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Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times reports, “Google on Thursday announced one of the biggest changes to its search engine, a rewriting of its algorithm to handle more complex queries that affects 90 percent of all searches. The change, which represents a new approach to search for Google, required the biggest changes to the company’s search algorithm since 2000. Now, Google, the world’s most popular search engine, will focus more on trying to understand the meanings of and relationships among things, as opposed to its original strategy of matching keywords.”

Miller continues, “The company made the changes, executives said, because Google users are asking increasingly long and complex questions and 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 an event to celebrate the search engine’s 15th birthday.”

She adds, “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 displaying Web pages that more accurately match that meaning. Google had taken smaller steps toward this. The Knowledge Graph, introduced last year, understands the meanings of and relationships between things, people and places, which is known as semantic search. It is why a search for Michelle Obama, for instance, shows her birthday, hometown and family members’ names, as well as links to related people like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

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