How Google is Changing Long-Tail Search with Hummingbird

Named for its speed and precision, Google’s latest Hummingbird update was announced September 26th -the eve of Google’s 15th birthday- and the change has already been deemed the biggest algorithm overhaul in over a decade. From an advertising and marketing perspective, a principal concern is what this shift means for organic search results.


Google is constantly making changes and tweaking the search algorithm for relevant, personalized search results that discredit spam and blackhat SEO. Factors are taken into account including the links’ content, social media signals, authoritative backlinks, the user’s location, the internet service provider (ISP) and a multitude of other factors. For this reason, one user’s page of search results may look completely different from another user’s, even when the same keywords are used. Throughout the year, the company typically makes 500-600 adjustments. Whereas previous updates and changes have been modifications to parts of the search algorithm, Hummingbird is a replacement of the whole algorithm.


The Hummingbird update was specifically designed to affect the search engine results for longer, more complex searches. This change in the algorithm was brought on by the increasing number of searches being conducted on Google for more direct questions, instead of simple keyword searches. For example, the following is a simple keyword search performed on Google:

Whereas below is a longer, more complex search:

The increase in such complex searches has spurred Google to refine their algorithm in an effort to provide the most relevant results and focus on the intent of the user.


The good news is that Hummingbird should not affect rankings for ethical, comprehensive SEO strategy. The ultimate goal of the search engine is to deliver to the user exactly what he or she wants. Therefore, SEO signals that have been used in the past are still positive for ranking. If anything, Hummingbird is an opportunity to separate from the competition by creating or maintaining high-quality websites with engaging content.

Google keeps their search algorithm a very closely guarded secret, so it is difficult to determine the criteria used to rank their search results. Even the most trusted sources on SEO can only speculate as to the weight Google assigns to various criteria to rank websites in the SERP’s. For this reason, when analyzing the effects of Hummingbird on your own website, the best course of action is to use keyword rank as your main KPI, and mold your strategy around keeping this as high as possible for all of your keywords.

Begin by examining the more complex keyword sets and phrases, as they will most likely be primarily affected.

If possible, Flying Cork also recommends grouping your affected keywords together if your SEO software permits this type of organization. This will allow you to monitor the changes on a higher level.

If you experienced ranking drops in any of your keywords, adjustments to your highest ranking URL may be required. Ask your agency to provide recommendations for those pages. These could include content additions/changes, URL updates or others. Make these updates and continue to monitor keyword performance for additional changes.

Again, this is a testing process, so multiple rounds of revisions and URL changes may be required until you begin to affect your keyword rank.

Dan Monarko is the Director of Digital Media & Data Integration at Flying Cork.