1script - 6:31 pm on Jan 26, 2013 (gmt 0)
@ZydoSEO: thanks for the great input. I am seeing similar thing happening here as well. I am not sure how I can check specifically for the effect of search suggestions jimbeetle talks about but I am seeing a (slight as it is) increase in conversions from the lowered amount of traffic.
It's hard to complain about better quality of traffic from Google given that it's always been pretty bad compared to Bing/Y! but I have to admit: if the site is being affected by changes in the detection of user intent, that makes the way forward even less clear to me. If it were about quality, I could have tried to add content, re-write some pages by adding more on the topic covered etc. But I am not sure what can be done about user intent?
The entire concept of user intent is a bit muddy to me, too. The only clear cut "intent identifier" that I can see would the to add the word "buy" to the original query. I've never ranked for anything of that nature anyhow - this is not an ecom site and nothing is sold here, so looks like it was properly intended in the first place. Have they started to parse intent so finely now that more than two intents - "research" and "buy" - exist?
About the "loosely relevant" matches - I can't quite put a finger on that, either. It's hard to know for sure because of the amount of KWs to sift through. But in the sample I took, I see it both ways - some strong matches (exact phrase - could there be a stronger match?) are gone and some loose ones remain. I don't know exactly what signals of relevancy Google uses and perhaps exact phrase match is too crude a relevancy signal, but in the top phrases that remain, at least one is a whopping 7-word long phrase, and a couple more are 6-word ones, neither with exact phrase matches on the page, which you would think be the first to go if either loose relevance (no match) or search suggestions (too long) would have strong effect.
ZydoSEO, what were your recommendations to the site you're talking about?