Does The Hummingbird Update Matter For SEO Or Is It All About The Penguins?

SEO Oct 9, 2013


We all known Google recently re-wrote their algorithm for the first time in, like, 12 years or so.

Sure, they caffeinated the whole darn thing a few years ago, but that was more about improving indexing.

They named it “Hummingbird” and, really, how can any SEO feel threatened by such a cute name and animal?

There’s probably not much cause for alarm…or is there?

Nothing much in the algorithm itself changed, and Panda, Penguin, plus other updates are still in effect.

There’s a few new-ish things that seem pretty cool, like:

You can explore the world with the Knowledge Graph, ask questions aloud with voice search, and get info before you even need to ask with Google Now.

Now, here’s where what we do in regards to SEO comes in to play: Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in a query. That is, it considers the whole sentence, meaning, or conversation.

So, remember all the times I’ve harped about semantic search?

Now is a good time to go back and read up on that.

The outcome? Pages and content that matches the meaning perform better in search results, as opposed to those pages that only have a few matching words.

Ever spun articles and used completely unrelated keywords as anchor text for your links — say you want to link to an insurance site and sprinkle those links across a website with spammy, spun content for gardening?

Yeah, you’re pretty much screwed now.

Not to mention, in addition to this and hiding organic keyword data, there was also Penguin 2.1!

Man, these guys are busy over at Google…

So, How Does Hummingbird Matter For SEO?


To understand this better, let’s go back to the semantic search concept that I mentioned above.

Google is basically making moves towards understanding searchers through “conversational” wording and phrasing.

So you should be able to speak or type up search queries with “normal” phrasing.

Think: “How do I bake chocolate chip cupcakes with cinnamon frosting?”

As opposed to: “chocolate chip cupcakes cinnamon frosting”

Google wants to return quality search results for the first example. You can obviously search however you want, but people are more apt to use conversational language when searching.
If you’ve relied on stuffing articles with keywords but not cared too much about the rest of the content, you’re probably in for a world of hurt.

Auto-Suggest Is Your New Best Friend

As you know, Google auto-suggests complete sentences when you’re typing in your search query.

Most likely, searchers will find themselves typing in a few words and then quickly selecting the suggested sentence that makes the most sense to them.

Now would be a good time to start thinking about, and researching, what kind of phrases your visitors are or would be using. Keywords will still matter, but context will matter more.

Head over to Google and put in keywords and potential phrases that you’re trying to rank for to get more ideas on synonyms and phrase variations.

Instead of listening to Matt Cutts when he says “write for the user”, flip that around and think: “How can I answer the searcher?”

And Local Search Can Benefit From This, Too

Searching from your smartphone and other mobile devices (like tablets) is quickly becoming a very popular source of web searches.

A result of that is also an increase in local search results for a lot of search queries.

This is what Hummingbird is doing well: returning mobile-friendly, personalized, and localized results for directions, maps, click-to-call links, and so on.

And Penguin 2.1, What Should You Do Differently Now?


Hopefully you already have a good grasp and handle on how to do SEO after Penguin…yes?

As you know, links and link profiles seem to be still in the cross-hairs of these penguins.

If your website link footprint uses any of these, you might find yourself on the wrong side of a Google slap:

  • Forum Bio’s & Comment Spam: If you’re spamming forum bios with exact match anchor texts, as well as in your comments, you may have a problem. Only setting up a number of profiles in order to gain a bunch of links will probably come back and haunt you.
  • Do-Follow Blogs & Websites: Not adding a nofollow to links (even blog comment signatures) can be problematic. Also, if you have, say, a resource page with links galore and exact match anchor texts, you’re basically a directory and, in the eyes of Google, you’re not doing it right. Again, making outbound links nofollow should be a priority.
  • Directories & Blogrolls: I know, it’s nothing new, but you most certainly don’t want your sites to be linked from by the wrong kind of websites (spammy and low quality). Sure, Google says that blogrolls overall aren’t bad but it’s more about how they’re used that can trigger unwanted consequences for your rankings. Same goes for certain kind of directory links: have them nofollowed or disavow them. Who links to you is becoming increasingly more important to Google, not just how.

Also, if you remember, Penguin 1.0 targeted links to the homepage of a website and Penguin 2.0 went after links to any page on a site. It makes sense that 2.1 is a refresh of the same, going deeper.

If you built unnatural links to your homepage, changed your tune to do so to internal pages, well, you’re probably cooked at this point.

Same idea for content: it needs to be original and matching what searchers are looking for, across your website.

You Need To Be A Zoo-Keeper, I Guess…

Man, how can you navigate all these changes, huh? Plenty of weather changes in the world of search!

But there aren’t any earth-shattering changes, just some refreshes of old animals and an algorithm re-write that didn’t change much but simply expanded on the semantic search direction that Google is moving towards.

Optimize your content for phrases and language that your visitors are likely to use and ask.

Ever thought about using questions as headlines and in content? Yeah, you might want to incorporate the language of your visitors more and more in the content you create. Simply tactic but it will probably pay dividends for years to come.

What have you noticed with Hummingbird and Penguin 2.1?

  1. Avatar

    I haven’t had much success and generating a ton of traffic on my site or converting the visitors I do get into sales for my artwork, but as a site that is only 3 years old going against giants already ahead of me I find myself constantly behind. With all of these google updates, it’s tough not to give up.

    1. Avatar
      Katherine Kotaw

      There’s no reason to give up, Kenal. But you probably need a change in strategy. Rather than try to beat the giants at their game, beat them with YOUR game. Move away from SEO tactics and use other methods such as blogs and social media to inform and convert visitors. If you have questions about this, please feel free to email me or reach out via social media.

  2. Avatar
    Thomas Morgan

    I notices that exact match domain names like “” or “” dont work anymore. They used to pay adsense dividends in my sleep by ranking #1 in google and then all of a sudden were on page 22 or even worse. Custom content and a lot of it is key. I think the best way to approach content is what is in it for my user and how can I help them rather than the me first approach.

    Questions as headlines are a super suggestion.

    1. Avatar
      Katherine Kotaw

      You’re right, Thomas, those days are long gone. If you write for your audience, they will become loyal fans.

  3. Avatar
    Edward Byrne

    They will become you loyal fans if they can find you yes.

    What will be interesting will be to see which page 1 inhabitants now are no longer there in a few weeks. I hope many of them are not.

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