We’ve already talked about how Google has changed since the Hummingbird update. The search engine is now aiming to analyse search queries as a collective whole rather than a string of individual words, with the aim of understanding user intent. This obviously has a big impact on keywords, so did Hummingbird kill the keyword? Well, sort of. The keyword isn’t dead, but the way it’s used for SEO has changed dramatically.
How keywords used to work
Not so long ago, you would do some keyword research, making a fixed list of terms you wanted to rank for. Then you would create a page to target each keyword, and keep track of how well that page was ranking. The quality of the content on the page was secondary to ensuring you included the keyword in places like the URL, page title and headings.
For users of the web, this meant a poor experience, with content often put together just to rank for certain keywords rather than to be useful or informative.
Since Hummingbird, this single keyword approach will no longer get results. As Google now tries to ascertain the intent of the search, rather than showing results that exactly match the keyword, ranking for a single keyword isn’t useful anymore.
That isn’t to say the words in your document aren’t important – they are still the basis that Google is deciding what your content is about. It’s still crucial to include relevant keywords in your content – but there’s no longer any need to ensure a single keyword is in every part of your page. Searchmetrics found that having keywords in URLs, domains and H1 are of declining importance and instead the overall topic of your page is becoming a more important factor.
This graphic from Moz.com is a good representation of the move away from single keyword pages to a more rounded, topic-based approach:
Without the old regimented approach to SEO to fall back on, it can feel a little difficult to know where to start in getting traffic from search in 2014 and beyond. Along with Hummingbird, Google also introduced “Not Provided”, meaning we can’t even check what the majority of our visitors are searching for.
But in many ways this levels the playing field, making it easier to rank without having to employ the SEO techniques of old. The key is to create high quality, unique content in natural language that cover topics relevant to your audience.
The move to semantic search may actually help your content get found more frequently, especially if it targets a niche. As many of 50% of search engine queries are long tail, in fact, Google says that around 18% of all searches are totally unique, things that have never been searched for before.
This, coupled with the fact that Google can now better understand user intent, means that Google can now better answer these niche queries with your page on a relevant topic, even if it hasn’t been specifically optimised for the specific query.