Will Google’s “Hummingbird” Update Affect my Business?

November 6, 2013 by Roger Smith

Widely considered a soft-launch, with little fanfare or specific information, Google continues its evolving strategy to return more relevant search results to a user query. Below is a distillation of Google’s Hummingbird update.

What is Hummingbird?

Hummingbird rolled out in early fall (a month prior to the announcement). It is believed to be an attempt to further define the user’s intent when a word or phrase is entered (or spoken) into the search box. Hummingbird looks at  the “intent” of the query rather than the meaning of the specific word(s) used in the query. One could say it is much ado about synonyms.

Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words.

Let’s use “Best chocolate chips cookies downtown” as our query example. Where as prior to the Hummingbird update Google would most likely return the literal results in the form of the best ranked pages having to do with chocolate chip cookies. With Hummingbird, Google hopes to define the user’s intent and provide the appropriate results. The results will probably be a selection of 5-star rated purveyors of cookies in downtown [your location here].

We can break down the query and attempt to see how Google has determined the user’s intent:

  • “Best” equates to ratings that Google picks up from Google+, Yelp or other social engagement channels. Google displays some webpages with appropriate ratings (Yelp!)
  • “Chocolate chip cookies” equates to a bakery of sorts, maybe a coffee house
  • “Downtown” would prompt Google to use location services, if on a mobile, or an IP address to locate your local “downtown” area. Google interprets where you are

The Results are In!

Previous to this update, Google relied heavily on keywords included in your website and back-links returning to one of your webpages. In a sense, Google relied on you to tell them what the page was about AND what pages to return to the user’s query. Now Google is attempting to determine what the users really wants OR better yet, what results will best satisfy the user’s INTENT. If you have a webpage about chocolate chip cookies AND this page has some relevant external links coming back as well as some social mentions AND your website has a five star rating AND your business resides in the location where the query was placed…BINGO!

What you will likely see is that Google returns a variety of result types. Perhaps a few Yelp pages, maybe some news articles and then some webpages. This will be helpful for the user who made the query but frustrating to businesses who compete to be in the top 10 or even top 3 on page one. With more of a variety in query results, the less room on page one for your business.

Will This Affect my Current Page Ranking or SEO Strategy?

What’s the bottom line? If your SEO strategy has been resting on the laurels of keywords alone you will probably notice a drop in your SERP. If your back-link strategy has been pulling in low quality links (or no links), this strategy too will begin to fail. Social media engagement could provide a lifeline here if you are active with social engagement.

If you are actively publishing quality and relevant content to your site and have been engaging in appropriate social channels you should see little change in SERP…but keep at it as you are on the right track!

…if a page is not considered authoritative (thanks to external links and mentions), it most likely will not have enough strength for ranking well, especially now that long-tail queries are simplified by Hummingbird.”


You will read time and time again on this web design blog; Fresh, informative and engaging content distributed across multiple channels…frequently. It is my belief and experience that this strategy will fair very well with most, if not all changes to search systems algorithms. This strategy will engage engage your users and search systems. SEO is as much now about on-page optimization as it is building social relevance. Building a reputation around your site content…for both users and Hummingbirds. Need help relating Hummingbird to your SEO strategy and assessing how it could affect your business? Give me a call at [phone text only] and let’s get to work!.

Want to go down the rabbit hole?



About the Author

Portrait of Roger Smith, owner of RAS Design Media

Roger Smith is the owner of RAS Design Media, a web design studio in Monterey, California and has been building websites since 2006. He focuses on enabling business growth via modern web technologies and successful web strategies.

When not working Roger can be found kayaking along the magical central coast or photographing the beauty that surrounds us.

You can reach Roger at [phone text only] or [email address] and/or follow him on , Facebook or Twitter