Will Hummingbird affect writing for the web?

Google has a new algorithm — it was announced in September to coincide with their 15th anniversary. Unlike its predecessors, Panda and Penguin, this one isn’t named after a cute black-and-white creature. It’s called Hummingbird.

Explaining how Hummingbird affects writing for the web
Hummingbird: a move to conversational search

Now, it would be fair to say that Panda and Penguin caused quite a stir — websites lost traffic overnight; SEOs were forced to radically re-think their strategies.

I’m pretty sure Hummingbird’s announcement caused anxiety for many SEOs.

The mighty Google

I’ll be honest: as a web writer, I’m wary of Google. In my mind, they’re arrogant and their power is, quite frankly, scary.

And let’s be clear about one thing: Google exists to make money and they make it through advertising.

So, it doesn’t pay to put all your eggs in the ‘Google basket,’ particularly when you have no control over what they do (click Word Works to read a recent post on why you shouldn’t write just for Google).

Despite my distrust, I generally support the actions Google has taken so far. Most changes to their algorithm have been designed to purge poor-quality content. From the perspective of a writer who takes pride in his craft, this is a good thing.

So, what about Hummingbird?

When Hummingbird first became public knowledge, some SEOs complained how it had negatively affected their clients. So, I wanted to know how Hummingbird would affect web writers.

Mike Morgan, of High Profile Enterprises, recently wrote a comprehensive blog about Hummingbird. I respect Mike’s opinion, so I spoke to him to learn more.

What are your thoughts on Hummingbird?

“Google intends to put search to a level that is so far above their competitors that they’ll be able to print money from advertising … they will not only continue to dominate, they’ll also increase market share.”

Mike says Google wants to deliver the best possible experience for their customers — people using their search engine to find answers.

“There have been a series of updates; many geared to getting rid of stuff that doesn’t deserve to be there.”

He says Hummingbird has introduced conversational language to search. One reason for this is the expected increase in mobile users adopting voice search — they’ll be conversational and are unlikely to use unnatural key phrases.

Also, due to huge improvements in semantic intelligence, Google can now anticipate the context of a query. For example, if you search for a restaurant on a mobile device, results will be of restaurants within walking distance. Make the same query on your PC from home and results will likely span a much wider geographical range.

How will Hummingbird affect how we use keywords?

“Hummingbird now examines the searcher’s query as a whole, instead of individual keywords.”

Mike says that keywords are still important, but the focus has changed. It is best to base keywords around questions customers may ask, rather than unnatural phrases.

“That’s why “not provided” has become 100% in Google Analytics. Google wants people to focus on the overall meaning of the content.”

Have any of your clients been stung by Hummingbird?

“No. The only people it will negatively affect are those who bend the rules. Google is in the process of getting rid of junk. Unfortunately, there is an industry based around getting junk to the top of search results.”

Will Hummingbird change how SEOs operate?

“Absolutely. SEO has been based on the principles pitched by Hummingbird for some time. There’s an awful lot of people, though, who are not able, or prepared, to stay ahead of that game.”

Mike says it is no longer appropriate to build lots of links from other sites — links must be highly relevant.

“Link building for quantity has completely gone. Hummingbird will spell the end for many platforms based on random content, like article sites … they have already been punished once; now they’re pretty much history.”

Will web writers need to change their approach?

According to Mike, things won’t change much for web writers who already produce unique, valuable content.

“In-depth, value-giving and unique content (that others aren’t talking about to the degree that you are or from the same angle) will be the key for any successful web presence.”

He says anyone who puts up a static website and expects to do well in search is “deluded.”

“Without a content strategy and a commitment to creating high-quality content that answers their market’s questions, they just won’t be in the game.”

What does this mean for web writers?

Should we be worried? Is the sky about to fall?

From what I’ve read and from my conversation with Mike, I don’t think so. Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who continue to engage in, what Google calls, “black-hat” activities.

Sure, writers will no longer get as much mileage from mediocre content, but that’s not really a bad thing, is it? I guess we’ll just have to stay on top of our game.

What do you think? If you found this post useful please share. I look forward to your comments.

Related posts:

Why you should put the reader before Google

How to write a web page people will read

Why good copywriters tell stories

  1. Hey Andrew,

    I share your sentiments as well about my feelings for Google. They’re doing their best to take over the internet and be the only site people “depend” on. I frankly do everything in my power not to use all their products although they do have some darn good ones.

    They’re all about the money though and nothing more so depending only on them will really hurt you in the long run because these changes will continue I’m afraid.

    As for this particular update I’m more pleased with this one then any of the others. They have gotten too big for their britches and they have let too many black hat marketers do their thing for too long and now they’re trying to clean up that mess.

    I hate going to Google and not being able to find what I want. I’ve never put in just two keywords the entire time I’ve ever searched online so it’s about time they catch up with that.

    Thanks for sharing this, good information from someone who knows.


    1. Hi Adrienne, I always enjoy your comments because they’re so detailed. I think the sentiment in this post relates to what you wrote recently about not relying too much on social media and having your own website. Basically, it’s always dangerous to rely too much on one thing, be that a customer, search engine or social media platform.

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