Google Hummingbird 201: Keyword Research after Google Hummingbird

Keyword Research after Google Hummingbird: What Changed?

google hummingbird 201 keyword research

When Google rolled out the Hummingbird update announced in September 27, 2013, the landscape of search in Google changed. However, almost two years later, the industry has yet to fully adapt to the concept of Semantic Search. Discussions still take place about whether to use “version A” of a keyword or “version B” of a keyword, when in all reality A=B, and it doesn’t truly matter which version you choose to go after as your keyword target.

How Can I Tell When A=B for Semantic Search?

google hummingbird 201 semantic search

The easiest way to tell when A=B for Google Hummingbird is to go search! Probably not the answer you were expecting. Unfortunately, Google’s Keyword Planner only shows exact match keyword data, assuming someone is actually buying terms you’re researching. While Google’s SERP results reflect the nature of semantically equivalent search queries, Google has yet to introduce this concept into the Keyword Planner. The same can also be said for Google Trends. Google is only reporting the data for exact match searches.

Semantic Search in the Wild: Crikey, Let’s Take a Look!

semantic search in the wild

Pulled from a private browsing window via Firefox, the following are results for semantically equivalent searches involving variations of “hotels in Branson”. Click the images to see the full Google SERP set for the queries live.

Query: Hotels in Branson

semantic search serp set post google hummingbird

Query: hotel in Branson

semantic search with google hummingbird

Query: Branson mo hotels

google hummingbird semantic search keywords

Query: Branson hotel

google semantic search post hummingbird

As you can see from the example screen shots above, regardless of how I choose to phrase my query of “hotels in Branson”, in most cases Google is returning VERY similar SERP sets, especially for the top 10 results. The screen shot immediately above is a rare outlier to this phenomenon because the literal name of that hotel is “The Branson Hotel” and they’re getting a bit of brand love from Google, which helps them top the usual sites Google serves up for other semantic equivalents of the search query, but only for this one query.

We’re Off to See the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Semantic Keywords.

google hummingbird 201 semantic search equivalents in google

Image borrowed from

Now that we know most phrasings of “hotels in Branson” return essentially the same SERP set, let’s follow the yellow brick road down to the Keyword Planner and see what we can see.

google keyword planner with semantic equivalents

After a bit of clicking and digging through the suggestions, this was the downloaded list of keywords indicating the conceptual interest in the topic of “hotels in Branson” from the Keyword Planner.

export of semantically equivalent keywordsAfter tossing out the branded keyword data, this is what we’re left with:

google keyword planner realistic searches per month


As you can see from adding up all the exact match variants’ Average Monthly Searches, the actual search volume for the semantic concept is closer to 25,000 searches per month on average, at least for what Google will show us on the paid side. (Remember, this is all data from the Keyword Planner, so if someone isn’t buying the keyword, Google isn’t telling.)

Google Trends: Picking the Right Semantic Equivalent to Target

google trends for semantic search keywordsNow that we have a baseline for interest in our semantic concept of “hotels in Branson” from the paid side, it’s time to check out Google Trends and see how the masses are actually phrasing the semantic concept.

From what we can see in Google Trends, while the highest trending search query for the set is “Branson hotels”, notice that “Branson mo hotels” and “hotels in Branson” also have a decent trending volume in web search. While this was suggested by the data from the Keyword Planner, it’s always good to check with Trends because there may be search volume for a concept no one is bidding on in Adwords.

So…which keyword target should we use? Technically, we should use all three. Pick the one that works best for readability in your Title Tag and Headings, and then use the other equivalents on the same page to enhance the Semantic Strength of your copy.

Optimizing for Semantic Strength: Keyword Use after Google Hummingbird

In the past, you may have seen a hotel website where the home page targeted “Branson hotels”, the directions page targeted “Branson mo hotels” and the photo gallery page was targeting “hotels in Branson”. After Hummingbird, this is became a waste of real estate on your website.

In most cases, Google is only going to serve up one page of a website in the SERP set for shorter tail queries. After Hummingbird, Google understood that in reality, those 3 pages are targeting the exact same thing and the page with the most links is the one that is going to get served up in the SERP results. Typically this ends up being the home page.

Since knowing is half the battle, how do we take advantage of semantic equivalents and make sure we’re getting the best exposure in the SERPs for our site? Well, you do that by putting those semantically equivalent terms on the same page! Pick a different keyword target for your directions and photo gallery page, you already have the semantic concept of “Branson hotels” covered.

semantic search: let user pages be user pages

In addition to the previous suggestions, if you happen to have a user page on which you’re not sure what to target because you’ve already used all the relevant keywords for the market, it really is OK to let it be a user page. Prime examples of user pages are your Contact Us page, Site Map page, 404 page, Privacy Policy page, etc. Stuffing “hotel in Branson” into the title tags of those pages would just be a waste. Google isn’t going to serve that content up in SERPs over your home page and you may very well be diminishing the efficacy of the page on which you’re trying to target “hotel in Branson”. Your user pages don’t need to be a graduate thesis with fancy title tags and keyword targets. Just let them be what they are, informational for your site user.

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Scott Davis

Scott Davis is the Senior SEO Specialist at Valet Interactive. His professional experience in marketing spans over 16 years and includes public relations, direct sales, direct promotional marketing, event planning, e-commerce marketing, writing, editing, search engine optimization and search engine marketing. He is an avid music fan and plays acoustic and electric guitar. Cat Fan.

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  • […] If you want to spread the widest marketing net possible in the post-Hummingbird SERP, you have to move past focusing on keywords and adopt concept marketing. Use your pages to talk about concepts that draw in your customers and fulfill their needs. If you have a page that’s essentially a rephrased version of another page, maybe it’s time to 301 the conceptual equivalent to the best version of that concept and stop a bit of the on-site cannibalization. It should strengthen the authority of the remaining page of your site for that topic. For more information about keyword research after Google Hummingbird, check out Google Hummingbird 201: Keyword Research after Google Hummingbird. […]