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Developing Rankbrain/Hummingbird-Friendly Content

In the wake of Google’s new Hummingbird and Rankbrain algorithms, content marketers are finding it necessary to supplement their traditional, keyword-centric content strategies with additional “conversationally-oriented” words and phrases.  This article will show you where you can begin mining such words and phrases.

Before we walk you through the new way of developing words and phrases optimized for Hummingbird and Rankbrain, let’s review how content marketers used to do things. First, the content marketer compiled a list of keywords likely to be used by in-market searchers, and then mapped these words and phrases to specific pages on the marketer’s site. At this point, them marketer typically embarked on a program to create long-form (>500 word) articles corresponding to each keyword/keyword phrase.

This approach – still widely used today – isn’t “wrong” but its effectiveness is limited in the Hummingbird/Rankbrain era for the simple reason that so many content marketers are using this exact same method. The result is a “content glut” in which all of these (often nearly identical) template-driven articles compete for visibility with each other.

A better, more strategic approach involves the creation of content likely to show up when people make very specific questions about products and services offered by the marketer.

For example, a marketer who is a steam boiler OEM may find it impossible to organically compete for visibility when “fat head” queries such as “steam boiler” constitute the query. Were such a marketer to dig a bit deeper into Q/A-oriented queries, more opportunity could be created. For example, this marketer could create content covering the more granular aspects of steam boiler installation and maintenance, discuss the various types of steam boilers available (watertube, firetube, high-pressure, low-pressure, etc.). Organizing such content in Q/A form will increase the likelihood of it appearing in the SERP answer box.

Additional Sources of Conversational Keywords

Each specialized business niche will be associated with a unique list of conversational keywords. Sometimes, common keyword research tools such as Google Search Console can easily reveal conversational keywords, but sometimes one must dig deeper. Here are some good sources for discovering your own unique set of words and phrases you can craft content around.

Social media/internet forums. The internet has always been a forum for people to solve technical issues about an astounding range of products and services. Some are “official” places maintained by product developers (e.g. Microsoft, Adobe, etc.); others are maintained by knowledgeable users and consultants. All can represent rich repositories of specific words and phrases pertaining to products/services you supply. Quora, as well as specialized industry groups hosted by Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks, can serve as additional sources for identifying the specific granular queries likely to be used by searchers.

Customer support data. If you have access to the logs or scripts maintained by your customer support/helpdesk team, you may be sitting on a gold mine of granular query data. In many instances, this language may be very close – if not identical — to that used by searchers interested in your products/services.

Focus group transcripts. Being able to study the real language used by “real people” can often provide powerful clues about how people will search for your products/services online.

Product/service support literature. User manuals and other technical documents contain lots of granular information likely to be used in conversational queries. This content, along with glossary content and product FAQs, if often ideal fodder for creating content favored by Rankbrain and Hummingbird.

Steven Baldwin
Steven Baldwin
Author, Editor, Web Producer, New Yorker. Best known for bird-centric blog:

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