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How Does Google Hummingbird Affect Keyword Rankings?

Google Hummingbird SEO Case Study

This graph shows how my client survived (and thrived) thanks to a Google Hummingbird update.

Organic Search Engine Marketing used to be so straightforward. Make sure your on-page signals (URL, title, headings, alt text, keyword density, etc.) were good and then generate back-links with optimized anchor text. Alas, those days are long gone. Google’s algorithm updates can whipsaw your keyword rankings by three or four pages at a time, almost overnight. Today’s #5 ranking is tomorrow’s #45.

Google’s latest algorithm, nicknamed Hummingbird, went live on August 20, 2013. It was much more than an algorithm update, however. Google completely replaced the entire search engine. Previous updates like Panda and Penguin simply updated parts of the algorithm. This was like swapping out the engine in your car.

The goal was to get better at “conversational search.” In its Hummingbird FAQ, Search Engine Land described it this way:

Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

Let’s dive into this case study and see how the algorithm updates lifted this client’s ranking and decimated their competitors.

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  • timstansky

    Jon, thanks for the clear, fact-based example and a well-crafted narration.