Friday, December 27, 2013

Google's Hummingbird, Target misses the Target, and the Healthcare Site that Still Doesn't Work

As a software tester, webmaster and business owner, I learned early on that 1) I would have to get good at being online, 2) get good at being found online and then 3) be very good at serving customers well online. When I first learned about Search Engine Optimization back in the late 90's and on until (almost) present day, everything was about keywords.

In case you haven't heard yet or noticed (which is understandable because Google didn't make a big deal of it), Google just installed a new search engine called Hummingbird, not just a tweak like the recent Panda and Penguin. This is a new V8 engine dropped in the car.

I first noticed something was up when my site ( dropped from the #3 position for "software testing training" to #19, then #23. The sites now at the top (with the exception of SQE, who you would expect the be there) all rank low in the individual things that USED to count, like keywords, backlinks, etc. (I think I'm back up to Page 1 again.)

I started reading the SEO blogs and learned about the significance of Hummingbird, which Google says is minimal with over 90% of sites unaffected. I find that contradictory (why make such a big change if only 10% of sites are affected?), but that's another article for another time.

The point is that Google says it has noticed (perhaps with help of an unnamed government entity) that people are forming their search queries in different ways these days. They cite mobile users as an example. Let's say you are walking down the street and want to get a pizza, so you ask Siri "where can I find pizza in downtown Chicago?" (OK, you probably don't need to ask Siri for that information, but hang with me here.)

So I tried a test with the query, "Tire Chains". I got results for where to buy tire chains, how to apply tire chains, which types of tire chains are best - all on page one. So, the challenge is clear. Millions of sites available, so how do you cut through the clutter. It's the "long tail effect", essentially.

One of the other things that appears to be a criteria for doing well with Hummingbird is to have a good social site presence. My friend Mickey O'Neill has a great blog post about why a business needs to be on Facebook, even though you may not think you need to be on Facebook. A lot has to do with how the search engines use social sites to give authority to web sites. (That's another thing Hummingbird links - sites that are authoritative.)

You may not have a web site and you may not care about how Google ranks sites, but it affects you anyway. That's because if you use Google like most people do, you will have to change how you phrase your searches. You will probably start phrasing them in the form of questions. (If you want a laugh, perform a Google search for "What is Hummingbird?") If you test web sites, I would suggest making SEO tests a part of your test suite, even though you may have people already doing that.

The most sobering thing about all this is that basically, everything written about SEO before December 1, 2013 is now obsolete due to Hummingbird. I'm not saying SEO is dead, but with keywords playing a such a minor role, not the focus is on quality content and links. more thing to think about is that Google knows where you have been on the web (along with the unnamed government entities), so they will use that also to select the results they think you want to see.

My prediction is that there will be much more "tweaking" to come on Hummingbird.

OK, now on to some other big topics, briefly....

Boy, oh boy. The data breach with Target stores will have some big ripples. Now it is know that PIN numbers (encrypted) were also snatched. Let's hope the encryption is strong. When I heard that cause had been found and fixed, I kind of chuckled to myself, "Breaking News. Horses Stolen, Gate is Now Locked."

 "The attack began Nov. 27, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, and continued until Dec.ember 15, making it the second-largest data breach in U.S. retail history. The largest breach against a U.S. retailer, uncovered in 2007 at TJX Cos. Inc., led to the theft of data from more than 90 million credit cards over about 18 months."

For those of you who may be keeping score the cost of the TJX data loss was over $250 million.

To me, the lesson is that data theft occurs at may levels and now it is up to the individual to monitor accounts closely. The bad news is that law enforcement is not equipped to chase down the crooks, so the stores and banks have to absorb the losses, which eventually get passed on to you and me.

I'll have more on this later when some of the facts emerge.

Speaking of facts emerging...

I've been holding back on the whole debacle until I could find a point of entry to even make comments. The story still evolves daily. Clearly, this is going to be the classic software project failure story for years to come. I don't think lack of testing was the problem. I think this was classic government procurement meets clueless project management and sponsor oversight, all combined with a fixed date deadline.

The sad part of this story is that people's healthcare is at stake. The performance issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Data security is high-risk, as is data interoperability with insurance companies. I'm sure there will be other shoes to drop in this story.

Oh, and this just in...

"The news traveled like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter — a computer glitch had triggered unbelievable Delta ticket prices on the airline’s website and other travel sites. Among the bargains: roundtrip tickets to Hawaii for $6.99, a first-class flight for $12.83 from Oklahoma City to St. Louis and a $132 fare from Houston to San Francisco, again first-class. Cory Watkins, a travel agent in Oklahoma, told CNN that he’d paid $1,387.38 for 12 flights for himself and clients for first-class trips all over the U.S., saving thousands of dollars.

Perhaps the most unbelievable part of all is that Delta is going to honor the fares. Airline spokesman Trebor Banstetter couldn’t say how many tickets were sold during the fare glitch — which occurred during part of Thursday morning — but said Delta would allow the flight tickets to go ahead."

That, my friends, is the high cost of software defects. The trend does not seem to be getting better. If anything, it seems like each new day brings new stories of software failures. I think the future is bright for software testers. Now, I need to go finish my macro to continually search for "cheap air fares to Hawaii." It will send me a text message each time it finds a fare of $20 or less. :-)