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Google's Hummingbird is changing search

Google's Hummingbird is changing search
Google is once again changing the meaning of search. Literally.

Published: 7 Oct, 2013

Google's Hummingbird is changing search

Google has quietly changed the conversation when it comes to querying on the web.

Unbeknownst to most of us, the giant of search performed major surgery on its "engine" - the algorithm that makes it tick - including a new algorithm called Hummingbird.

Hummingbird represents a remarkable leap forward for Google, as it adapts to the way people are actually searching, rather than the keyword-based way we used to search.

At Hummingbird's heart is a mobile-style approach to search and it has expanded Google's existing voice search implementation, allowing users to apply the technology to the millions of webpages being indexed by Google on a daily basis, greatly extending not only the mobility of search via Google, but relevance too.

The Hummingbird flies high

First off, let's clear up the fact that Hummingbird isn't an update as much as it's an upgrade.

Think of popping out an i3 Core processor and replacing it with an i7. That's what we are looking at here. The reason it's such a big deal is that the algorithm hasn't truly been changed to this degree since 2001. It's not a total recode by any means, but there's a ton of new code under the hood, so to speak.

What's new in Hummingbird?

Perhaps the most exciting new feature in Hummingbird resides in how it extrapolates the meaning from a query. For example, with the old algorithms going back to the early 2000s, the keyword string was the backbone of search.

As an example, you've probably experienced something like this:

If you search for "ice cream near High Street," from a location in Fremantle, you might have drawn results from the Perth area, but you might also have drawn results from as far away as Clintonville, Ohio USA, because of the keyword relevance for 'High Street."

This kind of thing has long been a source of frustration. Google has seen fit (thankfully) to address it with Hummingbird, now factoring in your geographic location and comparing it with results linked to ice cream shops near you, with our example in mind again.

Google is using its unparalleled data to make results more relevant to you.

Conversations with a Hummingbird

"Conversation search" is the other big deal in Hummingbird, and it's a direct response to the increasingly mobile search habits of the average consumer.

We're getting comfortable with asking questions directly into the search engine using the microphones in our smartphones. As an example, if a student needs to know the name of the Canadian Prime Minister, they will simply ask Google: "Who is the Prime Minister of Canada?" - speaking into a smartphone. With Hummingbird, as you may have noticed by now, you get more than just links; you get the answer in big, bold type.

Why Hummingbird?

In short, the reason for Hummingbird is simple.

The keyword is dying, albeit slowly. Users are finding more interesting ways to use search in the world of mobile. Google is always on the forefront when it comes to changing how search works.

These changes are ushering in increased relevance and a more uniform search experience across mobile and desktop devices. It is smart business and most likely, a sign of things to come.