What-Is-Google-IntentMuch has been made of Google’s Hummingbird and its all new “intent” methodology. Google claims it knows what you’re looking for and it will evolve into something to behold.

So while I can understand Google’s optimism for a brighter search related future, I do have to wonder why I am still sitting here asking the same questions I’ve been asking for months:

Mr. Google, do you still not know the difference between a web developer and a web programmer? And why don’t you seem to get my intent?

Those of you following my articles will understand this is a real issue to me. My value in the SERPs for the term “web programmer” has been diluted dramatically, and it’s all down to Google’s lack of understanding over my intent. Of course, my intentional destruction of my SERPs didn’t help at all, but come on Google. You can do better.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Google. When I type “web programmer” into the search box, that is what I am looking for. I’ll even go one step further and help you out. Here’s a little list for you of what I DO NOT want, just so we’re clear. This is what I am NOT asking:

  • What is a web developer?
  • What is web development?
  • What do web developers do?
  • Where can I find a web developer job?
  • Should I become a web developer or a web programmer?
  • How much do web developers earn?
  • How do I become a web developer?
  • How do I learn to build websites?
  • Where can I get a web developer toolbar?
  • What does being a web developer or web designer require?
  • What is web programming?
  • Which programming language should I learn?

That’s a dozen things I am NOT looking for and those dozen things (including duplications) just happen to occupy a total of 17 of the top 20 Google rankings. Only four times do I see the term “web programmer” and only one of those is actually a web programmer I could hire. Is there any wonder my site doesn’t rank as it should?

Google you have it wrong. Badly wrong.

While many of you will spot the semantic phrasing in the twelve questions I listed, don’t think I did it for the reason of assigning any semantic phrasing value to this article. Naturally it’s not going to be nearly enough to move me up the rankings. Not even close. People are writing detailed articles about these topics and Google is giving them SERP love.

I wouldn’t have an issue with this generous love giving normally – these people have taken time to write quality content, but again I go back to intent. I don’t want any of the things listed no matter how well they’re written and if Hummingbird is really the way forward Google has to know that:

Firstly, when I Google “web programmer” that is exactly what I am looking for. That right there is MY INTENT. If I wanted to know how to become a web programmer, I would Google “how to become a web programmer”. Surely it’s not that difficult to comprehend?

Secondly, a web programmer IS NOT the same as a web developer.  Seriously Google… errm, Google it! I’ve written an article on the subject, others have too. It’s just not the same thing at all!

Anyway, at this point many of you will have spotted the obvious flaw in my reasoning and if you haven’t I’ll point it out.

Where can I find a web programmer?

Perhaps that is the exact question I should be asking Google? After all, it makes sense, is semantically phrased and shows intent. Surely I can’t go wrong there?

When I started researching this, discovering the fact that the term “web programmer” was far too general and non-descriptive was a real light bulb moment for me. It was staring me in the face and I didn’t see it. My intent was to find a web programmer, but I wasn’t being specific enough. Talk about being oblivious to the obvious, and I have the nerve to call myself a programmer!

I seriously wondered how I could be so short sighted. After all, I could be searching for the meaning of the phrase itself, what a web programmer is, what one does – pretty much anything. How could Google know I wanted to find one when I hadn’t been specific enough? Perhaps Google was right and I was wrong!

So back to the drawing board I went with my new and improved search term, feeling rather good about my newly discovered search phrasing. Let’s do this Google, I’ll ask you again:

Where can I find a web programmer?

And BAM. A new and improved set of results from Google, illustrating precisely what it thinks my intent is from asking that question. This is what I was given:

  1. How to hire a web developer – a HR guide
  2. How to become a web developer from scratch
  3. Where to find a web programmer
  4. Tips for hiring a great web developer
  5. Where to find a designer if you’re a web developer
  6. Working your way up to being a web developer
  7. How to find and hire a good web programmer
  8. The process of hiring a web programmer
  9. The phases of a web developer’s career
  10. How to hire a programmer to make your ideas happen

What you’ll see from the results is that even with that specific question Google still doesn’t understand my intent. Seriously. What more do I have to do?

The Ever Revolving Circle of Intent

Google made it quite clear that it likes sites that are original, informative, direct and not padded with useless rubbish for SEO purposes alone. Quality over quantity was the exact phrase Matt Cutts used.

And therein lies the problem. It’s evident that for me to be found as a web programmer at the moment, I’m not only going to have to optimise my website for some specific semantic phrases such as, “where can I find a web programmer”, “I need a web programmer”, and the like – I’ll also need to pad it out with the respective content.

I’m going to have to write detailed and specific articles on the subject of those two titles/phrases and more, since these types of articles still seem to outrank any individual programmer websites listed. These will obviously give me a SEO boost, but it’s hardly quality and specific content. I shouldn’t have to do this.

And seriously, just what am I supposed to write? I could go on for thousands of words about where you can find one, and how, but they don’t need to know these things. They are already on my website, reading something they shouldn’t have to. They’ve found a web programmer and I shouldn’t have to tell them how to find another one!

To be honest, the correctly applied content according to Google’s content guidelines would be something like:

TITLE: Where can I find a web programmer?

Obviously, whilst adhering to their semantic content guidelines, that’s not quite going to cut it as a quality article, as accurate as it really is.

What’s the solution?

The only real solution as far as I can see it is to wait. Google really is getting it wrong as far as my industry is concerned, but it’s early days. I’m hoping it will start to get it right, but I won’t sit back and assume this fact. I need to keep writing content so I have all the bases covered just in case.

Let’s look at this logically. The term “web programmer” on its own is very general, so at present we get Google serving up a huge mix of results covering all aspects. You can expect that, but it now needs to go one step further.

What it really needs to do is to keep re-evaluating to see just where the people who type “web programmer” in the search box actually click next, or what they even search for next.

This way they will know which percentage of people that type in “web programmer” are actually looking for one, and which are looking for the other things on the list. Over time it will get a measure of intent for each and every search phrase entered and deliver the results accordingly.

Are Google tracking click through and search data in this way? I’ve not seen it confirmed, but it has certainly been hinted and speculated.

Who knows? Perhaps some kind of intent tracking is already in place and this is exactly the reason why Google is giving such a mixed bag of results for now.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s figuring out intent as it goes along. We can only hope.

A quick footnote to respond to something commented by David Leonhardt on Google+:

The longer a search query, the easier to measure intent. But if I type just books, I could mean so many different things. And most people are not so sophisticated as to be able all the time to articulate what they are really looking for.

The point above is true and valid, but actually illustrates the point I am getting at and again Google is flawed in the results it serves. If I search for “books” one of the page one results I am served gives me the following information:

“A book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side.”

Let’s put this into context. If I was using the term “what are books?” that answer fits perfectly.  But should Google utilise one tenth of its page one listings on that information for the term “books” alone?  Children learn about books in early infancy, and everyone knows what they are unless they’ve been living under a rock.  And if they have been living under said rock or have been deprived of that one word from the English language, just how likely is it that they’re going to be using Google to find this information in the first place?

That’s one tenth of a page one listing that really shouldn’t be there as I see it.  Do one in ten people that search for “books” really need to see that information on page one?  Or should it in reality be listed on page 123456789 based on the term’s intent AND probability combined – ONLY appearing on page one when people use the exact phrase “what are books” or “what is a book”?