Every so often Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) rolls out a major update to the way it offers search results. This time around, the update is called Hummingbird, and it is already affecting approximately 90 percent of all searches done using the company’s search engine.

Google Hummingbird

Google gets better at answering long questions

As with all of its major updates, Hummingbird deals with the algorithm Google’s search engine uses. The goal of this update was to provide better answers to longer questions which are more complex. This is the biggest change to the search engine since early 2010 when the company rolled out what it called the Caffeine update. Although Hummingbird has been working for about a month now, the company revealed the details about it at a major press event at the home where Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) was started 15 years ago.

Forbes contributor Robert Hof reports that the main focal point of Hummingbird is to rank sites according to relevance by integrating a deeper use of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is its own encyclopedia. Knowledge Graph contains explanations of about 570 million concepts and the relationships which exist between them. Entries for various topics include more than just the name of the topic, but also key details about that topic, like the fact that the Eiffel Tower is not just a tower, but is also located in Paris.

Hummingbird is different than the Caffeine update a few years ago because Caffeine was more about better indexing and crawling for faster results rather than the ranking order of those results.

Google keeps pushing toward “more natural” results

Over the last several years, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has said it wants to provide results from pages which appear more natural in design. With the Hummingbird update, the company is now updating its own search engine to provide results that feel more natural.

Scott Huffman, one of the engineering directors at Google, told Hof that the main reason they rolled out Hummingbird in the way they did is because more and more people are speaking their searches into their phones. These spoken searches are more natural than searches which are typed in using a keyboard. Since they are more natural, they are more complex for computers to understand. So by updating its algorithm, Google expects to be able to provide results which are more relevant to the question that was asked.

Maximizing results received through Google

According to Huffman, the more key search terms people use when searching Google, the easier it is for the search engine to pull context from a question. The key in this update is the adjustments Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) made to add relationships between related keywords so that the search engine could better understand the context of the question and thus, provide better information.

Let’s go back to the Eiffel Tower example again, which Google executives showed off at Thursday’s event. According to Richard Taylor of the BBC, one executive spoke a search into her mobile phone asking to see pictures of the Eiffel Tower. After the pictures appeared, she asked how tall it is. After receiving that answer, she asked to see pictures of the construction, and the pictures appeared.

Search experts say it will take some time and plenty of tests to determine just how the new algorithm will affect the ranking of web pages. Web page ranking is an important part of most business websites because they rely on Google to bring potential customers to them. Sites like eHow, which is run by Demand Media, and others receive a good chunk of their revenue based on search engine optimization. Past changes have had major effects on sites like eHow, knocking the pages down several slots on Google’s search results.

Google’s Panda update a few years ago especially hurt some websites. This major algorithm change could mean that companies like Demand Media will have to once again change how they optimize their pages for Google search.