Google announced that they’ve changed the core of their search algorithm, and are essentially using a completely new one named “Hummingbird”. Google is using this name because the new algorithm is precise and fast.

The last time an algo change of this magnitude was rolled out by Google was when the update ‘Caffeine’ was implemented in 2010.  However that change mostly focused on the way Google collected and indexed data, as opposed to sorting and returning results.

Google’s algorithm is basically their secret sauce for processing mass data about websites, then displaying it on the page when someone enters a search.  Google uses their algorithm to sort through billions of pages and information it has about sites, so that it can return what it feels are the best answers to searches from users.

Recently Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land sat down with Google’s top search execs, Amit Singhal and Ben Gomes, to get the low down on the new algo, and the need it aims to fill. Here’s a quick summary of what he found out.

Why does Google need a new algorithm?

A new algorithm is needed for multiple reasons.  The biggest reason is that the demands of the web are always changing. Google would very quickly become a dinosaur if they weren’t constantly evolving their understanding of queried terms. The company needs to continuously be working to have the ability to index the latest types of code used for websites in an effort to always be providing better results.  Hummingbird aims to better understand our queries, and return better results based on the meaning of the entire query, vs. just a few words.

If Algorithms were Car Engines

Sullivan explains, that If you were to think of Google as a car, the algorithm would be the engine under the hood.  If that car was built in the 1950s, then at some point, it makes sense to swap out the engine for a better one that is more fuel efficient and has the latest technology to provide a better performing product.

What about Panda and Penguin?

Thinking again, of the engine metaphor, the Panda and Penguin sections of the algorithm would be like an improved oil filter or better fuel pump that works with the engine, but is not necessarily the core importance.

What need does Hummingbird fill?

The important piece of Hummingbird has to do with its ability to understand searches by looking at more than just the keyword being searched for.  The goal is to return results based on the intent of the query, as opposed to breaking it up and returning website results based only on key words.

For example, a search for “Pizza Hut calories per slice” used to bring up a generic website that provided some loose information about calories for some Pizza Hut products.  For the same query, the new algorithm returns a page direct from Pizza Hut, with up-to-date specific information about calories per slice, and a table that helps you figure out the impact of calories from toppings.  My guess would be that Pizza Hut maintains this page, and that it is much more trustworthy than old site that used to appear.

The other area where Hummingbird aims to help is “Conversational Search.”

This type of search is becoming hugely important as more people are speaking their queries into their device then ever before.  In order to continue to provide good results for these searches, Google needs to be smart enough to understand the context of the search and display results accordingly.

To achieve this new level of understanding, Hummingbird is taking into account the entire sentence of the search and the context of each word so they can match pages based on meaning, rather than just words.  Hummingbird also takes into account additional information of searcher such as their location information (if provided) when returning the results.

What does this mean for your website?

The Hummingbird algorithm was introduced in the last month.  I find it pretty amazing that an entire new algo was introduced and there weren’t any major complaints by marketers or webmasters during this time.  This would imply that the change was minimal since most webmasters probably didn’t notice it.

This upgrade is also impressive because introducing a completely new algorithm without any major noticeable changes would not be easy since Google would have to coordinate the upgrade across tons of datacenters from around the world.

If you didn’t notice any traffic changes in the past month, then Hummingbird probably didn’t hurt you.  I for one am happy that Google is evolving, however it’s too early to tell what additional changes are on the way.