The Rules of the Game After Google Hummingbird

Written by: Jason Bayless | May 26, 2014

In August 2013, Google released its Hummingbird algorithm. The biggest change Hummingbird brought with it was a new emphasis on semantic search, or the process of trying to figure out the user’s intent when performing the search.

In other words, with Hummingbird, Google takes imperfect user queries and rephrases them to deliver more accurate and useful information. It’s less about exact keyword matches and much more about synonyms and intent.

So is it still possible to have success targeting keywords, and should you even try? Is keyword targeting still a relevant and effective SEO technique, post-Hummingbird?

The answer is yes. Keywords still matter, especially for title tags and headings, but fretting about keyword density is definitely a thing of the past. Instead of using the same two or three keywords or search terms over and over again on the same page, the current best practice is to add in synonyms for those keywords and language that’s semantically related to the keywords you want to target without being repetitive.

The result of writing useful content that doesn’t stumble over the same keywords in every line is that the copy is more natural, more conversational, much more pleasant to read — and viewed as more relevant by Google and other search engines.

What other changes has Hummingbird wrought? The focus on semantic search is the biggest change, and it just underlines Google’s commitment to understanding what customers really want when they enter a search term so that the search results reflect that intention. It’s more like a dialogue with the search engine than a simple search, and that conversation should flow naturally right into your website.

So to sum up, quality content is king, and many of the same rules apply to SEO best practices that have always applied:

  • Use natural language in your content and don’t stuff headings or body content with keywords. If you’ve written your own content for so long that it’s hard to write anything but your “elevator speech,” then ask someone who is outside your company but knows what you do for ideas about how to describe your products, services and the benefit to the customer. (Hiring a good content writer can also help with this.)

  • Use straightforward title tags that accurately represent page content. Also, if you’re a business with a local presence, be sure to use geographical  references for local SEO purposes.

  • Make sure your site’s architecture and navigation are intuitive — so users know what to do once your SEO efforts lead them to your site.

  • If your website isn’t already optimized for mobile search, get on that right away! Mobile devices accounted for 55% of Internet usage as of January 2014, according to CNN.com.

Writing content in the Hummingbird age is a lot more natural, like having a conversation with your customers and prospects. Make sure to make it worth their while to read what you have to say, and search engines will pay attention too.