How Google's Hummingbird Update Changed Search

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Google's Hummingbird update is one of the most ambitious and significant algorithm updates that the company has ever released. It was released in 2013, and unlike the previous updates (Panda and Penguin), which were focused on specific aspects of search, Hummingbird was designed to completely overhaul the Google search algorithm.

According to Matt Cutts, Google Hummingbird would affect 90 percent of all Google searches in a subtle and unpretentious way. And considering that Google handles billions of searches every day, that means that the Hummingbird update affects many people.

To fully understand the significance of this update, this post will explain what Google Hummingbird was and the impact it had on search.

What is Google Hummingbird?

While it is technically accurate to refer to Google Hummingbird as an algorithm update, it's kind of a wrong designation. That's because Google Hummingbird was a revamped version of the search algorithm of Google. So it's not just a minor update or a patch.

Why is it called Hummingbird, you may ask? Well, it's called Hummingbird because it's said to make the core algorithm of Google faster and more precise. Faster means that it can handle more search queries and return results faster.

And precision means that it can understand the searcher's intent and return results more relevant to what the searcher is looking for. Unlike Panda and Penguin updates that spared dramatic reporting of lost rankings and traffic, Google Hummingbird didn't negatively impact the general web.

Instead, it sparked a positive influence on the search landscape. And to fully understand the idea behind the Google Hummingbird, it's essential to know what search engine features it most heavily influenced: the knowledge graph and semantic search.

The Knowledge Graph and Semantic Search

A year before the release of the Google Hummingbird Update, Google announced the Knowledge Graph. It's not an actual graph, but a set of SERP features designed to provide accurate and quick answers to search engine users' queries about things, places, and people.

Where do I see the knowledge graph? The knowledge graph appears on the right side of the search engine results page. It's that box with information about a person, place, or thing that appears when you enter a query into Google.

It contains information about the topic you just searched for, and it also provides related searches that you might find helpful. So, how does Google determine what information to include in the knowledge graph?

The answer is semantic search. Semantic search is a method of searching that considers the searcher's intent. It goes beyond the meaning of the keywords in the query and looks at the searcher's intent. It tries to understand what the searcher is looking for and then returns results that are relevant to that intent.

Google looks at things like concepts, ideas, and facts through semantic search. And it uses this understanding, providing relevant results to searchers. Only by understanding the context and intent of a search query can Google identify and determine the relationships between things.

One of the primary purposes of the Google Hummingbird Update was to translate semantic search from an idea into reality, which would essentially become the search standard.

With the Google Hummingbird Update, semantic search became Google's primary method to understand and process queries. It was a significant shift in how Google operated, and it had a significant impact on the way SEO was done.

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What was the search engine like before the Google Hummingbird Update?

Well, back in 2013, the SEO basics were still somehow the same as they're today. We're still earning links, producing great content, and answering questions that search engine users cared about was still the primary goal.

But the search results landscape was significantly different, even after a year before the Google Hummingbird Update launch. As we've mentioned, the Knowledge Graph was launched prior to the Hummingbird.

Search results gave users precisely what they entered, be it an abbreviation, a long-tail keyword, or a single word. The results did not provide any in-depth resources or answers to the search query.

Google still wasn't able to differentiate between two similar yet different search queries. A good example involves music. If you put in "the Globe" on Google's search box in 2010, you'd get the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) home page or information about the globes of the earth.

But if you ask Google about it now, you will get information about the Globe Theatre. The search results for both queries are vastly different, even if the user intent is the same.

The Google Hummingbird update has helped Google become more intelligent in understanding the searcher's intent and delivering better results. Users can fine-tune their search queries, and Google will deliver information that is much more relevant to what the user is looking for.

4 Goals of the Google Hummingbird Update

The Hummingbird update was an evolutionary step in Google's development. It marked a significant advancement in Google's search algorithm in terms of both quality and quantity. The update was designed to address four specific goals:

User Interface and Human Search

The early days of the Internet were all about machines talking to machines. It was hard to find what you were searching for, and often the results were irrelevant. Google changed all by bringing a better user interface and human search to the table.

With Hummingbird, Google is aiming to make the search even more human. The update includes many features that are designed to provide more relevant and natural results. In addition, it focuses on theme-related topics and synonyms.

By being able to curate results in this way, Google can provide users with a more human search experience.

Conversational Search

Today, Google uses natural language processing to interpret user queries. That means that it can understand the meaning of a query, even if the words are used in a different order.

For example, if you search for "What is the capital of France?" Google will understand that you are looking for a fact, and it will provide you with the answer.

With Hummingbird, Google is taking this further by allowing users to search more conversationally. You can now ask Google questions in the same way you would ask a person. So, for example, you can say, "Where is the Eiffel Tower?" and Google will understand that you are looking for a location.

Voice Search

As Google Hummingbird used intent and context to deliver search results that matched the users' needs, it also opened up new opportunities for voice search.

By understanding the user's intent, Hummingbird provided more accurate results for voice searches. It's a significant development, as more and more people use voice search to find information on the go.

Local Search

Google Hummingbird boosted local search by using natural language and semantic search processing. It was designed to understand the user's location and provide relevant results to that particular area.

For example, if you search for "local businesses near me," Google will use your current location to provide a list of nearby stores.


The Hummingbird update signaled a change in how Google interprets search queries. Understanding how this algorithm update works is essential for optimizing your website and content to ensure that you appear as high up as possible in SERPs.

While there are many factors involved in achieving a top ranking, paying attention to the basics of Hummingbird will help your website's visibility. Are you currently taking advantage of all that Hummingbird has to offer? If not, now is the time to start!

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