Optimizing for Google Hummingbird

by Alan Eggleston

Google Hummingbird – how do you optimize for it?

Green-breasted Mango hummingbird

Photo by: Kat&Sam on Flickr by Creative Commons License.

First, you need to know what it is. Google Hummingbird is a new search algorithm that seeks to differentiate the nuances of meaning in a search, not just identify a search’s keywords. It is preparing the way for searching by asking coherent questions in the search window instead of just entering keyword strings. (Have you seen the new Google TV ad of the kid prepping for a class speech? It’s all about asking questions.) You will still be able to perform word-string searches, but Hummingbird will maximize the question search.

Second, you need to know how that affects a search. To do that, you need to remember a little history on search. In the early days, you did a search by entering a keyword; you might have looked for “painter” or “artist.” A few years later, the search engines refined searches so that you entered a couple of words; you might have looked for “art painter” or “fine artist” or even “Renaissance artists.” When mobile Web intensified and competition for search results became more critical, the search string got longer; you might have looked for “fine artist in New York” or “Midwest landscape artists.” Today, with Google Hummingbird, the emphasis is on answering questions and figuring out what the searcher is really asking. Did she ask, “Where are the best Midwest painters?” as in where is the quality best or as in where are they most numerous – or what?

Now, you need to know how that affects your site ranking. A site that relied on keyword stuffing and other keyword cheats to get high rankings isn’t going to do well with Hummingbird. Working with a couple of keywords with a little bit of content won’t tell the search indexers much about your site. But a site that has provided a lot of information with a slew of terms and links to authoritative sites that better help define the keywords will garner a lot of nuance and will do great with Hummingbird. Similarly, a site with a lot of pages that contain a lot of content will do well.

Keywords are still important – they are just harder to manipulate a site around. Similarly, links are still important but harder to manipulate for ranking.

Optimizing Tips

So, how do you optimize your site for Hummingbird? Most important, I would make sure my site had a lot of content – and not flimsy, me-too content, but great, quality content. Then I would make sure I built quality links that helped support the concepts I am building in my content. Finally, I would start by asking a series of questions I think searchers might be asking in a search and try to answer them in the content to help build relevancy to that nuance. A page of highly relevant FAQs or Q-and-A’s, for instance, could be helpful, as might be a page with questions as subheads that you answer in the body text – but don’t overdo it (not on all pages, for instance).

One thing is becoming clearer with all the recent changes by Google – not making keywords easy to find, multiple Penguin and Panda updates, the new Hummingbird algorithm – search engines want you to stop focusing on keyword manipulation and focus on creating good, quality content. They want you to stop looking for cheats to the guidelines and focus on optimizing for the guidelines. My own experience is that continuing to do the SEO basics (as provided in the search engine guidelines) provides stellar results. A client who was doing great before Hummingbird was released is doing incredibly well now.


11 thoughts on “Optimizing for Google Hummingbird

  1. Thank you for a good, yet concise explanation of what Hummingbird means for web content creators. I will be sharing this with my boss!

  2. Pingback: Web Editors Blog: How to Optimize for Google Hummingbird | Penman

  3. Great explanation, Alan. You’ve made Hummingbird easy to understand. As you mentioned, Hummingbird is not relying on a single keyword but the entire sentence and also the context of the question. Hummingbird tries to understand what the user is actually trying to search for so exact single match keywords no longer make the cut. I like your idea of FAQ’s as one of them may match the users’ queries. I’ve also heard on other posts that you should use sentences and queries in your titles as well. As you said, content is king and ultimately providing the user with relevant, useful content should be our aim.

  4. Could I get some clarity on one of the points you’ve raised as part of your optimizing tips?

    “Most important, I would make sure my site had a lot of content – and not flimsy, me-too content, but great, quality content.”

    Do you mean that literally? Does this go against the grain in website build to a certain extent where the norm is pretty much ‘less is more’ i.e. saying as much with as few words as possible?

    • Great question, Darius – thanks for asking it. There is always a tension between keeping the page simple and providing enough material. I find that most websites err on the side of brevity while not necessarily achieving simplicity or clarity. This is especially true on the home page, which is where you need to establish relevance for both the reader and the search engines.

      However, in the context of the statement you’ve quoted, let’s remember that content flows throughout your site. The home page is probably the most likely place to maintain some brevity because you are likely trying to accomplish multiple things there. It usually introduces the reader to the rest of the site while establishing the character or tone of the site, so it may be less informative as thematic. It may be broken into elements or segments instead of providing a core of information, so it won’t necessarily be viewed as data heavy. Still it has to show its relevance to the keywords people will choose in a search, and that page needs enough content for search engines to decide it has authority and weight. But it’s the interior pages where depth and weight is especially important. If the home page leads to inside pages that are light on content, light on information, poor in quality, search engines won’t be ranking the site very high. And with the new Hummingbird search algorithm, less content (less is more) means far less to create context and nuance. Go for more content but fewer words.

      The best way to enforce the ‘less is more’ mantra of the past while working with the ‘more is better’ principle of today is to write well crafted material in the active voice – concise, to-the-point material that focuses on information rather than blather. Some writers haven’t learned now to edit or trim wordiness. Eliminate unnecessary words. Use shorter sentences organized in thoughts or ideas rather than long, wandering constructions. Help the reader scan by adding format aids like bold text, bullets, more subheads, and so on. Compact copy always reads shorter.

      Hope that helps clarify what I meant. Never hesitate to ask questions.

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