Google’s Hummingbird update introduces search that looks for meaning, not just keywords. Find out what the change means for copywriters.
What is Hummingbird?
Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, launched in 2013, is a change in the way search terms are interpreted by Google’s software. Instead of looking at the individual words you use in a search, and finding pages that use similar words, the algorithm aims to understand what your intention was – the reason you made the search.
How does it work?
It tries to interpret the meaning of the words you use.
For example, if you searched for ‘baking near me’, Hummingbird knows that you might have meant ‘baking classes’ or ‘bakery’, and ‘near me’ might mean where you are when you’re searching – for example, whilst out using a mobile – or near your home.
This is known as Conversational Search – the idea being that you ask Google a question, as you would a friend, and it answers you using contextual and background knowledge (just like a real person would).
It’s something Google have already demonstrated in their Google Knowledge Graph, but now elements of this anticipatory response are being integrated into the main Google search.
Does it mean that keywords are dead?
Keywords will always be relevant – they’re what we all use to search, after all.
Hummingbird, and the Panda and Penguin updates before it, has evolved keywords into indicators for something more complex: a user’s needs.
Google’s response to your keywords is now determined using knowledge about the world and the relationships between the things in it.
How can I create content that works for Hummingbird?
Integrating keywords that are only vaguely related to your website, or over-using keywords, won’t work as well as it might have done in the past.
We’ve always argued that quality content was the key to sustainable search success, and with these updates, Google has given official endorsement to that strategy.
What’s the long-term impact?
It will take time for the implications of Hummingbird to become fully clear, but do bear in mind that it’s an evolution of Google’s existing preference for quality content, which has been clear for a while. So if you already write good-quality, relevant copy that seeks to address a user’s actual needs and speaks in the language they use to search with, you shouldn’t have a problem.
As keywords gradually lose their significance in the mix of indicators to Google, the biggest impact for a copywriter might actually be in planning which content you produce rather than in the words on the page.
Google is looking to reflect the reality of search today, which is increasingly mobile and on multiple platforms. So it’s possible that quality local, mobile-friendly content will become more and more findable by Google, and therefore more worthwhile to produce.