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Hummingbird: A wake-up call for better content marketing

By Alexandra Gavril - May 12, 2014

Even now, after Google’s numerous stark algorithm changes over the past couple of years, some site owners are still having trouble developing a proper content strategy.

You can still stumble across content strategies that involve:

  • Having a rookie do a basic keyword research that lacks insight
  • Creating loads of landing pages for as many keywords as possible
  • Writing keyword-optimised content (often useless) for search engines (instead of for the audience).

That’s a big ­no-no and a waste of your time and resources. Why? Because it will bring in zero results.

Now, if Hummingbird has taught us anything – it’s that purposeful content that answers questions and provides value to the audience should always be the primary aim of content marketers.

What is Hummingbird all about?

In August 2013, Google introduced Hummingbird, reinforcing the idea that quality, unique, useful, interesting content rules the roost. In fact, post-Hummingbird, the focus has shifted from search engines to individuals and from keywords to context.

Here’s how Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, explains Hummingbird:

“[Hummingbird] Gave us an opportunity […] to take synonyms and knowledge graph and other things Google has been doing to understand meaning to rethink how we can use the power of all these things to combine meaning and predict how to match your query to the document in terms of what the query is really wanting and are the connections available in the documents. And not just random coincidence that could be the case in early search engines.”

Hummingbird uses Google’s Knowledge Graph to better understand the relationship between concepts instead of individual keywords. This makes it possible to determine the meaning behind the words instead of just the words themselves. Its primary objective is to better understand the user’s intent when searching, thus offering them the most relevant results based on their query. This has been and will continue to be the key to effective SEO.

For example, someone might search for “best cup of coffee in London” or “Where can I find the best coffee in London?”. Post-Hummingbird, this is now more com­monly asso­ci­ated  with “London’s finest coffee house.” So, what’s important is to focus more on synonyms and qualifiers that are related to a query, and not exact keywords. But most importantly, your main focus should be creating useful, linkable/shareable, engaging content that meets the need of your audience.

That said, key­words and qual­i­fiers should still be promi­nent in on-page ele­ments such as

  • Page title, meta tags, and meta description
  • H1, H2, and H3 tags
  • Key­words through­out content
  • URL nam­ing conventions

and on off-page ele­ments including

  • Inter­nal links
  • Exter­nal links
  • Social media activity
  • Book­marks

How to develop a Hummingbird-friendly content strategy

Start by creating content that provides value to your readers as it’s the only thing that will get them to share or link to your content and also what will keep them coming back to your site. In other words, every piece of content must be created for the benefit of your audience.

Here are a few tips to help you create content that is Hummingbird-friendly:

1. Stop slacking and do your research well

The audience you’re trying to attract needs something so it’s your job to find out what that is. Maybe they’re looking into buying a family car and researching which one’s safest. Or maybe they want to go on a private camel trekking tour to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech, Morocco. In the past, it was easier to work out what people wanted from your site as Google use to make keyword data available.

However, with Google Analytics no longer showing keywords for organic searches, the next best thing you can use to get an idea about what visitors are looking for is Google Webmaster Tools. It will help you with your research and give you some good ideas on your visitors’ intent. So, for example, if you’re selling cars, Google Webmaster Tools won’t just throw in simple “cars” keywords but give you some insights and ideas on whether your audience is looking for “cheapest cars”, “safest cars” etc.

Quick guide on how to use Google Webmaster Tools

If you don’t already have an account, sign up for one, then login to your dashboard to add and verify your site. Now you’ll need to wait for 24 to 48 hours for it to start adding data.

Finding optimisation opportunities

When that’s done, login to your dashboard and click on Search Queries, a section where you’ll find both traffic and keyword information.

Search queries

Take a closer look at Query as it’s where you’ll see which keywords your site is ranking for. And by “ranking for” I mean showing up in the SERPs, not necessarily actively attracting traffic.


So, this is where you can quickly identify keywords that are relevant and that you can use to optimise your content and attract traffic.

Now click on Top Pages:

Top Pages

This is where you’ll see which content on your site gets the most impressions and clicks. It’s also where you can find some optimisation opportunities you can easily capitalise on as you get to see what your audience is really interested in.

So, stop slacking and put in the time to research and figure out which type of content would help to easily and satisfactorily meet the intent of your audience. What type of content would they consider useful, engaging, interesting enough to share?

2. Post natural content

Content should read (almost) conversationally. Your goal is to make it easy for your audience to quickly understand your message or the products/ services you provide. Write for people and not for search engines, and by that I mean don’t squeeze in certain keywords into your content that make it sound awkward or forced. Keyword stuffing no longer pays off and it should never be part of your content strategy if you want results.

3. Be creative

Speak to your readers in a way that will make them relate to your article instantly. Now that you know what they search queries look like, use them in your content. Let me give you an example: say you sell family cars. Old-school SEO would dictate that you use keywords like “best family cars” and “reliable family cars”. Post-Hummingbird, search terms such as “safe cars for families with newborns”, “big cars for a growing family”, “safest cars for traveling with infants”, “safety features to look for in a family car” will have greater relevance to search rankings for family cars.

4. Link to quality resources

If you need to provide facts and stats to prove your point, don’t hold back. Lend credibility to your content by linking to relevant, authority sources and show you’ve done your research so your readers don’t have to spend time doing it themselves.

5. Create long-form content

You probably think that writing a long blog post, a guide or any type of content of more than 1,500-2,000 words is a ton of work and might not be worth the effort. But it definitely is. Imagine you’re just starting out with your business and one day you stumble across a fantastic guide that seriously helps you. It’s full of useful information, everything you were looking for, and then you begin to trust the people who published that content.

Aside from building trust and being perceived as an authority, long-form content can also help you rank higher in search engines. In fact, a study from serpIQ on the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries showed that top-rated posts were usually over 2,000 words.

serpIQ study

If your content is well-written and helpful, you’ll also see increased time on site as people will not only read your content but are likely to also check out your other posts and see what else you’ve been sharing. Long-form content also helps with your social media efforts as it’s difficult to ignore or not want to share content that’s so insightful and helpful.

6. Write content that sparks a conversation

Now, more than ever, people type in questions into search engines. Make sure your content answers those questions on their path to purchase from you.

Before hitting “publish”, ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Is your content useful? Does it answer their question?
  • Does your content make you want to buy or contact the salesperson to find out more about that product/ service?
  • Is your content interesting enough you’d want to share it with your friends or discuss the topic further?

Remember, you’re creating content for people, not search engines

It’s all about creating great content that your audience likes, shares, links to and comments on. If your readers find your content helpful or interesting, so will search engines which will influence your rankings and traffic too. So, taking the time to consider your audience’s intentions when creating content can pay off in more ways than one.

Your turn now: What has Hummingbird taught you about developing a proper content strategy?