Last Updated on 26th February 2024

Google Hummingbird Approach To Keyword Strategy

Rufous Hummingbird

Hummingbird was supposed to improve search results. But is it fair to say, the short and curlies of it is, this bird ain’t doing nothing.

But is it Google’s algorithm that does not work, or is it because the content curators have not worked out a keyword strategy Hummingbird responds to?

To be fair it could be a bit of both, but for the time being we have to assume the Big G has got its algorithm spot on and poor search results are the fault of publishers. So what are we doing wrong?

What is the Hummingbird algorithm?

Hummingbird can read semantic text. According to ‘search control’ the algorithm is capable of understanding the general context of content.

This “understanding” is akin to speaking with natives in a foreign language you are just learning. You pick out some words, but only get a feel for what the conversation is about, but don’t know what anybody is really saying.

The reason you understand the context of the conversation is because you recognise the meaning of some words, keywords. And search engines will always rely on keywords in order to index a page and match it against the end-users search terms.

Before Hummingbird, Google was restricted to the use of single keywords. But single keywords only provide a generic overview of a topic. So marketers had to choose several keywords to optimise pages to match search terms.

As a result, content became congested with keywords and it was not unusual to find content reading awkwardly. Google then told marketers to focus on writing for people and three years later, hey presto, an algorithm that (supposedly) can read like a human being…albeit a foreign one.

Effective keywords

In order to have success online, effective keywords are a must. But merely picking out keywords that will rank the best for your business is not good enough anymore, Hummingbird seeks to find how the keywords are presented.

Therefore marketers need to strike a balance between ‘head terms’ and longtail keywords. Head terms short keyword phrases using the most obvious keywords. For example, the other day my head term was the “Trinity of Babylon.”

The results came back with how Babylonian symbolism influenced the Christian trinity. Not the answer I wanted. So I changed to longtail search terms and typed in, “who are the trinity creator gods of Babylon.” Then I found the answer.

So the difference between head terms and longtail keywords terms mean the results will differ depending on the intent of the searcher. Despite containing the same generic keywords, (trinity, Babylon), essentially, Google is asking for more specific details in content and search terms.

For quite some time now, the search engine has been pushing for better quality content that is detailed, in-depth and offers value to readers. Hummingbird appears to focus on looking for sites that meet the criteria and wheedle out websites that produce low quality.

Which means ditching the regurgitated 500-word blog posts that does not offer unique, fresh or useful information. That doesn’t mean that all 500-words blog posts are of no use, but only if the subject requires 500-words to explain the topic sufficiently.

If you get your longtail search terms right, you can also rank for a bunch of other search terms that have been drilled down to specifics by end-users thus increasing your chances of receiving organic traffic.

Keywords placement

Longtail keywords also help to make your content read naturally and can easily be slipped into the body of the article. But although the shift in focus has switched to longtail keywords, don’t forget about the basics.

Search engines still rely on keywords to signpost you webpage, thus head term keywords should not be forgotten about. Keywords should still be included in your articles title and subheadings.

You should then sprinkle keywords throughout your content, providing they sound natural and are not overused. That is just a rule of good writing.

Furthermore, exact match keywords should be used early on in the article – in either of the first two paragraphs preferably – and them again, once or twice in the rest of the article.

Longtail keywords should be used to cover specifics for the topic you are writing about. For example, an end-user might want to know about ‘festivals in London.’ But that would be generic. But if they searchfestivals in London for May’ the search results will be closer to the information they want.

In-depth content

Although head terms still work when the keywords warrants it, the Hummingbird algorithm is a prompt that challenges content curators to publish better quality material that provides in-depth and accurate information.

Over the past year, Google has favoured articles with 3000-words or more in their ranking system for this very reason. It’s probably not a strategy the search engine can use as an accurate metric, but they have shown their intention.

The search engine giant is not suggesting you should rush out and write 3000 word blog posts, they are indicating that the topic you choose to write about is specific, accurate and offers value.

How many times do you read 500-word articles that either don’t explain everything fully or is filled with fluff so the writer can turn in the word count the client is paying for? Exactly.

Hummingbird has changed the way we need to think about our keyword strategy, and once you get your head around longtail search terms, the algorithm actually makes writing content easier. Let’s hope it also improves search soon as well!

Keyword Strategy With Semantic Search

The introduction of Google Hummingbird in September 2013 effectively replaced keyword search with semantic text. Judging by results we are getting in search engines, it appears online businesses have not figured out how to optimise a page with semantic text.

Traditional use of keywords may have been replaced, but they are not totally redundant. They have evolved.

You are already probably aware, the old algorithms searched for queries using specific keywords. But keywords can be too general. The intention with semantic text is so search engines can drill down into the specific request of the search query.

What is the future for keywords?

Keywords are by no mean redundant, but they should be used in a slightly different way – to mirror information end-users looking for. Search engines – we hope – will then do the rest.

The use of keywords is much simpler now. In fact, there should be no real difference to how you were using them before providing you were using longtail keyword and publishing quality content.

Keywords should fit naturally into your content, but more importantly the content should focused on the subject you are talking about. The idea behind semantic search is to encourage web owners to publish content that offers value to readers.

Yet many online businesses are centering their content marketing campaign around keywords. As a result, the internet is flooded with regurgitated content that repeat the same messages.

How does semantic search work?

The Hummingbird algorithm recognises the context of content. For example, if you are searching for information about a subject that is fairly broad, keywords will throw up a wide range of search results. Semantic search, in theory at least, narrows search results down so that the results are more relevant to your query. As a researcher in a broad range of subjects for our clients, it is apparent that businesses are not taking advantage of semantic search. In some areas, results have got worse rather than better.
The new algorithm focuses on answering the question typed in by the end user and it thinks will answer the end-users question. The problem is, search engines do not know the answer to the question if it can’t match the query.

This is not necessarily the fault of content writers who do not know how the new algorithms work. They may still be producing good quality content, but their site is not found because semantic search is still having to use keywords.

How can marketers produce content for semantic search?

Marketers should be asking questions customers are most likely to ask and the question in the content. Q&A or FAQ’s solve this problem. You can also use a question as a sub-heading in an article as we have done here.

You may also want to think about the type of blog content you are publishing. Google is looking for content that deals with specific answers related to the question in addition to top 10 lists which often cover the same points.  If you’re going to build listicles of this type then ensure you provide sufficient relevant topical content to support and provide context if you’re sending users to destinations from each item on the list.

Outbound links to high authority sites inform Google that you are recommending sites that provide good quality information, products and services – so be careful who you link to, but remember too that the web works because hyperlinks hold it together and linking to other sites is the nature of the World Wide Web.  If you’re not sure about a site then utilise the rel=nofollow attribute on hyperlinks.  Don’t hoard link equity for the sake of it.

Linking to top ranking sites with a good trust authority is also given kudos by searching engines and they will value you as a reliable “influencer” and thus award you with a higher rank.

Keywords may not be as important as they once were, but they should not be discarded. But rather than spending weeks and months of experimenting and testing them until you found the right balance, semantic search should make life less stressful and frustrating for online marketers.