Featured Keywords SE Optimization SE Tactics

Has Google Hummingbird Killed Keyword Research?

SEO Targeting
Photo Credit: Augur Marketing via flickr

“If you don’t know the user intent behind the keywords you’re optimizing for then you’re doing it wrong. Also, if you are optimizing for keywords versus the needs of the user then you’re doing it wrong.”

– Jordan Kasteler, freelance marketing consultant

If you have a website, you’re probably quite familiar with conducting keyword research. This is a standard practice and has been used for as long as search engines have existed. These key phrases are the framework for the entirety of your presence in the SERPs.

Keywords are not the only rankings factors that search engines look at when determining a site’s position; in fact, there are more than 200 signals, making keywords a relatively small piece of the puzzle.

Considering that, along with the vast changes Google is constantly making to its algorithms, does keyword research and application still hold merit in SEO?

Let’s explore.

The Keyword Killer

I’m sure many of you are pondering what could possibly make keyword research an antiquated practice. The answer is Google’s 2013 Hummingbird algorithm update.

The update was designed to employ “semantic search,” which essentially means that search engines are becoming increasingly capable of understanding natural language queries and user intent. Understanding a user’s motive, the engine serves up the most relevant content and pages that correlate to the action Google thinks the person wants to take.

This effectively diluted the power of exact keyword matches and allowed pages to rank for keywords associated to the query that were not optimized for, or even included, on-page.

This, along with the constantly increasing competition over keyword rankings, has led to long-tailed keywords rising in prominence and authority.

But Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is not the sole factor potentially influencing the hypothetical death of keyword research.

Technological Transformations

As the technological revolution advances, more industries and tasks are relying on digital solutions to streamline and simplify common and complex duties.

This reliance on technology means that every discipline that leverages these types of tools is quickly evolving and transforming, as is the nature of everything.

In the case of search engines, digital assistants like Cortana, Siri, and even Google’s own brand of speech-to-text voice search are heavily impacting SEO as a whole; with keywords caught in the crossfire. This trend is only gaining steam with new devices like Alexa and Google Home entering the product arena.

These commodities are allowing people to change the way they search for products and information, disrupting the current order of SEO and keyword research. In time, these devices (and more sophisticated ones) could change how people interact with the Internet as a whole.

Considering that keyword relevance is changing in monumental ways due to the Hummingbird algorithm and advancements in search technology, combined with the massive influence of the Panda algorithm’s impact on thin content, what exactly does all of this mean for keywords going forward?

Researching Keyword Research

Since Hummingbird’s implementation in 2013, SEOs worldwide have been closely watching how this algorithm would alter the search landscape.

Many studies have been conducted on the matter in the subsequent years, and most of them draw similar conclusions. Neil Patel, distinguished digital marketer, recently conducted his own keyword study of more than 200,000 data points with the help of SEO providers Moz and SEMrush.

Ultimately, what the crew uncovered was that, “…top-ranked blogs did not necessarily have high keyword saturation, keyword representation or lots of high-DA backlinks.”

What these top-ranked blogs touted was incredibly comprehensive content.

So keyword research is actually dead, right?

Not exactly. . .

Future Ranking Strategies

Keywords are losing their power to other SEO-impacting factors. And that transfer of energy is moving from phrases to intent.

Since search engines are shifting their focus from keyword relevance to topic relevance, it is vital to explore pertinent topics to your industry and your users.

The powers of long-form content have long been touted, but Google’s algorithm changes have pushed the influence of in-depth and comprehensive blogs and articles to new heights. This is the key to ranking in 2017.

This is not to say, however, that keyword research is dead altogether. While crafting suitable and stellar content is where the power lies, keywords are still essential in the titles of the pieces, tags and should be sprinkled throughout the content itself.

In all honesty, this is a good thing for brands, marketers, SEOs, content creators, and everyone else who is trying to rank at the top of the SERPs.

For years, everyone has been reiterating that content needs to be written for people, not search engines. That keyword stuffing makes content read unnaturally and content optimization can be quite difficult at times.

With this information in hand, you can now switch a large portion of your focus from keyword research to topic research and content creation.

While content has always been at the bedrock of SEO strategies, it is now more important than ever. Success now lies in identifying the most pressing subjects to write about for your audience; which is a blessing because you can just ask them what they want through blog comments, forums and social media.

The most important things to consider when writing these newly-focused posts is intent. Why has a reader landed on my blog? What information does he/she seek to gain? What actions does he/she aim to take? These are all questions you should be asking before crafting your piece.

As semantic search continues to become more intelligent in the way that it recognizes user intent, keyword relevance will continue to plummet. That, however, only means that topical relevance is poised to become more important.

Do these revelations mean that keyword research will eventually go extinct? Maybe. That decision is truthfully up to Google. And since SEO is shifting, it’s safe to say that it eventually will.

Don’t stress about all of this too much right now. At this moment, what you need to focus on is creating incredible content that wholly covers a topic and caters to the user’s intent.

Do you think keyword research will become obsolete?

About the author


Tina Courtney

Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile


Click here to post a comment
  • I have researched over 400,000 keyword combinations for my products and come up with some interesting results. Now I have written my own software to string these keywords together, creating natural sounding groups of highly related words.

    I think its not so much about keywords but as meaning and the connections that those words provide. Thinking of words in terms of descriptors, instead of attractors is key moving forward. What I would like to see is a more language intelligent web that understands my search without trying to generalize it.

    I feel google has made some big mistakes in the way they are currently assuming some words to be related. Certain searches that are ambiguous terms are leading to brand name sites simply because many of the letters are the same in the words. There is a lot of hidden exploitation and political effect in the recent move to group related searches into similar topics. Now certain brands with names that are common words are kind of dominating those searches that should be varied and generic.

  • We need lot to understand on this. In coming future, we all see lots of update with keywords relevancy for SEO services.

  • I am sick of having to weave long tailed keywords into good copy. I wrote a blog and have to use keyphrases like Chiang Mai Thailand Hotels. The problem is that people using search boxes do not use proper English so it becomes impossible to then incorporate these searches into proper English prose.
    I hope we can stick to writing content that reads properly without having to include these clunky phrases.

  • It is very difficult now for SEO to work.
    Google takes 4 ads + 4 Google Places + 3 ads at the end of page.
    Now I am trying Google Adwords Express just for Singapore Market.
    What is your thoughts? Please advise.

  • Hi Tina,

    Nice post you’ve shared here. We don’t think that Keyword research is dead. But yes the SEO has changed lot of things in 2017 after Google new updates.

    Research and focus on very high quality content. Long-form content can improve our natural links. After that don’t stuff the keywords on your articles.

    Do proper Social media optimization and share your content to social media sites. Lot of things we need to do in 2017 to stay in streamline.


  • Hi Tina,

    Nice post you’ve shared here. We don’t think that Keyword research is dead. But yes the SEO has changed lot of things in 2017 after Google new updates.

    Research and focus on very high quality content. Long-form content can improve our natural links. After that don’t stuff the keywords on your articles.

    Do proper Social media optimization and share your content to social media sites. Lot of things we need to do in 2017 to stay in streamline.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • What an amazingly written post… The in-depth research about Google Hummingbird Killed Keyword Research is really impressive and worth reading!
    Keep up the awesome work of sharing information so comprehensively.

  • Yes, same way Rome fell. In a nutshell, it cut its own feet off. It bit the hands that fed them.

    In the late fourth century, the Western Roman Empire crumbled after a nearly 500-year run as the world’s greatest superpower. Historians have blamed the collapse on hundreds of different factors ranging from military failures and crippling taxation to natural disasters and even climate change.

    In the 21st century, Google fell, to natural disasters like Google, Android Wear, Lively, Dodgeball, Jaiku, Wave, Buzz, Video. Also, did I mention Google Wave.
    Google: Crippling taxation, AKA Google Adwords.
    Climate change: People getting fed up with Google snooping around their personal information. Reading everything you type and send and storing it in a big fat file about you: totally secure, impossible to get hacked or sold.

  • sorry, typo

    In the 21st century, Google fell, to natural disasters like Google,

    In the 21st century, Google fell, to disasters like Google+,

  • Hey Tina,
    Nice article explaining the Hummingbird algorithm which makes Google to give out better results to the query searched on Google.Your article clearly explains that how the content can be effected with this algorithm and what all things to be taken care of while creating quality content. Your article will be really helpful for the newbie to understand the Google algorithm and how to make their blogs or sites safe from getting penalized by Google.
    Thank you for sharing such a worthy piece of content.

  • Thanks Tina. It’s really informational. You mentioned that write content for public not for Google. How I can know, what information people are looking for. How I can make research about that?

  • Glad to hear this, because I’ve never bothered much with trying to use ‘keywords’. Instead I’ve always just written what the (imagined) user needs or wants to know about the subject at hand, trusting that eventually Google will catch up with what I’ve been doing all these years.

  • Thanks Tina……………For providing such an informative and helpful article. I hope this will help me to do quality SEO for my website according to these changes. Really you’ve done nice job. Thanks for sharing this article please keep posting such an informative article.

  • I don’t think the keywords would be killed. The ways are just changing not the basics. Now you have to use different variations of keywords instead of pure stuffing as Google is getting smarter.

  • Great post and thank you for that, only now I see that what I have done last month to optimize all my sites seems as a waste of time. Hope it’s not.

  • I can understand why Google would go this way. Users are pretty fed up with getting misleading and fraudulent results in search requests

  • I don’t think the keywords would be killed. The ways are just changing not the basics. Now you have to use different variations of keywords instead of pure stuffing as Google is getting smarter.

  • Very interesting post, I was especially captured by the issue you raised around Alexa and similar devices. While I have tried to keep in mind that more than half of searches are taking place on mobile and in a new way (Siri, find the nearest Mexican restaurant), I had not integrated the other piece. Your thought-provoking article is leading me down new paths!

  • I personally do not believe that keyword research is dead. Since I have started my website much later than google hummingbird, I know for a fact that keywords are important. The only difference being content quality, length, and how much time a user spent on a web page.

  • After Google hummingbird update, the search has been changed drastically so we must need to give more attention while researching. You have mentioned everything very easily that how can it be done in a proper manner. Thanks for such a great blog.

  • To answer the final question in your article, which I assume isn’t entirely rhetorical: ‘no’. Keyword research isn’t dead and never will die, because common threads and inextricable link between the query content and the query intent will always remain. All that has really happened since Hummingbird is that ‘non-matching content’ can now match to ‘matching intent’, thereby widening the circle of content you would need to cater for should you be doing SEO work. That’s actually no big deal, but it does mean (for now) that human linguistic intelligence needs to be applied.

  • Wow!!!!

    You seen to have hit the nail on the head. Searches seems to have made a 360 from the present and 20 years ago.

    semantic search was the way you found what you were searching 20 years ago. Then keyword search came into the picture and selling keywords made searches less accurate.

    semantic search, I believe will revise the internet to where it was 20 years ago. You will get a true search called organic search.

    Keep up the good work. We all need to know about changes to keep an internet presence…..

  • I don’t think keyword research is ended because of a hummingbird, but just the way of keyword research has been changed.
    Now, more than keyword research topic research is important according to your niche.

  • Google hummingbird was one of the biggest Google update to give the desired to user. You have mentioned the overall intention of the Algorithm. Keyword research is still alive but we need to be focus on this and have to be specific. By the way nicely explained the topic as many people are having the dilemma that should we focus on our keywords or not.

  • I don’t think so. Keywords research is the main process in SEO. It will be there until SEO exist.

    Google Hummingbird algorithm update is all about improving results for “conversational search”, making the search engine much better at answering specific user questions, rather than just picking certain keywords within a query.

    If you are having such a fantastic keywords then it will never harm your ranking results.

  • I’m like everyone else that’s commented here, I don’t think keyword research is dead either but long tailed keywords have grown more important with search as a result of voice search. They are more important than main keywords.

  • Unlike Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird is not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content), but a change in the way Google reacts to different types of queries, which lets the search engine now get the actual meaning behind a query, rather than the separate terms in it,