Google’s Latest ‘Hummingbird’ Search Update: How to Make It Work for You

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

hummingbird760Over the past few years, Google has rolled out a series of updates to its search algorithms, including Panda and Penguin, and most recently, “Hummingbird.”

Google touted Hummingbird as a major change, but truthfully, few saw major changes in search rankings – including pros who spend significant time observing Google rankings across a wide swath of sites – when the change went live this fall. Ranking changes certainly were not on the magnitude of those that happened after the previous two major critter-named updates.

So just what is Hummingbird, why does it matter, and what can you do about it?

Hummingbird (Google actually downplays this update name, and uses “Intelligent Search”) is designed to make Google more responsive to longer, more natural-language queries. It is also designed to provide more complete answers to comparative questions. For example, try Googling the term Eiffel Tower vs. Empire State Building.

When you do, you will see an interesting “information card” Google presents to directly compare the stats of the two structures, where Google previously would have simply provided you with a list of informative links. This is Intelligent Search, (a.k.a. Hummingbird) in action.

At a more directly commercial level, if you Google flights New York to London you will see some typical results, but also a prominent Google information card that summarizes available flights and lets you plug in your travel date range, right on the search page. This is a significant change for airlines and other travel services competing in this space.

Google reps themselves have stated that these examples are early harbingers of where Google search is going in the future, so we don’t need to guess about their intent.

Building for these changes will position you better for the future, and will improve user experience on your site right away.

Fortunately, there are clear steps you can take to position your site and your business to make the most of Google’s next step in its evolution:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) best practices are still best practices. Follow them.
  • If you provide a significant amount of structured data relating to your goods or services on your website, help Google find easily them and place them into Intelligent Search cards by using a special markup language called Schema.
  • Create content that asks and answers questions users are likely to pose about your goods and services. These are more likely to be included in response to longer, “natural language” queries.
  • Make sure your site is mobile friendly, via either responsive design, or dedicated mobile coding. Google is creating compact information cards partly because they fit well on mobile screens, and Google is very serious about improving the mobile experience and making better connections across all devices.

You’re not likely to see a major impact from Hummingbird at this point, but you will definitely see Google Intelligent Search features reaching across more and more queries over time.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.
Adam graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2007. He grew up in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, just miles down the road from Altitude's headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.