Google has unveiled its new search algorithm, the foundation of the Internet’s dominant search engine, to better cope with the longer, more complex queries it has been getting from Web users. The new algorithm, codenamed Hummingbird, is the first major upgrade for three years.
At a presentation on Thursday, the search giant was short on specifics but said Hummingbird is especially useful for longer and more complex queries. It has already been in use for about a month, and affects about 90% of Google searches.
Hummingbird is focused more on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests, unlike its predecessor, Caffeine, which was targeted at better indexing of websites.
The news was announced at an intimate press event at the Silicon Valley garage where founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page worked on the launch of the search engine, which is fifteen years old on Friday.
Google struggled to recall when any type of major change like this last happened. In 2010, the “Caffeine Update” was a huge change. But that was also a change mostly meant to help Google better gather information (indexing) rather than sorting through the information. Google search chief Amit Singhal told me that perhaps 2001, when he first joined the company, was the last time the algorithm was so dramatically rewritten.
Below is what we know about Hummingbird so far:
What’s a “search algorithm?”
That’s a technical term for what you can think of as a recipe that Google uses to sort through the billions of web pages and other information it has, in order to return what it believes are the best answers.
It’s the name of the new search algorithm that Google is using, one that Google says should return better results.
Is that “PageRank” algorithm is dead?
No. PageRank is one of over 200 major “ingredients” that go into the Hummingbird recipe. Hummingbird looks at PageRank — how important links to a page are deemed to be — along with other factors like whether Google believes a page is of good quality, the words used on it and many other things
Why is it called Hummingbird?
Google told us the name come from being “precise and fast.”
When did Hummingbird start? Today?
Google started using Hummingbird about a month ago, it said. Google only announced the change today.
What does it mean that Hummingbird is now being used?
Think of a car built in the 1950s. It might have a great engine, but it might also be an engine that lacks things like fuel injection or be unable to use unleaded fuel. When Google switched to Hummingbird, it’s as if it dropped the old engine out of a car and put in a new one. It also did this so quickly that no one really noticed the switch.
Does this mean SEO is dead?
No, SEO is not yet again dead. In fact, Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about. Guidance remains the same, it says: have original, high-quality content. Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.
Does this mean I’m going to lose traffic from Google?
If you haven’t in the past month, well, you came through Hummingbird unscathed. After all, it went live about a month ago. If you were going to have problems with it, you would have known by now.
But I did lose traffic!
Perhaps it was due to Hummingbird, but Google stressed that it could also be due to some of the other parts of its algorithm, which are always being changed, tweaked or improved. There’s no way to know.
In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
At the event, the search behemoth also announced an updated search app on Apple’s iOS, as well as a more visible presence for voice search on its home page.