Have you noticed recently that Google has gotten a bit better at offering up direct answers to questions? If so, there’s a reason for it: they recently flipped the switch on a new search algorithm they call “Hummingbird”, which focuses on parsing searches as complex questions.
Google mentioned the new algorithm for the first time today, at an event that was (in a confusing surprise to everyone who arrived at Google HQ and was put on a bus) hosted in the garage that Larry and Sergey rented as Google started to prove successful. Other things announced include a tweak to Google’s Knowledge Graph to allow it to handle comparison questions (“Which is better for me — olive oil or butter?”), and Push Notifications for Google Now on iOS.
Despite a good amount of questioning from the audience on just how Hummingbird worked, Google avoiding getting too technical. While they did say that this was the biggest overhaul to their engine since the 2009 “Caffeine” overhaul (which focused on speed and integrating social network results into search) and that it affects “around 90% of searches”, there wasn’t much offered in terms of technical details.
The main focus, and something that went repeated many a time, was that the new algorithm allows Google to more quickly parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches word-by-word), and to identify and rank answers to those questions from the content they’ve indexed.
As for how it’ll affect results, moving forward (the ears of a zillion SEO dudes/dudettes just perked): the engine overhaul was silently put in place weeks ago, right under all of our noses. If you haven’t noticed any huge jumps or drops in your search engine placement, you probably won’t any time soon — at least, not as a result of the new algorithm.