Rolled out in late 2013, the Google search engine Hummingbird delivers answers instead of educated guesses. Powered by semantic search, results are returned based upon an understanding of what users are looking for—rather than a rank order of approximate answers based on keywords and Boolean parameters.
Implicit in Google's new methodology are significant changes for how marketers approach search engine optimization (SEO) and keywords. Now, every marketer needs to ask themselves: Do keywords even matter?
To answer that question, let's add some context (Hummingbird's specialty). First, we'll dig a little deeper into the concept of semantic search. Then we'll walk through five key takeaways for content creators and search marketers.
Semantic Search Explained
Semantic search is precisely interpreting the meaning among words in a search query. For a long time, that capability was just a distant hope. Instead, for years, Google and other search providers relied on keywords and links to determine the best answer to return for a specific search. Answers were returned rank-ordered as approximations based upon matched keywords on a website and the number of links to that site (with links seen as a "vote" of trust on the website's trust and authority).
Thus, keywords and links became the "virtual currency" of the pre-Hummingbird search economy. All search marketers know how that eventually worked out: Search engine results pages were polluted with misleading results, leading to websites with thin content and providing an unsatisfactory experience to the user.
How Hummingbird Results Are Different
Hummingbird makes the SEO tricks that caused the previously described mess too expensive to pursue. Instead, Hummingbird eliminates guesswork and capably interprets queries with associations. The words surrounding your keywords are now more precisely interpreted. The search engine is better able to discern the relationships between words and thus the context and the user's intent, delivering a much more relevant search result.