Though Google’s Hummingbird algorithm was released silently in August of 2013, most website owners did not notice until it was announced a month later. As long as SEO practitioners had been engaging in white hat SEO practises, there was little reason for concern. It was the webmasters who relied on keyword stuffing who took a hit.
Within the week Hummingbird was implemented, Mozcast reported over a 50% decrease in search result volatility, marking it the first major overhaul since 2001.
Understanding how to use keywords in a post-Hummingbird Internet is critical to moving forward.
What Is Hummingbird?
Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird is not an update to the old algorithm—it is a new algorithm altogether. Hummingbird brought more than 200 changes to Google’s approach, with the most prevalent focusing on mobile devices. What Hummingbird brings to the table is the ability to decipher meaning, intent, and context.
Phrase Searching Becomes More Common
The main reason this change was implemented was because users were starting to search by voice on mobile phones, rather than by typing on a computer. With over 50 billion unique searches made per month on a smartphone, Hummingbird aimed to shift resources towards its mobile market.
More so, up to 90% of the mobile search market was utilising Google on a daily basis—an amount previous unprecedented. Essentially, an emphasis on mobile devices with virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now enabled users to start searching full questions, rather than typing in a few quick keywords. As you can imagine, searching ‘where can I order a pizza for delivery in Glasgow’ is going to return different results than ‘pizza delivery Glasgow’.
Finding the Meaning Behind the Question
Previously, Google had been able to locate relevant pages simply by scanning for keywords. Now, things were getting more complicated as words transformed from commands into concepts. Google needed to be able to decipher the intent of the user and the context of the inquiry, rather than relying on individual words.
This was detrimental to those relying on black hat SEO practises. Those who relied on quality content as the focal point of their SEO campaigns escaped unscathed. On the other hand, over 21 million URLs were swiftly removed from all search results one month after Hummingbird was administered.
How Hummingbird Determines Context
In order to provide its users with relevant search returns, Google relies on search entities that focus on user-specific factors. By amassing over 200 signals while determining a site’s search rank, Hummingbird has redefined SEO in that keywords are not the only component to indexing a site. Some factors that may affect the results include the user’s prior search history, location, associated searches, spelling, and domains linked from relevant pages. Sometimes, the user can help by adding additional context. For instance, searching for ‘hummingbird’ is going to return results about the animal. However, searching for ‘hummingbird SEO’ provides entirely different results.
How Semantic Searching Affects Your SEO Campaign
The most obvious change that Hummingbird made to SEO is the discouraging of keyword cramming. In the past, it was possible to use a keyword multiple times throughout a page to boost rankings.
This new contextual way of searching demands that the site owner produces high-quality, relevant content that provides legitimate value to the reader. Now that you have a better understanding of what Hummingbird’s semantic search does, you can implement appropriate strategies. In this next section, we will take a look at how you can use keywords effectively.
1. Context Clues
Your goal should be to make Google’s job a little easier, and you can do that by filling your content with words that clearly present your message as intended. Referring back to the previous example about hummingbirds, if you were writing about the animal, your content should have words like ‘wings,’ ‘nectar,’ ‘animal,’ ‘bird,’ ‘nature,’ ‘beak,’ and other relevant phrases.
Of course, these types of words are going to happen naturally as you write. However, choosing the best differentiating words will help Google decipher the appropriate context. This is going to make your site rank higher on SERPs. This is especially important when optimising your website for words or phrases that have multiple meanings.
2. Write Concise Content
If your readers can easily understand the message that you are trying to get across, Hummingbird can as well. While you do not want to detract from the quality of your content by eliminating crucial information, try to be as direct as possible. Quality overrides quantity, so do not pad your content with unnecessary verbiage. Use relevant keywords, but don’t force them. Go for a tone that is natural and concise.
3. Use Synonyms
Diversify your keyword usage. For instance, if you are trying to optimise your London-based luxury catering website, use a variety of synonyms such as ‘UK fine dining,’ ‘upscale food delivery in London,’ and ‘London luxury catering.’ Repeating the same keywords or phrases can make your website seem illegitimate, where synonyms spread your keyword usage out while still conveying your intended meaning.
So how do you choose the best synonyms? One way is to use Google’s convenient ‘Related Searches’ feature. First, search for your target phrase. Next, simply go to the sidebar on the left and click ‘Related Searches.’ The resulting list should be a fantastic starting point, and you can always use those phrases to find more related keywords.
4. Link to Reputable Sites
One way to add legitimacy to your website is to link to another credible website. A link to an authoritative source can make your keywords more effective, even if that website does not link back to yours. In fact, it is worth noting that too many mutual links can be a red flag to Google. It can even result in penalties if Google suspects that you are participating in link-sharing schemes. Link to quality external sites, but only when the link is relevant to the reader.
5. Consider Why a User is Searching for a Particular Phrase
Let’s say you are optimising your furniture company’s website. You may want to use keywords like ‘best furniture,’ furniture reviews,’ and ‘home decor furniture.’ However, you should also think about the search path that causes the user to search for those phrases.
For example, a person may have previously searched for ‘how to interior decorate’ or ‘which furniture is trending.’ Understanding that an estimated 64% of web traffic stems from organic searches, incorporating these types of related words and phrases into your relevant content is going to add semantic value to your website.
6. Acquire Data with SEO Tools
There are plenty of keyword research tools that can help you adopt keyword best practises. Here are a few of the most popular ones:
● Screaming Frog
● Google Keyword Planner
● Google Trends
● Keyword Tool
The landscape of SEO is always changing, and Hummingbird is certainly not the final chapter. As Google’s algorithms become increasingly sophisticated, you’re going to need to keep up. At this point, there is no doubt that Google’s focus is on providing an optimal search experience, while also catering to the spontaneous nature of today’s queries.
With that in mind, you should always focus on providing content that is optimised for your readers.
Even if you are absolutely brilliant at strategic keyword usage, your site is going to falter if it is not providing exceptional value to your audience. The best long-term approach is to enhance your high-quality content with semantic keywords, without letting them overshadow your message. Now is the time to adopt legitimate SEO strategies using semantic keywords naturally.
It’s important to make sure you take a holistic approach to SEO, though there are other factors aside from keywords to consider.
According to digital marketing agency Coalition Technologies, ‘Search algorithms are looking at return traffic, inbound links, social media sharing, and other similar metrics in addition to keyword usage in order to determine search rankings.’ Take a multi-faceted approach to SEO, and be ready to adapt as necessary.
Carolyn Clarke is an SEO consultant who works with a number of local businesses in her hometown of Birmingham. She also works as a freelance writer with a focus on web development and digital marketing.