In early September, Google implemented their biggest algorithm overhaul in more than 10 years with Hummingbird and no one knew about it for nearly 30 days.
What was so subtle about Hummingbird that we couldn’t even tell it was happening? Unlike Panda and Penguin which acted as corrections to existing algorithm data, Hummingbird was a rebuild of the system.
They took the engine apart, replaced important components and put it all back together. In the end, the machine runs like it always did – the changes are almost entirely internal.
So the big question we keep getting is what role keywords will play in a world where Hummingbird rules the land. Are they still important and if so how do we integrate them effectively without over optimizing for certain terms?
Here are some things to keep in mind.
Google Doesn’t Want Keyword Based Search
It’s been evident for years that Google didn’t want to run queries based on keywords any longer. They’ve been punishing people who take advantage of it for a long time – in anchor text links, over optimization, and density issues. They’ve also been developing semantic indexing technology for nearly a decade.
So switching to a native semantic search algorithm makes perfect sense. But don’t forget that semantic language still relies on key terms. When reading a book, listening to a lecture, or having a conversation, human beings still look and listen for specific terms.
Keywords Matter Because They are Part of Language
As a natural part of language, keywords are important to understand the context and overall meaning of a block of text as quickly as possible.
I skim most of the things I read in a blog or newspaper looking for key terms. So too does a search engine. The difference now is that instead of mathematically pulling out keywords, their placement and their density as exact matches, the Hummingbird algorithm likely skims like you or I would – gathering general meaning from the overall impression those words give.
If your content is well-written, descriptive and targeted to the audience you’re trying to help, it shouldn’t matter what keywords are included – as long as you’re being direct. But consider for a moment how important precise communication is in any field.
If you use the wrong words when interviewing for a job, talking to your spouse, or writing a letter, you’ll convey the wrong message and not get the intended results.
No one is counting how many times you say “hard working” in your cover letter, but something to that effect is expected. The same is now true of the Hummingbird algorithm. If you don’t use words that convey the right ideas, you won’t rank for those terms – but that doesn’t mean stuffing them in there will work either. You have to be careful about how you balance it.