Google Looks To Fine-Tune Searches With Algorithm Overhaul
September 27, 2013

Google Looks To Fine-Tune Searches With Algorithm Overhaul

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Google unveiled a major overhaul of its search engine on Thursday, saying it had updated its main search algorithm to give better answers to the increasingly complex queries it receives from Web users.

The update, code-named “Hummingbird,” is the biggest change to Google’s search engine since early 2010, and could have a major impact on traffic to websites.

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

The update was quietly rolled out last month, but wasn’t disclosed until Thursday during a Silicon Valley event marking the company's 15th anniversary.

Singhal said Hummingbird represents the most dramatic modification to Google's search engine since it revised the way it indexes websites as part of an update dubbed "Caffeine.”

Hummingbird is important because any retooling of Google's search rankings can have dramatic ramifications for the Internet due to vast amount of traffic Google directs.

The company currently handles about two-thirds of all US search requests, and an even greater percentage in some areas of the world.

Singhal estimated the update would affect the analysis of about 90 percent of the search requests Google receives.

The changes could also raise the price of Google ads tied to search requests if websites whose rankings are downgraded under the new algorithm decide to purchase ads to attract traffic. Search ads and other commercial marketing messages related to Web content comprise most of Google's revenue, which is expected to be nearly $60 billion this year. However, the updated algorithm hasn’t yet generated any widespread complaints, suggesting it hasn’t resulted in a major change in how websites rank in the recommendations.

The Caffeine update came under heavy criticism because it explicitly sought to distinguish websites that tried to trick the search engine into seeing the content as related to common search requests. After Caffeine was launched, hundreds of websites that consistently achieved a highly desired spot near the top of Google's search results had instead fallen to the back pages, or were expelled entirely.

Singhal said Hummingbird, however, is mainly aimed at giving Google's search engine a better understanding of concepts, instead of just words.

That change was necessary because people increasingly enter lengthy questions into the search box instead of just a few words related to specific topics, he added.

With the widespread popularity of smartphones and Google's voice-recognition technology, a growing number of people are also submitting search requests in sequences of spoken sentences (voice search) that are more conversational, something that also played a role in Google’s decision to launch Hummingbird, Singhal said.

When people speak, rather than type, a search query, they use more complex phrases, and Google had to update its algorithm to manage that, he said.

In addition to Hummingbird, the Mountain View, California-based company said it would soon roll out a new Google Search app that will carry users’ lists and other data information from one device to another.