Understanding Hummingbird: Where Google Got it Wrong

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Web Programmers and Web Developers are NOT the same thing!

Those of you following my previous posts may have concluded I have a slight issue with Google’s new Hummingbird update. And you’d be right to reach that conclusion. Google named it Hummingbird because it’s designed to be ‘precise and fast’, and whilst the ‘fast‘ part is certainly correct, the ‘precise‘ part is, well, not so much.

The search engine giant has taken a huge step forward in many ways, and for the majority of users the user experience will be vastly improved. Sadly, and as far as my business is concerned, I am not one of them.

You see, I’m a web programmer. My job is programming. I’m also a web developer. I develop websites. I have a large client base of web developers that come to me for their programming solutions since they’re not qualified to perform such tasks, and until now Google has known there is a difference. Of course, with a keyword based approach it was always fairly easy to specify the difference and categorise them accordingly.

Hummingbird changed this considerably. A Google search for web programmer brings up a plethora of web developers and web designers to a lesser degree, and they’re simply not the same. Close, but no cigar.

Make no mistake about it, Hummingbird is a huge change. Their last major update, ‘Caffeine’, was also a huge step forward, but this time around it’s a larger change in direction and SEO experts are going to have to keep up.  Let the confusion begin!

Optimising for Semantic Searches

Websites today must understand and adapt to semantic searching, and you’d be wise to revise your website’s content, enabling yourself to be ‘the provider of answers’ to questions that people are asking.

Before you do that however, you’re going to have to plan. And the planning stage is understanding what’s at the heart of Google’s Hummingbird – intent.

Google is trying to understand the user’s intent in a search query, and so it’s important you do too. Let’s say for example you run a local business that provides iPhones and you also sell online.

Whereas previously ‘iphones for sale’ might have been a very valid search term, it’s not quite as effective today. Today’s equivalent would be more like:

  • Where can I buy an iPhone online?
  • Where can I buy an iPhone near me?

And then you have to take it one step further and account for dialect changes and variations:

  • Where could I purchase an iPhone on the Internet?
  • Where could I purchase an iPhone locally?

Pretty obvious stuff really, but it does worry me slightly that the Internet is suddenly going to become a huge question and answers session, with very little flow in articles.

Starting with Semantics

The starting point, like so much SEO based work is research. Rather than searching ‘old school’, start asking Google some questions and telling it what you want:

  • Where can I find a programmer for my website?
  • I need to hire a website programmer

Then look closely at the top results and try to ascertain just why Google is ranking them so highly. What you will find in some cases will be fantastic, but there will be other instances where the result will suddenly make your job so much more difficult.

For instance, if you’re looking for a programmer as per the examples above, that’s exactly what you want – a programmer. Here’s what Google provides when I ask the questions above:

1. Sites like freelancer.com and elance.com which allow you to post jobs for programmers.

Not a bad result I’ll grant you, but doesn’t this mean Google is giving more weight to sites that have thousands of programmers listed rather than just one? How could you possibly compete?

2. Many guides explaining how to hire a programmer.

Thanks Google, but I actually know how to hire one. I just want to hire one! This is the point you notice that Google doesn’t really understand your intent.   Things get a little cloudy, so Google begins trying to answer all possible related questions for multiple intents.  Sadly, I really only had one to begin with.

3. Some articles telling me why I don’t need a programmer.

Errm, Google? I said I wanted one. You did hear me, right? I know you’re trying to help, but I REALLY NEED A PROGRAMMER!!!!

4. Articles explaining how I can become a programmer.

Oh come on! I don’t want to become a programmer, Google. I just want someone to do some programming for me, and I want it now!

And the list goes on…

So what’s the bottom line?

Essentially, whilst Hummingbird is a glimpse at the future and for many it’s going to make searching much easier, for some it’s probably going to confuse matters greatly.

Because of the complexity of spoken language and the huge ambiguity that potentially lies within a phrase or even a single word, there’s realistically no way Google can get it 100% right. If you’d like a further indication of this, try using Google Translate and see just how far the company has to evolve before it REALLY understands human language.

Of course it’s still early days yet and it has time to evolve, and the Google Translate system is a different entity entirely, but as things stand it appears (to me at least) that Google is providing nothing more than a clever workaround to cover up its shortfalls.

And that workaround doesn’t quite give users what they want based on intent as promised.  The solution that we currently have is to simply give users a long list of things that they might want, and I’m sorry Google, but in many cases this just isn’t good enough.

2017-05-19T15:48:05+00:00 October 18th, 2013|SEO|1 Comment

About the Author:

Warren Chandler is a freelance web programmer and web developer, based in Frinton on Sea, Essex. Warren specialises in web programming, web design, corporate identity, copy writing, SEO, logo and print media for home, work, and mobile platforms.

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