Google and the Hummingbird Algorithm

Google Hummingbird update

Google rolled out the most significant change to its core search algorithm a month ago and the company officially unveiled it to the press on September 27, 2013, in California.

As a "present" for itself on its 15th birthday, Google's the new search algorithm is designed to be more precise and provide faster query results.

The update affects 90 percent of search results. In fact, what Google has done is the equivalent of switching out the core "engine" of Google's search system for a new one. The new algorithm represents the biggest change to Google’s search functionality in 10 years.

"It is really big," said Google search executive Amit Singhal.

The new algorithm, nicknamed "Hummingbird," has been operative for a month, and only few have noticed. That means the update is basically a huge success. It works seamlessly. The last time Google made a slight tweak to its algorithm, the Panda, in order to remove spam and scraper sites, many mainstream web publishers screamed in protest as the search traffic they were used to receiving began plunging.

The Hummingbird feels a bit like Facebook's Graph Search, which is designed to handle more abstract or "latent" search queries such as "What food do my friends like to eat most?," a query, or question where users do not necessarily know what they are looking for.

Beside rivaling Facebook's Graph Search, analysts say that Google's new Hummingbird algorithm could help the company to rival Apple Siri in voice search, and create a more even playing field for website publishers.

The Hummingbird algorithm update focuses on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests. As internet data volumes explode, users are increasingly need to type more and more words into Google Search to gain greater accuracy of results. Users often needed to do several searches to find the information they are looking for before actually finding what they want, which can be frustrating and time consuming.

This problem occures because the Search results receive the matching combination of keywords that a search phrase contains, rather than the true meaning of the sentence itself. Search results produced by the Hummingbird will reflect the full semantic meaning of longer search phrases, and should in theory produce more accurate results.

Hummingbird will more greatly consider question words like "what", "how", "why", "where", and "when" in search phrases, in addition to content keywords. The Hummingbird moves the emphasis of search from results to answers.

Unlike Google's Panda and Penguin updates, the Hummingbird is a complete replacement. Singhal said that the Hummingbird represents the first time since 2001 a Google algorithm has been so dramatically rewritten.

The Hummingbird is a shift from keywords towards intent and semantics, which are infinitely more relevant to users. While the Google of a decade ago was focused on delivering search results based solely on queries, Google now is drawing insights from a variety of other signals - location, social connections, and previous searches.

Google also has acknowledged that the number of mobile and voice-based searches is increasing. Voice searches are spoken in natural language, and may not therefore contain the keywords that users might finesse on a computer keyboard. These searches are likely to return poor results using a keyword search system. Mobile users need search results faster, and they need them to be instantly relevant. The more mobile and less interface-heavy a form factor is, the less tolerant people are of bad experiences and unhelpful or spammy search results. This is as true for smartphones as it is for Google Glass.

Google over the past few years has been focused on making it easier for users to pull out their phone, ask Google a question, and get answers as quickly as possible. Hummingbird is just an extension of that. And with the Hummingbird, Google's evolution is moving away from pure search towards predictive intelligence and natural language processing.

The Hummingbird reinforced everything that had been done by the Penguins and the Pandas. Beside contextual search, it also highlights the importance of mobile devices and responsive design to its search results.