Google announced a major new search algorithm to celebrate its 15th anniversary called Hummingbird, because it is “precise and fast”. Interestingly, the change was implemented about a month before the announcement was made and most of us did not notice any difference! That is probably because Google is continually making minor changes to the way it presents results, and then there are the live experiments that we are all subjected to (Just Testing: Google Users May See Up To A Dozen Experiments http://searchengineland.com/just-testing-google-searchers-may-see-up-to-a-dozen-experiments-141570). So, even if we do suspect that our results have changed, it’s difficult to know whether it’s the usual combination of personalisation and experiments or the new algorithm.
Phil Bradley has written a neat summary of what Hummingbird is (http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/09/what-is-google-hummingbird.html) and Danny Sullivan has compiled an FAQ at http://searchengineland.com/google-hummingbird-172816. There is also a short video on the BBC website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24292897 in which Amit Singhal, VP, Google Search talks about the launch and the future direction of Google search.
I have not noticed any significant differences in either desktop or mobile search but that is probably a good thing. We tend to spot changes only when Google completely messes up. I suspect that we’ll see little difference when using advanced commands such as filetype or site; Hummingbird seems to be geared more towards handling natural language queries. It is far too early to say how this is going to affect in depth research, but if you suddenly find strange things happening to your search it could be Hummingbird and not you.
If you are keen to find out more about how Google works and how to get better results I am presenting a workshop later this month in London that has been organised by UKeiG. Further details are on the UKeiG website. Alternatively, if you have had enough of Google and want to explore alternatives there is the Anything but Google workshop, again organised by UKeiG.