Google has revamped its core search algorithm, a development that potentially means very big things for the publishing and advertising industries that depend on the search-engine giant for revenue and profit.
Google is turning 15 years old—an eternity in tech-world terms—and so the occasional change to its underlying math is not unexpected; after all, the company needs to keep up with an always-mutating Web. Since 1998, hundreds of millions of people have come online, with sizable percentages of them accessing Websites via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. In addition, technologies such as voice search have reached the point where they can be integrated into commercial applications, adding another layer of complexity to Google’s operations.
“We think about having 100 years to create the most amazing search opportunity. So we are 15 years in,” Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of Google advertising, told an audience of reporters gathered in the house where Google began as a company in 1998.
This latest search revamp, known internally as Hummingbird, was built with voice searches and more complex queries in mind. But nobody outside of Google is quite sure how that will translate into actual search-engine results; advertisers could have many sleepless nights before the contours of the actual changes—and the effects on things like SEO—are clear.
“We keep expanding features of the Knowledge Graph so it can answer more questions—even those that don’t have a simple answer,” read a Sept. 26 posting on Google’s Inside Search blog. In practice, that means asking your phone something along the lines of, “Tell me about French artists” will organically generate results about artists and French art; the algorithm is also better at comparing two things (“compare Mars and Earth”) in ways that make sense.
In addition, Google is revamping the look and feel of Search on tablets and smartphones, relying more heavily on the “cards”-based interface that currently drives its Google Now app.
Making Google search more “conversational” isn’t a new initiative for the company by any means. Earlier this year, Google senior vice president Amit Singhal told an audience at the South by Southwest conference that Google’s dream “is for search to become the ‘Star Trek’ computer, and that’s what we’re building today.” (The ‘Star Trek’ shipboard computer responded to voice commands with accurate and instant answers.) Hummingbird is yet another incremental step toward that goal.