Did Hummingbird Eat Link Building?

Did Hummingbird Eat Link Building?

Did Hummingbird Eat Link Building?

Panda squashed bad content. Penguin froze low-quality links. And now, did Hummingbird eat link building?

Hummingbird wasn’t just another algorithm update. It was more a re-tooling, behind-the-scenes adjustment to make Google faster and smarter. And it most likely opens the door for a lot more change to come.

Let’s take a look at what Hummingbird means for the future of link building.

What Is Hummingbird To Online Marketers?

It’s a new engine, not a new paint job. It was in effect for 30 days, and we all missed it. It affects 90% of search results. And it’s designed to deliver more relevant results to every user, faster. Danny Sullivan summed it up best:

In general, Hummingbird — Google says — is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of ten years ago, with the technologies back then.

Unlike other algorithm updates, Google didn’t seem to be chastising, correcting or directing the SEO community when they blogged about their 15th birthday the day Hummingbird was announced. Instead, the focus was on how they are making everybody’s life better with intuitive user experience improvements, including:

  • Updates to the Knowledge Graph (comparisons and filters)
  • Conversational, cross-platform search
  • Better mobile search experience

Hummingbird is all about the user.

Did Hummingbird Change SEO Forever?

Hummingbird is one more (big) step in the same direction Google has been heading since day one: Deliver the absolute best result to users, as fast as possible.

One of the goals of this update is to better understand the meaning behind words in search queries and deliver relevant results — for example, searching [pizza] at home might mean you’re looking for a recipe, but searching [pizza] on your phone most likely means you need the closest pizza joint, pronto. Conversational search came up too: “Having a ‘conversation’ with Google should also be more natural” (from Google’s birthday post).

That means the goal of every forward-thinking SEO and online marketer need not change. Mission critical is still the same: give your audience what they are looking for, quickly and easily.

Did Hummingbird Kill Link Building Once And For All?

No. Link building is alive and well. But the definition of link building sure does need to change. As Will Critchlow from Distilled says, “Link building is a terrible name for what we do.” And that is true for so many reasons.

Remember Panda, which was designed to penalize and discourage low-quality content? And Penguin, which put the ax to low-quality “link building”? Hummingbird wasn’t like those updates. As Danny noted in his detailed article, PageRank is still one of the 200 factors that Hummingbird uses to determine search results. But link building ain’t what it used to be.

Link building is dead. Long live link building.

How Does Hummingbird Impact Link Building?

Directly, it changes little. Indirectly, it changes everything.

SEOs used to be able to use links and other factors to trick Google into thinking that their search website was more authoritative and helpful than it actually was. Hummingbird once again makes the end user the absolute focus of search results. We can’t trick Google anymore! Building links to less-than-amazing content will fail. Google will notice high bounce rates, the lack of natural social sharing, and a variety of other quality signals no matter how many links you build — probably even faster with Hummingbird.

Everything we do should also focus on the end user. More than ever, link building needs to be focused on providing real (significant) value to users. Is our site worth the links we are trying to earn? Does blasting 1,000 potential link partners with a link request provide value? How can we leverage link building to provide more value at every step in the process?

Think quality content, intended to meet specific needs (“long tail”) and to be authoritatively long-lasting (“in-depth”).

Is Google+ More Important After Hummingbird?

The Google+ team said it themselves: “Google+: The social spine that improves the user experience across Google.” Now, their team said nothing about Google+ when discussing Hummingbird, but you can find the connection if you read between the lines. More Google+ is coming whether we like it or not — are you ready?

How Should Link Building Not Change After Hummingbird?

The greatest mistake you could make is seeing Hummingbird as a reason to make another “update” to your link building formulas. For example, maybe you have been trying to build links with this type of framework: 50% branded links, 30% partial match links, 20% exact match links. Now that Hummingbird happened, you might think maybe it’s time to update that formula to something “safer” such as: 70% branded links, 20% partial match links and 10% exact match links.

Rigid link building formulas like this are based on dangerous out-of-date mentalities. Instead, try a new “formula,” like this:

  • Develop amazing content
  • Get to know the influencers in your space
  • Contribute to relevant online communities
  • When appropriate, ask your friends to consider sharing your valuable content
  • Bank on earning a majority of your links passively (i.e., naturally)

The Wrap Up

Link building is still important, but treating it as a one-size-fits-all, cut-and-dry tactic is dangerous. Integrating link building into your overarching marketing and content marketing strategy is the only way to be future-proof — and open up new opportunities along the way.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license and modified.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Hummingbird | How To | How To: Links | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. As CEO and founder of SEOperks, Nate has driven revenue improvement campaigns for companies large and small with a focus on high-quality link building and future-oriented SEO.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    “Google will notice high bounce rates, the lack of natural social sharing…”

    Well, it was interesting up to this point.

  • Chase Anderson

    Will you elaborate?

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    The only issue I have is that plenty of sites have great content but still not social signals that would impress anyone at all or they are things you probably wouldn’t want to share like a self diagnosis on webMD.

  • http://www.clayton-nichols.com/ Clay

    Which takes in account visits/bounce rate/and best pairing. I would imagine sites like webMD have been grouped by Google as a source of health information. Which to me severly limits the need to create any kind of link structure or rely on Social Signals.

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    if you dont’ have Google Analytics installed, can they really accurately determine your bounce rate?

  • http://www.clayton-nichols.com/ Clay

    Not entirely sure, but think about it this way. They still hve access to searching in seeing how many times the site was clicked.

    There’s more than one way for Google to establish authority websites. Clicks/Visits/Organic Search to click ratio.

    They(as in Google) are atleast privvy to seeing how many searches and clicks end up going to a website like webMD, with or without analytics.

  • Ethan Hale

    So we can just make up whatever we want about updates now?

    I thought Hummingbird was just an optimization of their current process, like Caffeine was. Didn’t Google confirm this, in addition to more Knowledge Graph results?

    Why would you even write this knowing how easy it is to refute? You should have find-replaced “Hummingbird” with “Penguin 2.1″ before publishing.

  • Travis Brown

    Do we have enough data on Hummingbird changes to know how this actually affects link building? All Hummingbird content seems to be based on conjecture. As far as link building goes, nothing has changed if you follow best practices.

    By the way, “[b]ank on earning a majority of your links passively (i.e., naturally)” is not always good advice.

  • Travis Brown

    Do we have enough data on Hummingbird changes to know how this actually affects link building? All Hummingbird content seems to be based on conjecture. As far as link building goes, nothing has changed if you follow best practices.

    By the way, “[b]ank on earning a majority of your links passively (i.e., naturally)” is not always good advice.

  • Mike Harmanos

    There’s also another way to establish authority sites:
    Use Webmaster Tools
    Use AdWords to advertise
    Use Analytics to report
    Use Google Trusted Stores to ensure the entire purchasing process is Google-fied.

  • Andrew Perez

    will always matter because a machine cannot have subjective opinions
    like humans do. A machine can’t say “hmm this is a really compelling
    article which I enjoyed reading, so let’s rank it.” It’s just not
    possible, which is why search engines rely on algorithms based on links
    to understand the popularity of “quality” content.. Why is this even a

  • ghosthendrikson

    Agree. This article was pretty high on the sizzle and not a whole lot of steak.

  • http://www.clayton-nichols.com/ Clay

    Totally agree.

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    Hi Travis, I wish I did have data. I should have stated this more clearly in the article: Hummingbird didn’t mean a major shift for SEO in the ways Panda and Penguin did. Hummingbird was more “more of the same”, reinforcing trends we’ve been talking about and that the industry is wrapping itself around more and more: Link building, SEO, content marketing, inbound marketing – It’s about the user, which means great content and great user experience.

    I’d definitely agree with you that passive link building is a risky piece of advice, especially without lots of context. But if you’re not building your plans to build momentum and earn “pure natural” links over time, some things need to change ;)

  • jeffwend

    What if you have a client that is an industrial company? Who wants to share pages that talk about carbide taps or internal grinding machines on Facebook or Twitter?

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com incrediblehelp

    Who wins here? The website owner? The searcher? Google? Easy……Google. Google keeps the searcher off of the website owners site and full-fills answers, search questions, etc. the searchers want their directly on the SERP. Times are are changing folks and we can expect less and less referrals from Google….

  • Chris Koszo

    I know searchengineland caters to the white-hat crowd and I don’t usually vent on here, but If we really have to talk about link building, then we should not forget to mention the elephant in the room which is that there’s only two types of link building: grey hat and black hat.

    Google doesn’t like ANY type of link building and no matter how good your intentions are, Google will always try to level the playing field and will slowly keep eating away at your business if you depend on any kind of links. Grey hat link building just isn’t worth it at the end of the day. You’re going to lose. The other kind of link building is pure blackhat, and that is working darn good these days.

    If you want to make money online you basically have two options right now: 1) Forget entirely about link building and just build an amazing product and be an excellent marketer and salesperson and make connections with real people and make a gradually increasing profit (which is what this article is about). 2) OR, spam the living h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of Google and profit quickly and abruptly.
    Google is making that comfortable middle ground disappear where SEOs can be in between those two extremes, and I think that’s whats the most interesting issue today. What do you guys think?

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    Link Bait Titles 101: Any time a provocative question is asked in a blog post title, the answer is invariably “No”.

  • RedLeader

    Yes, they can. Google can track the time it takes for a user to go from a site back to the search results when you click “back” in your browser, especially if you use Chrome and allow it to track usage.

    So, Google would see two events – a user clicks a link in the Google SERPs, then 3 seconds later the user has returned to that exact SERP URL hash. Google will of course be tracking this data themselves, as they’d be insane not to track interactions on their own properties.

    So, even if *your* site isn’t providing them a full picture, for a simple query mismatch that causes a quick bounce, they could easily track and identify that.

  • RedLeader

    Well, there are more than 200 factors in the algorithm, and the exact ratio of each factor’s ranking power within the algorithm changes every year. In 2011, there were over 400 changes to the algo, which means more than 1 per day.

    The point here is that while, yes, links are the *biggest* factor right NOW, they are not the ONLY factor, nor will they always *need* to be around, as there are other signals to rely on. As these signals become more reliable through saturation and weeding out gaming opportunities, we’re seeing normal links becoming less effective, and a handful of links becoming more powerful, to the point where you either need to embrace fewer, more powerful links, or blast lots of blackhat links to make up the difference from low quality links.

    In the future, I, and many industry luminaries, foresee linking eventually going away, being replaced by social and knowledge graphs, sharing, etc.

  • RedLeader

    I think you’re absolutely correct, and I’ve discussed this with my peers at the agency I’m at. Google’s exact wording concerning link building was almost word-for-word what you wrote, where basically any type of manually-built link is considered black hat, even links from otherwise quality content, like well-written guest posts, well-designed and researched infographics, breaking news press releases, etc. It’s insane.

    The thing that gets me is that these are our bread and butter techniques, and as sure as Google has first disavowed other link techniques, and then begun to actively penalize them, we’ll see them pursuing any type of manual linking the same way in the future, I believe.

    The way I see it is we need to focus on two things to remain “white hat”- building up our client’s funnels at different stages through a combination of content marketing and email drip marketing; and focusing on building up third party properties to make sure if one goes down, we still have others up spreading our message.

    In this way, through content marketing, you’re promoting the content a variety of ways if you’re doing it right – 3rd parties are promoting it via blog posts and social shares, you’re doing ads for it on a variety of spaces, and you’re going to naturally rank for some of the longtail stuff.

    Even if you don’t get a ton of search traffic, or it drops after a high, you have other channels filling your funnels and the KPI is no longer about rankings but about list building and nurturing that list to convert.

    Building properties off site is sort of an “island hopping” technique like the Allies used in WWII: conquer a property like WordPress, Blogger, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. and build it up, then start on the next one.

    Make them all large, branded properties spreading a concentrated message. In this tactic, if one brand falls out of favor in the SERPs (as Twitter did when it stopped sharing data) or if your site gets penalized, you still have other properties out their building your brand. You’ve now moved beyond Google as your only source of business, and that’s what people need to be thinking about as the future of SEO.

  • http://localreachlabs.com/ Russell Hayes

    Couldn’t agree more Travis. What’s been published so far is just conjecture as you say. Perhaps out of the need uphold some authoritative position on the topic. It’s to early to really know anything in my opinion.

  • http://localreachlabs.com/ Russell Hayes

    Bingo! I don’t see any of my roofing clients benefiting from writing content about the components of asphalt shingles on their site and then getting amazing social signals through visitors who share about it on FB or Twitter.

  • http://localreachlabs.com/ Russell Hayes

    In other words, bondage.

  • greg

    Boooooo. Booooo Wendy Testaburger. Booooo.

    This title sucks ass. Screw you guys – I’m going home.

  • http://www.bluecorona.com/ Ben Landers

    Super annoying headline. Did Google Hummingbird just kill link building (implying that maybe it did – you better read this!). No! Nothing has changed! Lame. Just sayin’.

  • Tim Capper

    That is 3 minutes of my life i will never get back again when i could have been building links. Did he not say write amazing content in that article…. !

  • http://www.seoperks.com/ Nate Dame

    Well said – although hard to say linking going away completely. Has the decline (of links as a factor) already begun…?

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Elaborate on what?

  • Davis Johnson

    “Link building is dead.” Is that what Cutts told you to say? It’s far from dead.

    You just have to know how to do it correctly. Yeah you can’t pick up SEnuke and Xrumer and drive 1000′s of exact match anchors to your homepage, tier 1 or tier 2 links.

    But strategic link building WORKS BETTER then ever now that many lazy SEO’s have been taken out with these updates.

  • http://rumstreet.org/ Ryan Farrell

    Develop amazing content
    Get to know the influencers in your space
    Contribute to relevant online communities
    When appropriate, ask your friends to consider sharing your valuable content
    Bank on earning a majority of your links passively (i.e., naturally)
    Rad ideas… Nate

    So you’re basically telling us all to “not suck”

    I only wish you hadn’t made me labor through 5000+ characters to get to that.

    Man, I am so bored of this crap….

  • Ben Walsh

    You only have to look at who Google are employing lately to see where Google are headed. Ray Kurzweil and Geoffrey Hinton i.e 2 of the foremost thinkers on artificial intelligence and are employed by Google to help the Algorithms “think like a human“. We intuitively know when a piece of content is crap and doesn’t match our search term. Google has had to cross reference many off site signals, things like back links in order to make up for its lack of being able to deeply understand language, however that is changing and in Kurzweils own words Google’s is growing at an exponential rate. So I for one see this as potentially as another move away from the importance of backlinks as Google more deeply understands language.

  • Ryan Mattson

    Thanks for your article, i thought Hummingbird is not giving preferences to social sharing anymore.. but what about # tags, are they still valid ??

  • RadPirateship

    I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. If I pay someone to place an article (gray or black hat) and in it I link to Wikipedia, the New York Times and my site it looks 100% editorial and there is no function Google will ever have to figure out if that article was natural or paid for. It’s really not that complicated to replicate what natural editorial content looks like.

  • http://SocialMediaTitans.com/ Jarrett Holmes

    It will be interesting to see if this has a major impact on search results for clients. If you build your SEO strategy and content and links right the first time it shouldn’t have a major impact.

  • http://www.prettyklicks.com/ Stefan Pretty

    I think there needs to be a real shift in the approach most online marketeers have today, it’s outdated, the internet is evolving faster than anyone is fully capable of staying on top of. I have a feeling there will be some backlash (or awakening) for some big firms soon enough, and I’m excited to be part of a smaller company at such a pinnacle time. Good post thanks.

  • Darrin Lim

    Actually, in the short term the searcher wins, as per Google’s stated objective. Users get the answer they were after immediately. As a user I LIKE when Google gives me the answer I’m looking for without me having to click anything.
    However, this means that there is another consideration for what content to create – it needs to address the more complex queries users make, not the cut and dried stuff that is easy for Google to answer

  • Kaypee Endee

    “Google doesn’t like ANY type of link building and no matter how good your intentions are…”
    It is correct, but it should not penalize well-meaning links where a link takes the visitor to a quality reference material. Then there are some grey areas such as people voluntarily wanting on their websites to show that they are part of a reputed directory. These things probably are OK within limits and when with good intentions but since Google cannot draw a line between good and ‘black hat’ intentions, what it is doing is erring on the right side.

  • David H. McGuire

    17 facts you didn’t know about Asphalt Shingles that can save your life.

  • David H. McGuire

    14 things the NSA doesn’t want you to know about Carbide taps and internal grinding machines

  • David H. McGuire

    Is the NSA really behind the Hummingbird update? Read here >

  • Gridlock

    People who buy them? People who want to find a supplier they know can talk the lingo? People who value skills, passion and knowledge? Just because you find them dull (BOOM BOOM) doesn’t mean the niche does.

  • http://www.seohonchos.com/ SEO Expert – Rahul Trivedi

    Rob.. I think after the latest penguin update, getting social signal would be the key thing to increase your site authority. What you say?

  • http://www.clayton-nichols.com/ Clay

    The title alone would get me to click on that link. I can’t imagine I’d stay there long, but it’s interesting enough to get my interest.

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    I just wonder how much credence they can give to social signals when anyone can buy 100 google +1′s for 5 bucks or 10k facebook likes etc. Those are too easy to game the system on it seems to me.

  • http://www.seohonchos.com/ SEO Expert – Rahul Trivedi

    But Google also consider the IP addresses as Matt told in his geolocation related video. I think this factor can prevent those bought +1s and likes stay away from ranking. This is what i think. Whats your opinion on that?

  • http://theseonut.com/ Adam

    I feel like most of these hummingbird posts are knee jerk reactions based on a lot of guesses and conjectures. It’s just too early to tell what’s really going on. I’m in a lot of verticals with a lot of different sites of my own as well as client’s sites and there’s just no clear indication of what, if anything, happened. My only concern is how much they may be pushing Google+. Outside of SEO and marketing, who really uses it? Should they really be using that platform to be a core search indicator and function? I like the author ship “idea” but unless more everyday people start to use it, it’s kind of pointless in my opinion.

  • http://www.20milesnorth.com/ Rob Jenkins

    The IP address can be spoofed easily and there is no way for them to tell where the likes came from on other platforms. If they are going to consider social signals, it can’t just be Google +1′s, as that is such a minor part with twitter, pinterest etc.

  • http://www.seohonchos.com/ SEO Expert – Rahul Trivedi

    Yes you are right but i think Google is giving more priority of the social signals which are coming from G+ because at last it is their product.

  • Lenny Gomez

    That is a good one – YouTube Videos + Installer Videos on your Website, make sure to add your video schema code / Social Bookmarks to seed the content and use Facebook / Twitter for dispersing of the content… In industries where you think there wouldn’t be interest, there tends to be a lot of interest because of the industry not taking note… my two cents


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