Keywords or Topics? Which of the Two Should Online Marketing Agencies Focus On?

It's been over two years since Google's Hummingbird algorithm update forced SEO professionals to break their old search habits and in the time that has passed, the discussions which have percolated since then have been reaching a fever pitch; should we SEO professionals be focusing on the old school keyword targeted approach to search engine optimisation that is so deeply rooted in our minds --or should we revisit what we thought we knew about the Google Hummingbird algorithmic update and begin re-evaluating how we create content?

Quick Refresh: What is the Google Hummingbird Algorithm Update?

The Google Hummingbird algorithmic update changed the way the world's most popular search engine approached search queries; it was the first algorithm to be able to analyse context of a search query on the fly, and route the website visitor to a set of results that actually made sense contextually.

Prior to Hummingbird, an entire generation of Google users had to be taught to use simple keywords in their search in order to find what they were looking for. I recall an entire 2 hour computer lab class where using search to find exactly what we were looking for had to be taught because all search engines at the time operated this way.

However, Hummingbird changed everything and set a new precedent for being able to not only detect context in our search for content –but to also combine the benefits of the other Google algorithm updates; Panda and Penguin—and do it as fast, or faster, than it had always returned search results prior.

What does Hummingbird Mean for SEO?

Putting it quite simply, the Google Hummingbird algorithmic update meant changes needed to be made to how we make content in order to rank on Google; SEOs needed to work in broader content topics and more long-tail keywords –a departure from the traditional keyword focus that has been the tried and true approach up until the Hummingbird algorithmic update.

So, back to the original question at hand:Keywords or Broader Topics? Which of the Two Should Online Marketing Agencies Focus On?

Before we answer that, let’s do a little more digging –I’m sure the suspense is killing you by now, but the answer is as broad as the topic itself. See what I did there?

Classic Keyword-Targeting Approach:

  • Keyword focused
  • On-page targeting
  • Selected keywords for a single page
  • Broader topics chopped up into multiple pages

Post-Hummingbird Approach:

  • Focus is much greater on broader topics
  • Higher quality articles
  • Long-tail keywords, and less-so on targeted, direct use of high volume keywords

Important Thought #1: Hummingbird didn’t Replace Other Algorithms like Penguin and Panda

This is an important observation because it tilts the scales toward my answer; the Google Hummingbird algorithm didn’t replace the algorithms that the classic targeting keyword SEO method rely on so much; it works with them. Hummingbird makes those other algorithms work better.

So to simplify this point, it is important to consider that directly targeting keywords in site content is still a valuable practice.

Important Thought #2: Hummingbird did Change the Game for SEO in a Big Way

Google really changed search for the better when it rolled out its Hummingbird algorithm. It answered the call it promised it would all those years ago –almost two decades ago now—that it would answer all of our questions.

Before Hummingbird we were trying to ask questions but our search results wouldn’t be very substantial unless we wrote pigeon phrases into the search bar like “buy shoes London” instead of “where can I buy loafers in a size 10 in London on Thursday after 5pm?”. A little extreme of an example, but you get the idea.Hummingbird understands context by pulling from multiple data sources and collaborating with other algorithms. And Rankbrain - Google's newest algorithm update solidifies this ability to detect context for search on the fly.

Important Thought #3: Conversational Search is a Thing

Indeed, without Hummingbird there would be no plausible version of Siri, Cortana, or “Hey Google”. The conversational web relies on Google’s Hummingbird algorithm to make sense of how we speak, and by proxy; dictate our searches with digital assistants who live in the cloud.

With more web traffic coming from mobile devices, and being mobile often also means hands-free, we’re more likely to speak our searches instead of typing them.

Answering questions is a vital part of how your website content is ranked on Google, and in order to accomplish that, you’re going to have to answer them conversationally, too.

Important Thought #4: You Can’t Play Favourites with Google’s Algorithms

Every single algorithm that is applied to the world’s most popular search engine is going to need to be carefully considered and all SEO professionals have no choice but to adapt to them or be left behind. All of them. That means that when a new Google algorithm rolls out, one cannot simply put the blinders on and only consider that one algorithm when creating website content.

Just as Google’s Hummingbird algorithm is required to play nice with Google’s Penguin and Panda algorithms, so are each and every SEO professional out there who want to be able to keep getting their clients ranking in Google search results.

Processing What We Know

So if we have to take each algorithm into account when creating website content, cannot play favourites, and somehow split our approach –SEO and online marketing professionals have no other choice than to find a creative balance between the old classic keyword targeted approach to SEO and the “new school”, broad-topic-based Hummingbird approach to SEO.

But how can this be? How can we focus on targeted keywords without being too direct and catering to the broad topic content writing ranking factor? So here we are, back at square one. Or are we?

The Answer: Broad Topics and Keywords are Equally Important

After all that, the answer was in the question –both approaches are important, but it is in how we bridge them together that makes them combine to become a tour-de-force for search engine optimisation. Only if we as SEO professionals are able to combine our knowledge of both –as we’ve had many years to perfect the former, and over a year to perfect the latter—a little creative use of that knowledge will bring us the best success in ranking our clients.

How to Bridge Broad Topics with Keyword Targeting

The following method has been used since Google’s Hummingbird algorithm dropped by Digital Search Group, one of the best online marketing agencies in London. And it is not as complicated as one might think!

Instead of breaking up broad topics into multiple keyword targeted, bite-sized articles, it is possible to merge both approaches to search engine optimisation by effectively structuring content, and then accurately describing the content of each section of this structure with targeting keywords in the titles and sub headers.

For example; if you’re writing an article that spans a broad topic, break down that content into sections and do your targeted keyword research for each individual section –using targeted keywords in H1 and H2 headers, and then long tail keywords throughout each section.

The marriage of both approaches to search engine optimisation can be so easily implemented, it seems that almost too much thought has been given to the debate. And too much incorrect action by competing SEO firms.

In Conclusion

All too many online marketing agencies have opted to focus on one method or another, without making the link between them.

Simply put; both approaches are wrong if done separately; it is only through combining the two can one achieve search optimisation success.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Please let us know in the comments!

Guest Article by Louise Cruise, who has been in the web development industry for more than 5 years. She has worked with different web development companies giving her enough experience to create websites that match her clients' business needs and preferences.