As Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm rolls out with full-force, some site owners are scrambling to find ways around the new restraints. With the goal of prioritizing naturally good content that truly provides value to searchers, Google has altered their algorithm to put more emphasis on quality, and less on semantics.
What this boils down to, is that Google removed the ability for marketers to see which key terms are being used in order to find their site.
As a matter of privacy, and to draw better search results for their customers, Google removed search query data, and as a result, marketers are left with vague, “(Not Provided)” data.
Accustomed to the wealth of information that once came from Google search query strings, many are vying to get back the prized information by finding loopholes. Some marketers have become lost, needing the surety of exact keyword phrases that landed a visitor on their site. There are even those who have given up altogether, as they’re lacking their traditional source of insight.
However, keyword research is still a vital source for creating a successful website, online presence and marketing strategy. So sometimes, it’s best to roll with the punches and not fight the card you’ve been dealt. Fortunately for us, there are numerous tools and resources available today to aid in keyword research!
Believe me, with a touch of creativity, and a bit of active brain power, you will go above and beyond the (not provided) limitations. Check out some of my favorite tools for innovative keyword research:
1) Yahoo/Bing Keywords
As inbound marketers, we really took a blow when Google announced that all search terms would appear as “not provided.” But here’s a wacky idea - look at the info you still get from Bing and what remains from Yahoo. Though this information is more limited, and may not have the depth that Google results once did, it will still help you gain insight into what people are purposefully typing into the search bar to find your page. Don’t knock it; this information is still very insightful.
First off, it may reveal descriptive terms that your readers use that you may not have thought of. Secondly, it will give you an idea of the tone/reasoning behind the search. Was it phrased as a question? Did it carry a more conversational tone? Consider these questions as you build out your keywords and content in the future.
2) Keywords Designated to Your Top 10 Blog Pages
If you have been following best practices, each of your blog posts should already be written for one designated keyword/term. First, determine what your top 10 most viewed blog posts are, then look at which keywords were associated with this content. Gather these results and feed them into a keyword planning tool.
There are a few free options out there, but using the Google Keyword Planning Tool always does the trick for us. Type in your keyword, check out the results and look for long-tail keywords that spring from the suggestions. Long-tail key terms are becoming invaluable as Google begins catering to more natural, conversational search queries.
3) Add a Search Bar to your Site
Adding a search bar to your blog or website provides two bonuses – if someone is using a search bar on your site, it means they’re spending time on your website, looking for more content, and the terms they search for will be provided.
If you’ve put thought into your content strategy, then you are consciously targeting your ideal customers. As they begin using your search bar, you’ll get a closer look at what they expect to find from your content and may get more insight into their pain points. Using Google Analytics, you’ll be able to track search queries from your website much like you would have from Google’s search tool before.
From these results, you may find a related topic that you’ve yet to cover – that’s the perfect opportunity to build more content and provide your viewers with quite literally, what they are asking for. Keep in mind, however, that this resource involves an additional fee, so may not be the most cost-effective option for your business.
4) Go In-depth with your Persona Research
No campaign is complete without first identifying who the target audience is. By clearly defining your buyer personas, (your ideal customers), you will be taking a more preemptive strike to provide your viewers with what they need before they even ask. Study your personas; ask yourself what their needs are. What are their pain points? Where do they find their information? What do you provide that aligns the most with their lifestyle?
I'm certain that as you delve further into your buyer persona research, you will not only find valuable information about your customers, but you will unearth new vocabulary terms that they might be using in search as well. Use this to your advantage and uncover an abundant source of information.
5) Online Industry Forums
Many industries encourage the use of online forums where like-minded individuals contribute and generate conversation. These are playgrounds for valuable keywords that you may not have thought of on your own.
Plug the URL of a related industry forum into the Google Keyword Planning Tool; this will grab hundreds of the terms that people use and talk about on a daily basis, and produce them in a simple-to-use Excel file. Comb through this list for long-tail phrases that are relevant to your business. You might find that this list will also give you ideas for blog posts and premium content offers!
6) Google’s Related Search and Suggestions Tools
If you have an idea of what your keyword should be, type it into Google – scroll to the bottom and you’ll see Google’s “related searches,” (See Below). This provides you with variation on that term; you can see other search queries that viewers may have used to find a similar topic. One of these related searches may be more relevant, or may provide a more long-tail approach.
Similarly, you might see “Google Suggestions” as you type into the search bar. There are tools available that easily organize Google Suggestion results such as Übersuggest, which simplifies the process for you. Type in your keyword and Übersuggest will come up with suggestions for all of the letters in the alphabet. They even go as far as including numbers and symbols to fully grasp the way that humans search.
Haven’t used a thesaurus since you were in college? Well now’s the time to bring out this handy tool and go back to your glory days!
Much like Google Suggestions, a thesaurus will help you to brainstorm relevant terms. Perhaps there is another term that resonates better with your personas. You’ll never know until you give it a shot.
8) Social Media and Google Trends
Depending on current events, trending hashtags might provide some insight into what’s popular at the moment. Of course, this methodology won’t work with every industry, but if you’re B2C, or a tech-friendly business for instance, trends on Twitter might help generate new ideas.
If you’re looking for more specific topics, Google offers a more expansive trends tool. With Google Trends, you’ll find top searches within common categories, the day’s “Hot Searches,” and can even explore data for specific terms!
Not only will these trends help with your keyword research, but they may even provide opportunities to refine your buyer persona descriptions as well. Within the trends tool you can find information such as a term’s interest over time, regional interest, and related searches. Filter through your buyer personas considering the data you’ve found and confirm that your definitions line up accordingly.
9) Industry book titles
This is a technique we use a lot with our more technical clients. Often, the titles of industry-specific books will incorporate the vocabulary used by thought leaders in the space. Where better to find key terms than from the people teaching them? Your ideal customers are likely also learning from these material sources, and will often mimic the vocabulary throughout search queries as well.
Hop onto Amazon (or iTunes or Google Books) and do a search for your key term. Take a look at the book titles. Chances are you’ll gain ideas on how the terminology is used, and get a better feel for the tone that resonates with your audience. Better refine your findings by using a keyword tool to mash up multiple titles.
10) Ask Those Who Know Best: Your Customers
Last (but certainly not least) is just straight up asking your customers. What better way for finding what your ideal customers want than by listening to them? Typically, if someone is asking you a question there’s a good reason; the answer is not readily or easily available on your site. There are multiple ways you can gain insight on your key terms, that are coming directly from your customers. Start by taking a look at your FAQ's, analyze your social media for common questions and survey your customers for a better understanding of what they are looking and searching for. Begin adding content that you know your viewers want with a double duty approach.
You’ve Built a Solid List of Keywords, Now What?
You don’t need to rely solely on Google to provide key terms; you have the tools and smarts to find them on your own. Give some of the ideas above a shot and build out a lengthy list of viable key terms. Make sure that they broadly cover all spectrums of your sales funnel, and will be relatable and engaging for your audience.
But don’t stop there - as you build out more campaigns, and evolve as a brand, it will be necessary to revisit and refine your keywords list as well. Growth is key, especially with rising technologies such as microphone speech options, mobile search and even Google glass. Your viewers expect to find what they’re looking for within a matter of seconds, so the more you hone in your keyword strategy, the better off you will be.
Once you’ve landed on a keyword, do you know how use it effectively? Ensure that your hard work isn’t all for nought - optimize your web pages by including the term in key areas which will help to improve your search rank. Some of the best areas to place your keyword include:
Page Title (Title Tag)
Image Alt Tags; and
Text that is Bolded or Underlined
Include natural variations of your key term within the body copy as well. Because search engines pull from the body copy of web pages to best suit a searcher’s query, it is likely that you will appear on page results for a variety of search terms beside the one you are targeting. Search engines are now smart enough to understand variations of terms and will serve up the most relevant content, even if it doesn’t contain that exact word or phrase.
We also encourage you to play with your keyword list. There is no steadfast rule that every term you find will be a winner. Search engine optimization can prove to be a tricky task, but don’t be discouraged if you’re not finding immediate results. There is a lot of competition out there, and it can take weeks, or even months for you to start seeing traction with your strategy. In the end, your goal should always be to nurture your visitors and provide them with great content. Typically, if you follow this methodology, you will achieve what you set out to do in the first place!
Marketers are resilient beings, and I’m proud to be a part of such an exciting and ever-evolving industry. How would we learn to grow and adapt new skills if a wrench or two weren’t thrown into the mix? Embrace the fact that you have the ability to express your creativity and make a difference every day! I’m sure that you will find that overcoming a challenge is easier than you would think, being the clever marketer that you are!
How has your keyword strategy grown since Google implemented the Hummingbird updates? I invite you to comment below with any other ideas or suggestions you have for our fellow readers. Collectively, we will – I repeat, WE WILL – overcome the cringe-worthy, “not provided” bridge!
Samantha Winchell is the SEO Strategist at New Breed Marketing, an inbound marketing agency and HubSpot partner. Samantha manages client site optimization, and outreach for New Breed Marketing. Her passion is to discover the newest search engine trends and comprehensively optimize websites.You can read more articles by Samantha and her team over at the New Breed Blog.
Originally published Nov 25, 2013 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023