Google Hummingbird and the rewards of quality content

To begin with, we’re going to assume that we all have knowledge of basic SEO and how search algorithms work in general. It might be a pretty big assumption but there are simple guides which explain the basics here and here if you want to brush up.

So, Google Hummingbird, what’s it all about? The short story is that it’s a major overhaul of Google’s algorithm focus which, according to Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search, is their biggest since 2011. It refocused their efforts towards “semantic search”, a desire to improve search query responses by “understanding” what the searcher is looking for. For example, rather than hearing the words “bear, picnic, basket” and shooting back results that match each keyword, the algorithm would put 1 + 1 + 1 together and come up with Yogi Bear.

To get more philosophical about things, Hummingbird is a further step on Google’s bold journey to deliver what people actually want. It turns out you don’t have to disrupt people’s lives to monetize your service (hello Microsoft!) and by making lives easier you actually endear yourself to your customers.

As Google has always stated that it wants to continuously improve its search algorithm, it’s no surprise that this change to its algorithm aims to enter a actual conversation with the user. How, where, why, who and when might all seem quite easy questions to comprehend, but machines are actually very slow to pick up on these concepts. In creating a more intelligent, “thinking”, algorithm Hummingbird searches for the context and deeper meaning behind your query. Whether it’s long and complicated like “who are the main dispersers of apple seeds?” or short and even more nuanced like “burgers”.

But what does this all mean for us, the humble site owner or less humble SEO guru? Well quite a lot actually. Not only is it a specific guideline for how Google wants its content to be written now, it’s also a glimpse through their magic kaleidoscope into where they want to go in the future. Presumably, Google isn’t going to perform the biggest rejig of its algorithm since its foundation on a whim.

So, what this boils down to is quality content that actually answers the question someone is asking, thus making Google’s users happy. It’s not a perfect system yet but that seems to be where the unstoppable Google train is headed.

This might seem obvious, but then you look around and realize that, since the dawn of search engines, marketers have attempted to do anything but actually write proper content. Spammy backlinks, keyword stuffing, spinning nonsense; they’ve all been very effective SEO techniques over the past two decades but, now the snake oil salespeople of the digital world are being bustled off their street corners and real remedies are being offered.

Considering this, it’s pretty surprising that more digital marketers aren’t pushing the mantra of “take time and effort in your work and gradually you’ll see results”, I guess it doesn’t sell as well as “№1 on Google in 10 days”.

So how about we look at what you SHOULD be doing to get your SEO on the right track both now and the very long-term future:

1. Give searchers what they’re looking for

This might have come across through the article but it is so important and so obvious that we really can’t EMPHASIZE it enough (yes that odd choice of something to bold was mainly just to wake you up!). The future search utopia that Google imagines is one where someone looking for “the closest line dancing group to me” will get exactly that. Not an explanation of line dancing. Not a YouTube clip of the World Line Dancing Championships. Not a line dancing group that last posted in 2011. Never mind why on earth anyone would actually want to go line dancing, they want to, that’s their choice and Google wants to give it to them. If you want to be the one Google respects to provide that answer then the general info won’t be enough. Aim to provide the specifics of a request, like adding a line dancing location directory to go with the range of rhinestone jackets you want to flog!

2. Make your content enjoyable

A more intuitive algorithm means that things like bounce rate and user engagement feed the GoogleBot “brain”. While lengthy and informative content is lovely, most people have convinced themselves they don’t have time for it. So to sate searchers insatiable thirst to cram as much knowledge into their head as they can in 10 seconds, like a digital Supermarket Sweep, it is advisable to include images, infographics and video. Though it won’t be as valuable for keyword recognition, an engaged user is a happy user in Google’s eyes. There’s also the very real possibility that your awesome infographic will pique the visitor’s interest to such an extent that they halt their information rampage and actually settle down to read your well-researched and thoughtful content.

3. Long tail keywords

A long time ago, before the current era, people typed full and grammatically correct sentences into their search engine. Imagine using a crazy format like “How should I rewire a European plug?” or “When is the best time to sow daffodils?”. We don’t notice it much but through the massive incompetence of early search engines we were trained to be idiots.

Finally, with Hummingbird they are catching up and want to reconnect search to the real world, where language has structure and in the process, re-educate us all to search the way we speak.

What this means from an SEO perspective is actually very encouraging. Long-tail keywords are on the way back and with them a more targeted audience. By allowing and encouraging more intelligent search terms, Hummingbird delivers results for those who have spent their time and effort producing relevant content and mining the long tail keywords that will fit it.

So there you have it! Focus on quality and give people what you say you will. No tricks, no shortcuts. Just care and attention, the way it used to be. And the way it will be increasingly in the future.

Originally published at on May 16, 2017.