Is there a dark side of the moon? and other questions

Turntable with Vinyl III

I’ve been trying to get a handle on Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm update, but with so many self-appointed experts spewing out so much tosh on the web, it’s taken a while to gather my thoughts.

One of the most helpful pieces I have come across is by Jeremy Hull on Wired Insights, from which (my emphasis):

“Hummingbird”… represents the biggest change to Google search since 2001. It’s not just a tweak to the search functionality – Hummingbird is a completely new search algorithm that affects 90 percent of all searches. The most interesting part is that Hummingbird actually launched a month before the announcement… and no one noticed.

Another is from Malcom Slade, SEO Project Manager at Epiphany Search, one of many SEO experts giving their view on Econsultancy. He describes Hummingbird succinctly:

Hummingbird is basically a change in how Google interprets the intent of a user’s query to ensure the returned results are appropriate.

Assuming that pre Hummingbird (pre August 2013) Google was using pattern matching to understand intent, post Hummingbird it is using much higher level NLP (Natural Language Programming) concepts to ensure that the full query is answered by the returned sites.

Why is Goog doing this? Well, because these days, in particular because so many more people are using mobile to access the web, we are no longer typing two- or three-word keyword searches in the Google search box but rather literally asking Google questions.

Nathan Roberson on Business2Community attempts to make sense of this new landscape with some nice infographics. He clearly knows enough about this to feel he can confidently advise “content managers” about what to focus on henceforth.

But to be honest I don’t think the SEO industry really have an answer for this and are casting about to justify their existence.

Hummingbird is not about ranking websites; it’s about interpreting user intent. There’s little a site can do to rank better other than try better to answer the questions it is being asked, which is exactly what Goog has been saying all along. Yet I’ve seen so-called SEO experts advising that this means sites should provide more content in Q&A format. That’s just incredibly dumb.

Here’s what I think. If I ask the question “Is there a dark side of the moon?” I’m asking an astronomical question and I don’t want to be served up answers relating to the seminal Pink Floyd album. Pre-Hummingbird Google would probably have ranked some of the latter sites higher, so they will now lose out on some traffic, but since that traffic was the astronomically inclined, not looking for Pink Floyd, who has lost out?

And no, there is no dark side of the moon.