Google Hummingbird’s Impact on Pharma Search Marketing

What is Google’s Hummingbird?

Hummingbird is Google’s latest update to its search engine algorithm. Claimed as being the biggest update to Google’s algorithm since 2001, Hummingbird is an update to how Google analyzes search queries as opposed to other more recent updates, which focused on spidering and indexing.

So what does Hummingbird do?

Hummingbird is an update for Google to be able to process “conversational” or semantic Web searches. Rather than focus on keywords, the new algorithm is designed to analyze the full meaning of inquiries, as well as the user intent behind those inquiries, closer to how people naturally ask questions.

Tweet This: Old Google: Indexing. Hummingbird Google: Natural language search queries. Google now understands the way we naturally speak.

Are there any other changes?

Yes, In addition to updating Google’s search query analysis, Hummingbird also focuses on updating Google’s Knowledge Graph – a block of content displayed on the right side of Google’s Search Engine Results Page (shown below). The update will include more features into Knowledge Graph such as Filter – which allows users to filter knowledge graph results – and Comparison, which allows users to compare two similar products in their query. Mostly, Knowledge Graph will simply apply to more types of searches. For example, when “Tylenol” is searched, the following search return page is shown:

Are there any downsides to Knowledge Graph?

While the new update to Knowledge Graph is great for users (by answering questions without the user leaving Google) the update comes at a price to content producers. Knowledge Graph collects its content by “scraping” content from third party websites and displaying it on Google. This means that content produced by a third party website could be displayed on the search page without a user ever visiting the site. This scraping is automatic and occurs through the spidering and indexing of a site. Therefore nothing can be done to prevent scraping except at the expense of Google not indexing your content.

How does Hummingbird affect digital marketing?

Apart from space taken up by Knowledge Graph displacing paid advertisements, Paid Search will not see any major differences. Paid Search will still be based on bidding for specific keywords and how and when an ad will show up will remain unchanged. There will, however, be major changes in natural/organic search practice (also known as SEO). Content can no longer be structured primarily for search engines (focusing on keyword repetition), but must instead be focused on user engagement and great content. Through Hummingbird, Google will now match content to searches based on concepts and not keywords. Keywords will naturally occur but won’t need to be “forced” into articles for the primary purpose of being indexed in search engines.

Tweet This: Google Hummingbird is like NatGeo for keywords – observed living in nature.

Why Was There a Change In How Content is Indexed?

Ultimately, Google’s update is designed to provide fast, precise results for users, and to better protect itself against competition. The update to how queries are processed is a direct response to an increasing preference to “conversational” voice search exemplified by Apple’s Siri and other mobile voice search applications. The update to Knowledge Graph is aimed at fighting off competition from applications that can provide similar answers. Instead of downloading an application that shows dosing information, Google hopes users can simply search the brand they need and have dosing information show up in the search engine results page. By beefing up both its ability to provide relevant answers to conversational search queries, and provide relevant answers more quickly through its Knowledge Graph, Hummingbird is yet another feature securing Google’s market share on Search.

What Should My Brand Be Doing to Better Optimize for Hummingbird?

In order to properly optimize for Hummingbird, it is necessary to create rich, educational content that encourages audience engagement and feedback. Content should be as detailed as possible, in order to capture more conversational, or detailed, long-tailed inquiries. All websites should also use semantic markup in their websites such as It may also be helpful, depending on the type of content being produced, to write content posed as answers to questions your audience might ask about your brand. Websites also must be optimized for mobile devices, as Hummingbird’s update will make voice search (popular on mobile devices) faster and more accurate.

It’s also important to note that different audiences – especially professional audiences searching for work purposes – search differently. Google recognizes this trend of individual preferences with Hummingbird, and our research shows clear differences in the ways people search for health information, whether they are physicians or consumers.

CMI/Compas has deep roots in pharma search marketing, with team experts in paid and natural search, that can give specific guidance to keyword building for your brand based on target audiences. If you are interested in how to improve your brand’s search rankings, or to understand the new way Google Analytics can inform your business, please contact Lindsay Dinan at for a free assessment of your site.