Google on Thursday announced one of the biggest changes ever to its search engine, a rewriting of its algorithm to handle more complex queries that affects 90 percent of all searches.
The change represents a new approach to searches using Google and required the biggest changes to the company’s search algorithm since 2000. Now, the world’s most popular search engine will focus more on trying to understand the meanings of things and the relationships among them, as opposed to the company’s original strategy of matching keywords.
The company made the changes, executives said, because Google users are asking increasingly long and complex questions and they are searching Google more often on mobile phones with voice search.
“They said, ‘Let’s go back and basically replace the engine of a 1950s car,’” said Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, an industry blog. “It’s fair to say the general public seemed not to have noticed that Google ripped out its engine while driving down the road and replaced it with something else.”
Google announced the new algorithm, called Hummingbird, at a press event to celebrate the search engine’s 15th birthday. The event was held in the garage that Google’s founders rented when they started the company. Yet Google revealed few details about how the new search algorithm works or what it changed. And it said it made the change a month ago, though consumers may not have noticed a significant difference in search results during that time.
Google originally matched keywords in a search query to the same words on Web pages. Hummingbird is the culmination of a shift to understanding the meaning of phrases in a query and showing people Web pages that more accurately match that meaning.