How Google’s Hummingbird Update Affects Nonprofits

Google welcomed another animal to digital stardom last fall when it released Hummingbird, its latest algorithm. News of the update induced panic across the business world as many recalled the effects of previous updates, namely Panda and Penguin, which redefined the rules of online marketing.

The good news is that Hummingbird should be harmless for most nonprofits, but the update that rolled out four days earlier will not be. This is a brief overview of Hummingbird and why “(not provided)” is the real concern for online marketers. 

What is Hummingbird?

Search engines use complex equations caused algorithms to crawl, index, and rank pages on the Internet. Panda and Penguin were updates to an existing algorithm that targeted Web spam. Unlike the other two, Hummingbird is an entirely new algorithm. It uses many of the same metrics, but we are told that it incorporates a variety of new ones to create a faster search experience with better results.

Hummingbird is part of a larger movement by search engines to understand online authority. In the traditional format, more links to page contributed to a higher position in the search results. Now search engines want to promote content from authoritative voices or influencers on a given topic, and they are using more metrics to establish those relationships. That is not to say that links don’t matter anymore, they remain the top component, but there are more factors at play, and that should lead to better search results. Online authorities should begin to resemble offline authorities.

What is (not provided)?

Google introduced secure search in late 2011 in an effort to provide users with greater online privacy. If you use Google Analytics, visits from secure searches appear as (not provided) because no keyword information is available. The portion of (not provided) traffic has been steadily rising, providing marketers with less information about the traffic that comes to their website. Google quietly announced last week that all of it’s searches would now be secure. That means the portion of (not provided) traffic from Google will soon be 100 percent.

Why is (not provided) a big deal?

Whereas Hummingbird has the potential to help reputable nonprofits, 100 percent (not provided) will hurt them by hiding valuable information about our customers.

Until now, it was possible to see what brought people to the website because (1) someone had a need, (2) used a search engine to find a solution, (3) visited the website and (4) the terms that they used to find it were recorded by a reporting suite, like Google Analytics. A visit using “volunteer opportunities” as a search term said something much different about customers than “free resources.” Now we can only see that someone visited the site from search term (not provided).


This graph displays (not provided) traffic to Heartland Homes, a home builder in Pittsburgh, PA that was kind enough to share the data. We can see that (not provided) started in October 2011 and climbed fairly consistently until last month when it jumped from 50 percent of total organic search traffic to 66 percent. That line will continue to spike in the coming months, quickly erasing insight about their online visitors.


There is still no way to recover (not provided) data, leaving nonprofit marketers with only several ways to gather related information. Here are some methods to test today.

Historical data will be very important in the days of 100 percent (not provided) because it will help us learn from things that worked in the past. Successful strategies from yesterday might also be successful today.

Bing & Yahoo traffic still reports keyword data. The (not provided) update only affects traffic from Google. Unfortunately for many nonprofits, most traffic comes from Google.

Paid Search data provides a way to test positioning because visits from ads report keyword data. The (not provided) update only affects organic (free) visits. 

Landing page reporting might be the best option of all, but it takes a basic understanding of SEO and SEO reporting. Both will be discussed at the upcoming NTC. Visit us in March to learn more!

Join Andrew in his session on Friday, March 14 at 1:30pm. 

Andrew Garberson
SEO Lead
Andrew Garberson is the SEO Department Coordinator at LunaMetrics. His inbound marketing and public relations background includes management experience in entrepreneurial, nonprofit and agency environments. Andrew spends much of his free time as a pro bono communications consultant for international grassroots organizations in the nonprofit sector. He has master's degrees in business administration and mass communications.