Hummingbird can cause some troubles for SEO specialists, but what about users?
We asked one of the most "advanced" users, Brad Geddes, founder of Certified Knowledge, to share his thoughts on Hummingbird.
Brad is the author of Advanced Google AdWords, the most advanced book ever written about Google's advertising program, and one of the first Google Advertising Professionals and Microsoft adExcellence members. He has written exclusively about internet marketing for more than a decade.
Here is what Brad had to say.
Successful search rate getting low
As a user, I've actually found search getting less useful over time for specific queries. I often have days where I track how many times I try to search for an answer to some question and get a useful result.
Pre-Hummingbird, my successful search rate was about 50%. Post-Hummingbird it’s about 35%, meaning 65% of the time I can't find a useful result for my query, even though I know there are pages that contain the information I'm looking for. Most of this is because Hummingbird tries to guess at the context of my question, and often gets it wrong.
For instance, earlier today I was looking at some specific Google Analytics code for the query "google analytics UTM_nooverride". Google just wanted to match me to Google Analytics in my query and the vast majority of the results did not contain any information about the UTM_nooverride, although there are many pages on the web with this information. I find myself having to use many more advanced search operators in my queries — or switching search engines — and I find myself using Bing more and more.
Google seems to have made a lot of changes in the past couple years at making their engine (and other products) useful for the majority of people (which is a good goal for many companies). As they make these changes, though, advanced users are forced to use the tools of beginners, and aren't finding a place in Google's world as Google won't let you easily override their information.
For example, I spent the last two weeks in Italy. I don't speak Italian and I wanted to look at Google.com (Google automatically redirects you to the search engine of that country). The only way to do so is to go to Google.com/NCR.
Now, most people don't know this fact. All the pages and instructions were in Italian, and it took me a while just to remember how to get to that search page. Most travelers just give up trying to search on Google and find another way of getting their information. This has been an issue with Google for years, and it’s these simple usability issues that often cause people to find other ways of getting information.
Searching via social media
The way my search queries are changing, I’ve been using social channels to ask questions. Often, someone can answer me on Twitter faster than I can slog my way through 20 queries and 200 search result pages, only to be disappointed in the information I'm trying to get for a single query. So, Google is forcing me away from Google to their social competitors.
This has been happening for a few years naturally, and Hummingbird has just upped the speed at which I use different channels to get information.
Hummingbird is selling better
Now, Hummingbird and Google's recent changes have been good for short queries that are fairly ambiguous or brand queries when the brand is a company, not necessarily a product. With the knowledge graph results, Google has made a lot less AdWords competition on some branded terms and really forced the users toward the brand's page. These queries are so easy to get correct that it doesn't take a huge update to find out that when someone types in “Facebook” he or she wants to go to Facebook.com.
However, when you get into more specific queries — like, size 4 green Guess jeans — out of all the links on the page (at least for the search result I see) only the product images and one result actually has size 4 green Guess jeans on the page. Every other result is for either a different brand or a different color, and none of the results mention the correct size.
What is interesting is the ads are much more relevant than the organic results. So, for some of these queries, users will be clicking on ads more often. I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories, but this update has probably done well for their ad clicks.
Google is different for different users
I don't mean to just rant against Google's results; they are good for local if you want a local business. However, if you are looking for information about a product that Google thinks is related to a local business, then it’s again hard to get information because so much local data is shown instead of informational results. Thus, when your intent matches Google's guesses, the results are good. But, when your intent is not what Google guesses, then it’s almost impossible to find what you're looking for and other channels will prove faster.
It seems that Google is getting better at generic queries, but much worse at specific ones. For non-sophisticated searchers who want basic information, these updates from Google are good. If you are an advanced searcher or are looking for very specific information, then these updates are very poor.
That's why you see such a range of how happy people are with the updates. Are they looking for generic or specific information? That will tell you how much they like Google's new results.
Brad Geddes bio
As mentioned in the intro, Brad is the author of Advanced Google AdWords, the most advanced book written about Google's advertising program. He is the founder of Certified Knowledge, and one of the first Google Advertising Professionals and Microsoft adExcellence members. Brad has written extensively about internet marketing for more than a decade.