Google Hummingbird Update Does Not Include This Side Effect In Its Disclaimer

Google Hummingbird
By Steve Berardi via Wikimedia Commons

Complaints chased with begrudging acceptance.

To some varying degree, depending on scope and size, that’s how marketers cope with Google algorithm updates. But in the wake of Hummingbird, Google’s largest algorithmic facelift in more than a decade, the backlash seems tame compared to previous Panda and Penguin updates.

Some of that is likely due to the update’s somewhat ironic slow roll out, dating back to the beginning of September. Panda and Penguin motives were also tied closely to spam-busting, while Hummingbird is more focused on better interpreting the intent behind every search query.

In short, Google’s ability to process language and its implicit and explicit meanings makes for better search results and a more useful Knowledge Graph. It also helps wean SEO off keyword dependency and challenges us to build strategies around topics and entities rather than out-of-context words. This fits nicely into Google’s (not provided) military coup that recently overthrew the democratic republic of free keyword data.

Still, no Google update escapes some level of scrutiny, and Hummingbird’s collateral damage is affecting an area once thought to be cleansed of blatantly low-quality sites. First noticed by Linda Buquet and further detailed by Mike Blumenthal, spammy One-Box sidebars have percolated into traditionally diverse [location + service] local search results.

Blumenthal and Buquet cite numerous examples (many involve plumbers, including the two below), and nearly all feature broken or outdated websites, keyword-stuffed titles, or disconnected phone numbers. Consider the following examples:

“Plumbers in Chicago”

Plumbers in Chicago

Bad Plumbing Site

“Plumbers in Baltimore”

 Plumbers in Baltimore

PlumberBaltimoreSite 

The Chicago site violates a litany of Google guidelines (I didn’t even bother taking a screen shot of the below-the-fold [location+keyword] stuffing), and the Baltimore site resolves to nothing of consequence. The hypothesis is that, for whatever reason, replacing the entire algorithm dredged up a host of inactive spam listings and gave them prominence over more relevant sites. The whole thing reads like a plot summary to a bad monster flick — on a scientific expedition beneath the arctic shelf, a team of explorers unleashes an ancient evil thirsting for revenge: HummingBlizzard. Make it happen, SyFy.

In all likelihood, Google will tweak a few dials on its algorithmic control board, and this incident gets tossed on the garbage fire that is Google’s long history of good intentions meeting unseen consequences. But the entire situation is more interesting than most Google shrapnel wounds (they’re not fun, trust me) and much more bizarre. 

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