Why did no one spot Google’s Hummingbird?

This is a guest post by David Jenyns of Melbourne SEO.
For more Blogger SEO help, watch the recording of David and Nuffnang’s Blogger SEO webinar

Google Hummingbird has flown into our midst. Cue hysterical bloggers claiming the new algorithm has assassinated their traffic, so-called experts claiming to have the inside scoop and passing off pure guesswork as facts, and SEO opportunists shaking down clients for extra cash in exchange for “updating” their websites.

But of course we’re much too smart to buy into the hype. Instead, let’s take a more balanced look at what Google’s latest update really means for online business owners.

First and foremost, let’s acknowledge that there might be a sizeable difference between what Google SAYS the Hummingbird update does and what it ACTUALLY achieves.

Keep in mind that Google gains a lot of publicity from these update announcements and that there is a certain level of PR opportunism wrapped up in these events.

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When Google announces the latest animal-themed update, what they’re really trying to communicate is that their search engine is, in their view, getting better and better.

And I’d probably agree with them.

But that doesn’t mean we should take this latest update announcement as a signal to completely overhaul our SEO best practices. And we definitely shouldn’t take it as a reason to fear that we’re about to lose ranking positions that we’ve fought long and hard to secure.

For example, although this is reputed to be one of the most sizeable changes in the Google algorithm in years – some even calling it an entirely new engine – it should be noted that Google Hummingbird came into effect almost one full month before it was announced…

And precisely nobody noticed.

Not exactly a totally new engine then. And why should it be? For the most part Google worked very well pre-Hummingbird. No need to remove the effective bits just for the sake of it.

Hummingbird makes some significant changes but it hasn’t undone years of solid progress.

So, what exactly has changed?

Primarily, the adjustments have been made to the way that Google handles “long tail” search terms; these are search phrases that are several keywords long and, at the outer edges, include search phrases that are unique. Long-tail searches make up a much greater proportion of searches than you might imagine – as much as 50% by some estimates.

This focus has been inspired by the rise in the use of smartphones and, more specifically, the use of voice-activated searches. When someone, for example, asks Siri how long it will take them to get to Sydney airport this creates a very long-tail search phrase.

Consider the difference here…

If you were sat at your laptop you’d probably navigate to Google, search for “Sydney Airport”, click on “Maps”, enter your address, and then check the results to see how long the estimated driving time is.

But if you’re using voice-activated search on your smartphone, then you’ll probably just say “How long will it take me to get to Sydney airport?” A less advanced search engine would just return a search result for the official airport website, but Google is smart enough to work out the implicit meaning of the question rather than just the keywords.  It uses your phone to figure out where you’re situated, uses its map to work out where you want to go, and then returns the exact answer you’re looking for.

Note the italics in the previous paragraph? Now we see why Google needs to update its algorithm. Working out the nature of the question rather than just picking out the cohesion between the keywords is a very different, and much trickier, endeavour.

It also explains why the new update wasn’t noticed before it was announced. Because this change is primarily affecting long-tail keyword searches, it’s impacting on an area of search results that isn’t monitored with the same fervour as key phrases 2-3 words in length.

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The really good news?

If you’ve been doing the sensible thing and focusing your SEO efforts on creating solid, useful content, rather than foolishly trying to shortcut your way up the rankings with masses of thin content, then you’ve already been developing the kind of material Google is looking for.

Google Hummingbird, if you want the really short version, is about doing a better job of answering people’s questions. And if your content answers questions, then, in theory at least (it’s much, much too early for anyone to have gathered meaningful, conclusive data on this update), your webpages have a better chance of featuring in long-tail search results.

In other words, if you’ve been doing what the smart SEO pros have been telling you for the last few years and putting quality above quantity, you’re probably already in good shape.

You want more?

Well, if you really, really feel the need to adjust your practices, based on the flight of one very, very small bird, focus on FAQ-style content. Write articles where the headline is a question, and the body provides a useful, straight to the point, answer.

Think about the questions your target market asks… and then write articles that answer them.

But please don’t get hung up on this. If you’re already creating great content then you’re in good shape.

And if you’re not already creating great content, and still trying to spin and manipulate your way to the top, then you’re heading in the wrong direction. It’s only a matter of time before a Google update pushes you into complete obscurity.

By David Jenyns – Director Melbourne SEO Services &

SEO has evolved and now it’s time to start getting serious with your blogging. Visit to discover strategies you can trust to position you as the authority in your niche and get more traffic and readers!

Nuffnang Community Team
  1. Glenn :

    Thanks for the tip. Timely for me as we are currently updating our website :)

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