"The world has changed so much since then: billions of people have come online, the Web has grown exponentially, and now you can ask any question on the powerful little device in your pocket."
Page and Brin set up shop in the garage of Susan Wojcicki -- now a senior Google executive -- in September 1998, around the time they incorporated their company. This week marks the 15th anniversary of their collaboration.
Google is trying to keep pace with the evolution of Internet usage. As search queries get more complicated, traditional "Boolean" or keyword-based systems begin deteriorating because of the need to match concepts and meanings in addition to words.
"Hummingbird" is the company's effort to match the meaning of queries with that of documents on the Internet, said Singhal from the Menlo Park garage where Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin conceived their now-ubiquitous search engine.
Google struggled to recall when any type of major change like this last happened. In 2010, the “Caffeine Update” was a huge change. But that was also a change mostly meant to help Google better gather information (indexing) rather than sorting through the information. Google search chief Amit Singhal told that perhaps 2001, when he first joined the company, was the last time the algorithm was so dramatically rewritten.
Does it mean that “PageRank” algorithm is dead?
No. PageRank is one of over 200 major “ingredients” that go into the Hummingbird recipe. Hummingbird looks at PageRank — how important links to a page are deemed to be — along with other factors like whether Google believes a page is of good quality, the words used on it and many other things.
What type of “new” search activity does Hummingbird help?
“Conversational search” is one of the biggest examples Google gave. People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation.
“What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?”
A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says “buy” and “iPhone 5s,” for example.
Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.
In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
By the way, another term for the “meaning” connections that Hummingbird does is “entity search,” and we have an entire panel on that at our SMX East search marketing show in New York City, next week. The Coming “Entity Search” Revolution session is part of an entire “Semantic Search” track that also gets into ways search engines are discovering meanings behind words.