Embrace Google Hummingbird, “Keywords Not Provided” for Better Content Marketing

If Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm doesn’t force you to be a better writer, nothing will.

The new evolution from the Panda/Penguin updates, combined with Google’s practice of no longer providing keyword data, are going to leave content marketers in the dark.

I couldn’t be happier.

HummingbirdBefore Panda and Penguin, SEO professionals used all kinds of tricks, both sneaky and legitimate, to game the system. Panda eliminated “thin” content — too-short blog posts, posts that contained 20 words and then took you to another page — and Penguin eliminated a lot of backlinking strategies.

Hummingbird is going one step further. According to TechCrunch,

(it) allows Google to more quickly parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches word-by-word), and to identify and rank answers to those questions from the content they’ve indexed.

In other words, Google is no longer looking for results that match the collection of words you put into the search bar, they can identify the question, identify the intent behind the question, and find the best possible results.

Hummingbird is geared toward, and has been shaped by, mobile and voice search. People open their Google Maps or Google Search on their smartphones and speak their search as a question. Or they get on Google on their tablet or laptop and type in their question:

  • How do I delete my Twitter account?
  • How do I ask a girl out?
  • How do I get a passport?

“But, how do we know which keywords to write about?”

How Do I on GoogleYou don’t. You just write about the things that you think people want to know about.

You can figure that out by looking at your page visits and seeing which pages have the most visits, and then writing about those topics some more.

You can figure that out by searching in your email archives for the phrase “how do I.” Repost the answers you sent.

You can figure that out by writing about leading stories and trending news in your industry. (Read David Meerman Scott’s Newsjacking to find out how to get ahead of the competition in these instances.)

You can figure it out by paying close attention to the things you sell and the problems they solve.

You don’t need keywords to figure out what people are looking for. You need to look at your readers’ behavior, figure out why they came to your site, and respond to the things they want.

(Of course, you could just call up a few of your customers and ask them too.)

But most importantly, you need to quit trying to game the system by dinking around with keywords and just start writing real content that people want to read.


Photo credit: AnnCam (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. Hello Erik, people have become very confused after the introduction of hummingbird algorithm. Will it improve the quality of SEO or will it give another headache to webmasters. I also feel that Keywords and SEO should be your main focus but you need to be careful about not going beyond the guidelines by Google. Also i had read somewhere that while you are Guest Posting If the Title of the post is in the form of Question and your post is in Answer form then it will be liked by HummingBird.
      What do you think Erik?
      Great Post :)

      • Thanks, Vicky.

        To answer your questions, yes and yes. Yes this will improve the quality of SEO, and yes, it will give webmasters another headache.

        I think we need to gear our blog posts toward people asking questions, because more people are starting to do that. They’re asking full questions like “What’s the best Italian restaurant in Indianapolis?” and not just “Italian restaurant Indianapolis best” any more. So you could write a blog post like “the five best Italian restaurants in Indianapolis” and capture the spirit of what the person might be looking for.

        Remember, Google is moving more and more to “semantic search,” or understanding what we want. Google is starting to realize that we don’t just want pages that have the words “Italian restaurant Indianapolis best” on it. We want to know exactly what the best restaurants are. The search engine is beginning to recognize questions, so we’re better off trying to answer them, whether our title is in the form of a question or not.

        Finally, as far as titles go, the title doesn’t have to be in the form of a question, but rather should be in the form of an answer.

    2. This is the best advice I have seen yet on how to deal with Hummingbird and “Keyword not provided”. I think what is often lost on people, especially those trying to sell shortcuts, is the reason behind algorithm changes. They are to make the search results as relevant as possible to the end user and to get smarter about weeding out garbage disguised as great content.

      Instead of looking for shortcuts and ways to defeat the intent of these changes, why don’t you give the search engines what they want? Give them great content! It’s a simple concept.

      Kudos to you for telling it like it is.

      • Thank you, John. I keep seeing advice that emphasizes keywords and SEO over content. The keywords and SEO should influence content choice, but not drive it. Content needs to be written to be valuable, not to be the delivery for SEO. I know too many SEOs who get this backward, so I decided to write this post. We’ll see what happens.