually were quite effective for some time before Penguin.
But website publishers have learned a few lessons in the years since Google first started shifting its search algorithm to focus on quality content. If there’s anything to be learned from Google’s repeated moves to improve its search results, it’s that quality content should be your primary priority when it comes to SEO.
Google is now trying to understand concepts, instead of mere strings of words. People are so used to Googling everything that they’re routinely typing entire questions into the search box, not random phrases or keywords. So Google’s aim with Hummingbird is to better understand the root of those questions and produce relevant results.
Will Hummingbird change the user experience, or significantly impact the rankings of many websites? It’s too early to tell, but one thing’s for sure: Google is continuing its mission to provide the most relevant, highly useful search results to its users.