Google's Hummingbird Update: A Natural SEO Evolution

September 30, 2013

4 Minute Read

Last week Google announced a new search algorithm. Unlike previous updates, Hummingbird completely replaces previously existing pieces of the algorithm vs simply updating/tweaking pieces. With Google’s latest change, we thought it might be a good idea to go back and look at what got us here before we show what this latest update means to you.

A history lesson…

2010, Caffeine is released.

In 2010, the web was changing rapidly with the emergence of social media being full steam ahead and no end in sight. The demand for real-time search and content was quickly transitioning from “nice to have” to “necessity”. Google’s solution was Caffeine; less of an algorithm update and more of an architectural update, this update allowed them to index, access and serve web documents more quickly.

Whereas Google’s index worked very linearly, the update to Caffeine made things much more dynamic and free flowing. That update helped us overcome many of the most significant hurdles related to search at the time, but there was still an 800lb Gorilla in the room…

The Semantic Web

In 2010, semantics was definitely an issue, but because Google was newly able to pick up on trending topics and social signals (along with personalization), semantics became less of an issue due to fresher, more locally and personally relevant search results. However, there was still a significant gap when it came to the semantics of detailed search queries.

Google, along with Bing and Yahoo!, realized this and developed Microdata ( This statement from the homepage of with regards to the scope and goal of its function sums it up:

“On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web.”

2013: Hummingbird: One step closer to semantics

Google Hummingbird Update

I liked what Danny Sullivan, Founding Editor of Search Engine Land, had to say about what we both know and don’t know about Hummingbird.

“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. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.”

However, if I may add my own speculation, I think the core of this update was around what Mr. Sullivan was referring to as “conversational search” because semantics are the root of understanding conversation on the web. I’ll refer to Google’s “What we do” page for additional backup, Larry Page, our co-founder and CEO, once described the “perfect search engine” as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.”

What is Google Hummingbird Update in SEO?

To me, this means a few things at least:

1. Google is putting more emphasis on “the meta”. By that I don’t mean the html element <meta> alone (SEO 101); I’m also referring to in-line markup such as microdata or microformats as well as Google’s recent addition of authorship and publication “tags”.

What this means for you: Use them!

2. Conversation has become the norm and Google is devoting resources to figuring it out.

What this means to you: Start talking (more)!

3. Focus on developing detailed content that serves a specific purpose.

What this means for you: Answer questions!

At the end of the day, Content still reigns supreme as King of the Web. (Notice I didn’t say King of SEO)

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The BFO Team

Here at BFO, we're always striving to bring you the latest and greatest in digital marketing insights and education. We're not ones to brag, but we've been lucky enough to be featured in all sorts of fancy publications and media outlets, strutting our stuff and showing off our industry expertise.