July 24, 2018




Thank you for taking time to read this guide. This is a very simplified guide that will discuss an update to Google’s Search Engine Algorithm called the Hummingbird and try to make it simpler to understand. The second part of the guide will relate to how this update affects the art and science of Search Engine Optimization.


Definitions and Explaining Terms

We have put this part early on because some of the terms we may use in the article may appear a bit technical and if you are new to computing you may struggle a bit. So if you are not new to computing, you can skip this part.


At the most basic level an algorithm is simply a set of rules that are very specific in the manner in which they are to be applied and they are usually applied to solve a problem or answer a question. Algorithm is a very popular term in mathematics and computing but it is a very old concept perhaps over 1000 years, and was basically used as a concept to make decisions in mathematics. It was later developed further and formalized.  

In computer science, an algorithm is a very specific and unambiguous set of steps that are to be followed when solving a problem. The problem can be calculations or checking data or like in our case, doing searches on the internet.

So when we say, the Google Search Engine Algorithm you can relate.

Search Engine

In the strictest sense, a Search Engine is a specialized algorithm that is able to go through a given database and retrieve information based on the instructions provided. A web search engine therefore can go through the World Wide Web and retrieve information based on what we specify as the users.


Web Search Engines do not just search for information when we request them as that would be cumbersome. Instead, they keep going through the web gathering information from databases and other freely or openly accessible directories. This is called Crawling.

Search Engine Results Pages

This is when a Search Engine responds to a user query. It will return a set of results usually written in a lines and/or image displays. This abbreviated as SERP.


When you do a search on Google, the results is usually ranked based on how relevant they are to what you searched. This is achieved by a part of the algorithm called PageRank. So PageRank uses certain parameters to determine which is the most relevant web page with respect to the user.

Search Engine Optimisation

The realization of how Search Engines operate, has spurned the growth of the Search Engine Optimization Industry and Practice (SEO). SEO is the deliberate effort to make your website more attractive to Search Engines but deploying the design techniques that can make the website more attractive. This is called Organic or Natural traffic.


This is a code name given to a very extensive update of the Google Search Engine algorithm. Keep in mind that the Google Search Engine encompasses a lot more than just "crawling" the web and displaying results. The algorithm is also responsible for trying to get the best match to what you are searching and a whole of other things.

Google Search Engine Evolution

The Hummingbird update is not the first time Google has done an update. In fact the Hummingbird update itself is a series of updates the latest as at the time of writing was in March 2018, which was described as minor tweaks. While we may not enumerate all the updates here, we can mention the key ones in the last decade or so. We are just going to give general names with a general mention of what it entailed. However we have other upcoming articles that discuss them in greater depth. Some of the names used, actually most, are not official names but rather how the industry refers to them.

  • December 2017 – Maccabees
  • March 2017 – Fred – a major update
  • Sep-Oct 2016 – Penguin 4.0 – devalues all bad links instead of penalising.
  • September 2016 – Possum
  • October 2015 – RankBrain
  • April 2015 – Mobileggedon – ranks mobile friendly sites higher
  • December 2014 – Penguin 3.0 and Pigeon continued roll out
  • October 2014 – Pirate v2 - targeting media and software piracy and Penguin 3.0
  • September 2014 – Panda 4.1
  • July 2014 – Pigeon 1.0
  • August 2013 – Hummingbird – major update to the Core Google Algorithm
  • May 2013    Panda 4.0 (2.0?)
  • August 2012 – Pirate 1.0 – Penalizes site that have DMCA non-compliant material
  • Feb 2012 – Venice – localizes results more
  • Nov 2011 – Freshness updates – that promotes recent content
  • Feb 2011 – Panda – directed at penalizing quality thin pages
  • December 2010 – Social Signals – using social media standing to determine ranking
  • June 2010 – Caffeine – Major Core Update, Boost Speed, improve crawling and indexing

As you can see the list of updates to the Google Search Engine are many and usually incremental. So probably you should be interested in all the update, however due to the sheer number and lack of specifying what each update entails (Google at times does not reveal), one is left to look at the major updates. And looking at the updates above, Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, Mobileggedon and Caffeine are major updates that we should look at. This article will dwell on Hummingbird while other articles will look at the other updates.

What is Hummingbird?

Hummingbird was an under hood major change to the Google Search Engine. In particular, Hummingbird made it possible to conduct Semantic Search or in simpler terms, ability to search in more natural language by taking other factors like context, meaning rather than the keywords. It was aimed at making search relate more with how we converse rather than deploying of keywords. It therefore meant that web pages needed to be written in more natural language that matched the users’ preference other than loading key words to a page regardless of their inability to suit natural language.

Key Features of Hummingbird

Focus on Conversational Queries

The Hummingbird update was meant to make the Search Queries more conversational i.e. when a search is done, rather than focus on the keyword the Hummingbird update tries to look at context as used in natural phrases, or how people speak. The idea is to make it easier for users of Google to conduct searches in their natural language.

Deployment of the use of Google Knowledge Graph

Over the years, Google has built a huge database of information collected over 20 years, and with Hummingbird, it makes use of analysis of this data to make more accurate searches.

  1. Trying to make it easier for search to be done on mobile devices.
  2. Widens the scope of signals

Hummingbird seems to have tweaked further the weight for the signals that make a search relevant e.g. social media, previous search history, and location. This is meant to further fine tune the

Implication of Hummingbird on SEO

According to us here are the major impacts of Hummingbird on SEO

Conversational Keyword

Focus on more natural or conversational language on the website that is relevant to the subject matter. This means better understanding how your target user would seek for the sort of information you have. This also means that you should make your keywords related to conversational

Mobile Friendliness

Make your website and webpages more mobile friendly. That perhaps means that the webpage may need to try and conceptualize how users would look at webpage and website from a mobile device and from a PC.

Co-Citation, Back-linking and Link-Building

Work towards Co-Citation with other websites that are in your thematic area. This is likely to increase the relevance of the webpage because it groups it together with other websites that are relevant to the search.

Focus on Phrases Instead of Keywords.

Hummingbird focuses on phrases that are normal in day to day conversations, so it means that content has to use phrases that are common when discussing the particular theme at hand.  For instance is you want to search for Backpacks, the usual keywords would be Backpacks, Good, Popular. While Hummingbird will pick these keywords, it would probably rank the phrase “Choosing Backpacks that are Popular and Good” as important if not more relevant.


While we cannot fully enumerate the changes in design that are necessary, it is good to understand why Google choose to deploy Hummingbird and that is to make the web and internet experience more seamless and natural.

Hummingbird algorithm is quite intelligent and therefore is able to recognize when a designer is making a naturally friendly website or content based on how the phrases are praised.

We have covered most of the basic points but I believe that the over-reaching aim should always be to understand what your target user wants and try to fashion this experience as closely as possible. Also remember that most users now will view your content on mobile devices so it is good to plan your content with this in mind.

We shall be following up with guide with others including Mobilegeddon: A Complete Guide to Google's Mobile-Friendly Update. Grab this and more from

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