Google updates search algorithm to help users answer questions

Google has announced a major update to its core search algorithms that will help users answer longer, more complex questions.

The company revealed details of the new “Hummingbird” algorithm, which came into effect last month, at a press event marking the 15th anniversary of the company’s foundation.&

It described Hummingbird as the most significant update since the introduction of “Caffeine” in 2009, which introduced a new entirely new system for indexing the web.

In an interview with Forbes, Google engineering director Scott Huffman said the update is designed to help mobile users search the web more effectively by applying natural language processing to search queries. 

The update also makes better use of Google’s Knowlege Graph, a semantic ‘ontology’ of people, places and other important concepts that users may mention in their search requests. This means that instead of simply searching for mentions of the word “London” on web pages, for example, it will use the Knowledge Graph ontology to identify content that refers specifically to the concept of the UK capital.

Last year, Google hired artificial intelligence pioneer (and Singularity harbinger) Ray Kurzweil to work on natural language processing systems. “My mandate is to give computers enough understanding of natural language to do useful things—do a better job of search, do a better job of answering questions,” Kurzweil told MIT’s Techonology Review magazine in April.

Other notable recent upgrades to Google’s search algorithm include 2011’s Panda, designed to promote higher-quality content in its search results, and 2010’s Penguin, designed to identify and filter out spam links.

Hummingbird may affect the performance of businesses websites within Google’s search rankings, although without more detail it is difficult to predict how.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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