On the eve of its 15th birthday, Google Search held a special event in the garage where its ubiquitous search engine was born. It also marked the launch of a major algorithm update: Google Hummingbird. Hummingbird was the most ambitious rewrite of Google’s search algorithm since 2001.

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Google Hummingbird

Named after yet another cute critter, “Hummingbird” denoted how “precise and fast” the updated algorithm was designed to be. Its release marked a third watershed in the Search Engine’s storied history, following the previous Panda and Penguin updates. Hummingbird was, in fact, more than just a minor update – it entirely revamped Google’s search algorithm, setting the stage for increasingly intelligent search results.

Panda & Penguin versus Hummingbird

While the objective of Google’s previous Panda and Penguin updates were reactive, punitive and sudden; on the other hand, the Hummingbird update was more of an evolutionary shift, one that was rolled out over a months-long period.

Prior to the Panda & Penguin updates, Google’s search engine algorithm evaluated the relevancy of a web page based on the number of links pointing to it and number of visits it attracted. Under this regime, a web page was ranked higher based on the volume rather than the value of the content it offered.

This emphasis, however, created a serious vulnerability that was easily gamed by webmasters: a website could get ranked highly simply by churning out a load of cheap, keyword-rich content. It spawned content farms, blogging networks, and other unnatural back-linking schemes. Enter Panda and Penguin – two of the most punishing algorithmic updates ever released.

Panda was a major algorithm update that was configured to crack down on content farms, sites with high ad-to-content ratios and sites with thin content, among other quality issues. Google Penguin was an “Over-optimization penalty” that adjusted spam factors such as keyword stuffing.

Semantically Searching

The launch of Google Hummingbird reflected the industry’s gradual shift from quantity toward quality. Dan Dodds, Creative Director of M16 Marketing, described the shift as one that “turns Google’s results into a more conversational, more semantic, and even a more sentient search solution.”

At the heart of Google Hummingbird is the concept of semantic search, which describes a focus on user intent rather than keywords or individual search terms. Rather than identifying individual keywords or key phrases, Hummingbird looks at the search query as a whole and then looks for the most relevant results to match it – with supporting information, to boot. It seeks to not only identify and highlight connections between people, places, and things, but also offer insight into these connections.

The impact of the Hummingbird update is to deliver far more complex and knowledgeable responses, responses that would normally be associated with a human mind rather than a search algorithm. SEO 3.0, anyone?

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