How Hummingbird changed the way I search

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Over the past couple of months Google pushed out 2 major updates.  And while I thought the second update, in Early October, was the one to have the biggest impact.  It was in fact the September update, codenamed Hummingbird, which has actually had the biggest impact.

Most people probably didn’t even know that Google essentially re-wrote itself in September.  At first most people in the search engine marketing industry thought the Hummingbird update targeted “long tail” searches.  These are the searches where people use more words to get results, or where people ask questions of the search engine.

Searches like “where is the best pizza in [cityname]” where people are asking questions of Google.

However I have found that even the searches that I’m used to have produced quite different results.

Up until September you could put in a query of 2-4 words and get results which mostly match what you were searching for.

For example, “best pizza [cityname]” would return results which were for the most part optimized for that search.   Now when you search for that you may see not only pizza places, but also review sites and other directories.

There are many other examples of this.  And while for the most part some of the results are better, I personally find it is harder to get to the information I want.

For example, I’ve been shopping around for a truck.  I’ve been researching issues on some used trucks that I felt were a good deal.

It used to be if there was an issue to fix, you could search for it and you’d get presented with a list of forums and other sites with step-by-step instructions on how to fix the problem.

I used to be able to solve problems like this within a couple searches. Now I am getting a bunch of results talking about the history of the vehicle, consumer ratings and reviews but no concrete repair plans.

Google seems to be gearing itself more to what I call consumer queries.  Queries that aren’t crafted and are instead the same type of thing you would say to your mechanic friend, or a neighbor or a casual acquaintance.

While these types of “new” searches do help many people, it does make it difficult for people like us that Google has already trained to search.

Yes I mean trained.  When Google came out there was nothing like it before.  It was (and still is) the simplest, yet most complex search engine to use.  You could type in a word or two and get exactly what you wanted.  The longer, conversational queries didn’t work in Google.  You couldn’t ask it a question and get a reasonable answer.

You had to figure out what text you wanted to see on the page, and then query Google for that phrase. It was more like a machine, less like a person you were talking to.  It was a quick and easy way to answer a question not phrased as a question.

To be fair the search engine has come a long way.  And for many searches the results are better.

For example, type in “Vancouver Canucks” and instead of a list of websites you get stats, recent scores, next game time and location and so on.

Type in “What to do in Calgary” and you get a list of top “Points of Interest” which is actually pretty helpful if you haven’t been to Calgary before and are looking for something to do.

And that query I mentioned above – about best pizza?  Well it turns out that’s somewhat helpful too.  While I’m not a big fan of review sites because it seems that many of the reviews swing one way or the other (from “I Love it” to “I hate it” with few in between reviews).

While I normally wouldn’t necessarily chose the top ranked pizza place before Hummingbird, I would scan them all and decide.  Now I can read reviews from a few sites to come up with a result I may not have considered.

But the thing is how I use the results has had to adapt as well.  Looking at the pizza search above, while I normally wouldn’t necessarily chose the top ranked pizza place I would scan them all and decide.  Now I can read reviews from a few sites to come up with a result I may not have considered.

That means it is taking me longer to decide because there are more options on the table including ones I’ve never thought of or perhaps even heard of before.

I am finding that the longer queries do work ok for me.  Asking questions does return results.  This is actually pretty useful when I don’t know how to search for what I want. For example, I was trying to find out what that part was on the boat that lifts the motor out of the water.  So that was the search I put in:  “what is the part called that lifts the boat motor out of the water?” (without quotes) and the first result was a Wikipedia page and in the result was this snippet:

“…. Motors not equipped with power trim are manually adjustable using a pin called a topper tilt lock. …”  I saw the words “power trim” and that reminded me that that is what the part is called.

Normally a 14 word search would have returned a bunch of completely irrelevant results, because Google would be trying to match the words and not the meaning of the query.  So in this case (and many others I’m sure) there is a noticeable improvement in results.

In the end I think this new Google is a better Google.  But it also means the way I’ve been searching for the past 15 years has to also adapt.

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