Google Hummingbird Signals Major Search Algorithm Revision

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Google lets fly with its new Hummingbird search algorithm to better answer longer and more complex questions

Googl  has quietly launched a major revision of its search engine algorithm to help users with longer and more complex search queries.

The search engine algorithm revision, dubbed Hummingbird is already in operation after it was launched a month ago, and is currently being used in 90 percent of searches on Google. Incidentally it seems the name Hummingbird was chosen because it is “precise and fast”.

Hummingbird google search algorithm © TMore Campbell ShutterstockHummingbird Revision

The arrival of Hummingbird took the industry by surprise, as Google only mentioned its arrival at a press event to celebrate its fifteenth birthday in the Menlo Park garage where Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin established their search engine business.

Details of the update are still limited, but Google officials confirmed that it is the biggest overhaul to the Google search engine since the 2009 “Caffeine” overhaul. Caffeine focused on speed, better indexing, and integrating social network results into search results.

Hummingbird on the other hand is Google’s reaction to more non-technical people using search thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets.

The rise of this type of device, along with voice activated help assistants such as Siri etc, has brought more and more non IT people online, and they are asking longer, more complex and vaguer questions.

Conversational Searches

The previous algorithm used traditional “Boolean” or keyword-based searches, but nowadays people are seeking more natural, almost conversational interactions with the search engine. It is reported that Hummingbird is focused more on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests.

The BBC quoted the following example from the presentation, when a Google executive showed off a voice search via her mobile phone. The executive reportedly asked for pictures of the Eiffel Tower. When the pictures appeared, she then asked how tall it was. After Google correctly spoke back the correct answer, she then asked “show me pictures of the construction” – at which point a list of images appeared.

“Google Search is turning 15. Remember what it was like to search in 1998? You’d sit down and boot up your bulky computer, dial up on your squawky modem, type in some keywords, and get 10 blue links to websites that had those words. It seemed like magic (and it was way way faster than card catalogs and microfiche!),” blogged Amit Singhal, senior vice president of search.

“The world has changed so much since then: billions of people have come online, the web has grown exponentially, and now you can ask any question on the powerful little device in your pocket,” wrote Singhal.

“We’ll keep improving Google Search so it does a little bit more of the hard work for you,” Singhal concluded. “This means giving you the best possible answers, making it easy to have a conversation and helping out before you even have to ask. Hopefully, we’ll save you a few minutes of hassle each day.”

New Engine

Google has of course, since the Caffeine overhaul in 2009, tweaked its search algorithm a number of times.

However the arrival of Hummingbird signals a much more profound change, which has been likened to replacing the engine in a motor car, with a totally brand new engine.

Search Engine Land has provided this helpful FAQ on the Hummingbird release.

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