To Succeed in Search, Think like a Hummingbird

To Succeed in Search, Think like a Hummingbird

150 150 Rob Lovitt

google, hummingbird, algorithm, search, seo

A hummingbird can fly at speeds of up to 35 mph, flap its wings up to 80 times a second — and, believe it or not, help determine whether or not your practice website remains relevant and retrievable to millions of online consumers.

Obviously, that last point doesn’t refer to the winged members of Trochilidae. Instead, it refers to the new algorithm that Google began rolling out earlier this year. Unlike the company’s other animal-themed updates, such as Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird is a whole new algorithm and understanding it will be key to succeeding in search from now on.

In a nutshell, the most significant changes are built on two interrelated concepts: the rise of natural-language search, aka semantic search, and Google’s ability to ascertain the origin, credibility and popularity of websites’ content.

Take natural-language search, which is predicated on the proliferation of smartphones and rise of voice-based search.

“When you’re on your computer, you type in three or four words to make a phrase — plastic surgery Indiana, for example,” says Ryan Miller, president of Etna Interactive, a digital marketing agency. “When you’re on your phone, you might say something like, ‘Find me the best plastic surgeon near my house.’ Google then has to parse out what’s ‘best’ in this context, where your house is, etc.”

Those longer, more complicated queries, says Miller, essentially flip traditional keyword-based SEO on its head: “For the last 10 years, doctors were told they needed to worry about the most often searched keyword phrases to be successful. Instead, you need to rank well for a wide variety of phrases.”

The second piece of the puzzle relates to how Google determines the trustworthiness of websites’ content. Based on the company’s Knowledge Graph, Hummingbird not only catalogs a lot more information on individual web pages — links, likes, follows, etc. — but also factors in where else on the web that content appears.

“What that means is doctors need to not only embrace content; they need to embrace trust-building activities in a really deep way,” says Miller. “The distribution of your ideas is almost as important as the concentration of those ideas on your own website.”

“To secure consistent high rankings a physician has to consider how well their content ranks on Google, not just their practice website,” adds Tom Seery, CEO of “For instance, when a doctor answers a question on our platform, they’ll often find they’ll get exposure due to the high ranking of the RealSelf Q&A.”

Put the two concepts together and it’s clear that Hummingbird represents a great leap forward in Google’s efforts to provide search results that better mirror users’ intent. That said, it can also be seen as something of a refinement and, as Miller notes, it hasn’t resulted in any major hits to most websites’ rankings. Either way, Hummingbird is a great reminder that keeping up with changes at Google and its competitors is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Doctor Takeaways

Think beyond tradtional keyword phrases

Focusing on a handful of keyword phrases is no longer the key to good rankings. “Jamming a page with keywords simply doesn’t work and can even backfire,” says Seery. Focus instead on content strategies that address a broader range of queries and monitor the total volume of traffic that’s coming from the search engines to gauge the results.

 Think beyond the confines of your website

Increasingly, trustworthiness will be determined, not just by the quality of the content on your practice website but also where else it appears. “If someone is willing to like your business, share your content, rate you, etc., it speaks to the value of what you’re doing online,” says Miller.

Think of yourself as more than a great doctor

The bottom line is that the better Google gets at zeroing in on exactly what consumers are looking for, the harder it will get to rank well and profit from old-school SEO efforts. “You can’t just be a great surgeon,” says Miller. “You also have to be a great source of information, a great educator and a trusted advisor to both patients and prospects.”

Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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