Monday 14 October, 2013
Google’s algorithm changes have such evocative and sometimes poetic names. None is prettier than the latest, its ‘hummingbird update.’ Is the search engine giant trying to compete with Twitter with its bird theme? According to Google, the answer is no. It’s called hummingbird because it’s supposed to be precise and fast.
Google Gutting Its Algorithms
Like all of the algorithm changes of the past, hummingbird takes into account a whole variety of factors including but not limited to page rank, quality of content, user experience, and so on. These are the same factors that every update takes into account.
But hummingbird is different from the many updates in recent years like penguin and panda in that it’s a complete overhaul. It’s not a tweak here and a tweak there, but a complete gutting of the system. The reason is that Google wants to implement the many new technologies it has developed recently in order to improve search results.
The Knowledge Graph and Smarter Searching
The key change is that hummingbird uses the Knowledge Graph. This is a technology developed recently by Google that uses not only the words and phrases entered as search terms, but the ideas behind them. It makes more complex connections in order to understand what you mean when you search for certain terms.
The Knowledge Graph enables the search engine to respond to more complex questions. This is important because people are increasingly searching by asking questions into their phones. They’re less likely to enter a handful of words or a common phrase, and more likely to use entire sentences for queries.
For example, you may ask Google, ‘Tell me about power pop from LA in the late 1970s.’ You need a smarter search engine to deal with such a complex phrase. It needs to understand which words are most important and what the function words such as ‘tell’ and ‘from’ mean. This is a more conversational query.
The smarter search also allows you to ask follow up questions because it understands context. You might search, ‘pictures of Tokyo Tower.’ For the next search, you could simply ask, ‘how tall is it,’ and the search engine would understand that you mean Tokyo Tower.
A Big Shake-up
Google updates its algorithms several hundred times a year but most updates are subtle changes you wouldn’t notice. Hummingbird is the biggest update since the 2010 caffeine update. It has been in effect for about a month at the time of writing (October 2013) and it’s said to affect about 90 percent of searches.
Hummingbird was announced on September 26th by Google Senior VP Amit Singhal at fellow senior VP Susan Wojcicki’s Menlo Park, California, house where the company originally operated out of her garage. It was the day before Google’s fifteenth anniversary.