Some time ago, SEO copywriting for the Web was about maximizing for keywords. A whole industry solidified around writing for a certain percentage of a given keyword within the copy and managed the creativity or sell message around that. Then came Google Hummingbird. To be perfectly accurate, then came Google Panda, Penguin, and – finally – Hummingbird.
The Evolution of SEO Copywriting
The change in SEO copywriting habits has evolved.
- First changes began in 2011 with Google’s introduction of Panda: Filtering content for quality, it penalized for poor quality such as duplicate content and content of little value.
- In 2012 came Google Penguin: Filtering content for spam, it penalized for things like poor quality links and poor keyword strategies.
- In 2013, Google totally rewrote its search algorithm folding elements of both Panda and Penguin into Hummingbird, upending much of the SEO copywriting practices of the past.
To recap from a copywriting perspective, here is where we are today.
Copywriting Rules After Panda and Penguin
Thanks to Google Panda (and continuing with Hummingbird):
- No more duplicate copy; however, Google (and other search engines) can distinguish between same copy shared between global versions of a website. To be really sure, websites can mark one set with a canonical tag for indexing.
- No more writing the same story for multiple sites and expect to rank for it.
- No more slipshod articles written simply to rank for a keyword or keyword string and missing quality or value (such as content farms).
Thanks to Google Penguin (and continuing with Hummingbird):
- No more spam activity, like writing copy by simply repeating a keyword or keyword string.
- No more copy with links using the same keyword or keyword string for anchor text and links that do not lead to valuable content.
How Copywriting Is Different After Hummingbird
Google is now changing the whole search dynamic. How the user is expected to do a search:
- Searching by asking questions
- doing a search using mobile, while in motion
- anticipating what you want before you finish the search string to speed up delivery of information
All will make how you write copy much different. Most important to you as a writer is helping establish nuance to your page.
Building Nuance in Your Copy
Before Hummingbird, you wrote around a keyword. Today, you still need to:
- Begin with a keyword, the key concept behind your page.
- Extend the keyword to keyword strings and work with synonyms for your keyword, letting the search engine know how much more your page is about than simply that one, solitary keyword.
- Provide links that both verify your keyword and that build that extended meaning.
Add Authority to Impress Hummingbird
Hummingbird awards authority, so you need to build on page authority, by providing
- information versus fluff
- depth versus surface
- backup versus bluff
- the long read versus the short read (not necessary long sentences and long paragraphs, but lengthier information, more data or facts)
All of this together tells Google, Yahoo, and Bing, on complex searches, this is the many ways this page fits because this is the many things this page is about and it’s by someone of substance.
This is important for all types of copywriters:
- sell copywriters
- article writers
- brand writers
- white paper writers
It actually is important for anyone writing for the Web.
How to Work with Keywords Today
It is still important to begin with that basic kernel of the keyword or keyword string.
- Google did away with its free keyword reporting tool, but it offers a free keyword planner in its Adwords program that doesn’t require actually planning an ad campaign to use.
- Bing and Yahoo have a free keyword tool, too.
- There are others with limited free use. Google “free keyword tools” for more.
You can still identify the most effective keyword strings as a beginning point for your page and build from there.
For some searchers, a simple keyword string search is still useful and for a while may suffice while users adapt to the new power opening to them through Google Hummingbird. So, don’t eliminate the keyword as a basic strategic tool!
But widen your word palate as you work with copy:
- If you’re writing about Chevrolets, consider that they’re also known as Chevys, Malibus, Impalas, and Cavaliers.
- They aren’t just automobiles, but also cars and vehicles and sedans.
- A dealership isn’t just a sales floor but also a dealer showroom and service center and GM portal.
- Find better ways to redefine your keyword in a meaningful way.
Link to a site’s Interior pages as well as to authoritative pages outside like
- news sites
- reference sites
- universities and research pages
- white papers
- other links with authority
Link to pages that provide
- depth or breadth
Don’t link to pages simply of opportunity that lead the reader to nowhere.
One way to make use of question search strings is to write questions into your copy that search engines can pick up in a search. For instance:
- Anticipate a search string as one of your first questions in an FAQ page and answer it, including a link to an appropriate page on the website.
- Write a headline or subhead leading with “How” or “What” or “When” that builds into the keyword.
How to Copy Write for Hummingbird
Many of the old rules-of-thumb for SEO copywriting still apply.
- Use keywords or keyword strings early on the page and in headlines and subheads.
- Use keywords or keyword strings in meta tags.
- Create unique page titles and meta descriptions for every page (no duplicates!).
- Use keywords in anchor text for links in first use, vary verbiage in anchor text afterwards.
- No more keyword stuffing! Write sensibly for your audience.
SEO copywriting has evolved, especially more recently. But its goal has always been the same: Reach the audience with dynamite copy. Today more than ever, that is done by writing quality content, in partnership with Google Hummingbird.
Using keywords was definitely a lot easier before Google added a lot of their anti spamming techniques. It has gotten the content for your searches to come up as more relevant, but it was much easier to get page visits then. These are some very helpful tips to work with hummingbird, thanks for sharing them.
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Alan Eggleston says
Thanks for commenting, Spencer. I think most of us will find the results from Hummingbird to be more gratifying when we build more nuance into our pages. It actually frees us to write more naturally and more fluidly instead of worrying about planting keywords, which was what keyword stuffing became about. I hope these tips help everyone make the most of what could be a very good thing through Hummingbird. Alan
I have so many difficulties due google’s update every year. So, I’m just develop my blog to be as natural as possible from long ago. To be honest, I’m more worried if we get penaltized because of something that suspicious. It will be a very long time to be restore…
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Alan Eggleston says
Thank you for commenting, Meisha. I have always found Google to be good for its word, which is rewarding for providing natural content that is written well for the reader. That said, there are still some things spelled out in their webmaster guidelines that help Google index the site and determine what your site is about, and doing that well also is rewarded. It seems to me “doing something suspicious” takes doing something pretty suspicious to get penalized. I’ll bet you do just fine. For those times when we do slip up accidentally, Google does allow us to correct the mistake and ask them for a reconsideration. Best wishes with your blog and pleasing your readers AND Google. Alan
Good post on Googles Hummingbird. I agree that keywords still do have their place and are effective with things such as anchor text (although diversity is vital). However, LSI has played a vital role for the last couple of years before Hummingbird was even introduced. You will notice that many of the top ranked pages for a specific keyword don;t even include that keyword within the title tag.
It’s a clear sign that big changes are occuring and we web masters and bloggers just have to adapt and focus on writing great content rather than trying to rank for specific keywords.
Here is another good article I read earlier on Google Hummingbird update… webnewstrends.com/googles-hummingbird-update
All you need to do is identify common terms and words used in the articles and posts that rank at the top. Crack that and you’re golden.
Alan Eggleston says
Thanks for commenting James. It definitely takes some strategy to be competitive, but the key is to write well and define your keyword well. I disagree that keywords aren’t important in title tags, but it’s clearly more important than ever today *how* you work with keywords and build around their meaning. I’m not sure what your experience is, but mine has been that establishing the meaning of the page in the title tag, description, and key elements of the page are still very important.
Thanks for the breakdown of Hummingbird. Natural writing is always best, and I like that it’s coming back into fashion. What is meant by by “longer”? Is that in lieu of more pages about the same subject? Or more specific, and with more information?
It would also be nice if Google penalized all of those “Around the Web” stories that have no relationship to the article or site they’re pasted on. They’re poorly written and often no more that keyword stuffers.
Alan Eggleston says
Hi Kristin, thanks for commenting. By “longer” I meant either in article length or site depth, but especially in article length, which provides more depth on the topic and more opportunity to build nuance on that particular keyword. You can also do that with depth of site, but search engines look at article length (if it’s quality content) as indicative of topic richness. You can add all kinds of pages without necessarily adding richness to a topic, whereas they see article length as providing more information.
Search engines do penalize for spam (Penguin) and spam comments, which is why you should always research your comments on a blog. I’d like to see them do a better job of penalizing simply duplicate comment that’s meant to perpetuate a story instead of add information. Google said just the other day they are turning more to rewarding sites that do a good job with quality content instead of penalizing sites that do a bad job, which I think is a mistake. Sites that simply duplicate content or add meaningless content aren’t adding value to readers, they’re muddying up the Internet. Alan
Alan Eggleston says
Hi again Kristin. I just posted an article in the Web Editors Blog about building authority where I go into adding volume to a site, which is what the “longer” comment is about. This might help add some context, too.
Harshil Patel says
If you want to grow in SEO field then you have to become a natural writer. Thanks to Penguin and Hummingbird who easily identifies the copied content or keyword. Thanks you very much for such useful information.
Great write up, Alan. It’s refreshing to know that effective SEO copywriting still starts with the keyword!
Just on the point of linking externally — I also got this advice in an SEO course, but doesn’t linking away from one’s site take link juice away from your site?
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Alan Eggleston says
Hi Damien, thanks for commenting. Glad you like the article.
Linking away from your site (external links) can help verify for the search engine what your content (keyword) is about, especially if you link using keywords in your anchor text and especially if you link to quality content within a site with authority. It tells them you are linking to relatable content so your content must be of a similar topic. The best of all worlds is if you can get that site to link back to your site, especially from that external page back to your internal page. That tells the search engine that the external site agrees that your content relates contextually. There is less advantage today than there used to be to use all keyword-rich anchor text. In fact, too much reliance on keyword rich anchor text is seen as being spammy, so mixing up the language is an advantage today.
With the new Hummingbird algorithm, the wider the range of synonyms we use for keywords and links, the more nuance we build into our pages, which will help build relatability, too.
Hope that helps explain it. The concept of “link juice” has changed some the past year. It’s way too easy to be considered link spam, so focus on quality links that provide value to your reader rather than simply rank-building connections, and that shouldn’t be a problem.
Okay that makes sense. Thanks for clearing that up, Alan. I’m now off to check out your article on building authority into one’s site.
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Alan Eggleston says
Great! Let me know if I can help explain anything more.