In 2013 Google released Hummingbird, perhaps the most significant update to their search algorithm since the search engine launched.
From the Search Engine Land blog, here’s how they describe it…
“On September 26, Google announced a new algorithm impacting more than 90 percent of searches worldwide. They called it Hummingbird. Google’s Amit Singhal later said it was perhaps the largest change to the algorithm since he joined the company back in 2001.
Hummingbird allows the Google search engine to better do its job through an improvement in semantic search. As conversational search becomes the norm, Hummingbird lends understanding to the intent and contextual meaning of terms used in a query.”
In plain English, this means that the conventional wisdom of the way we teach search – identifying important keywords, eliminating unnecessary terms, removing the conversational parts of a question, etc, is no longer quite as critical as it once was.
I’ve heard many teachers tell students “never just type in a question to Google in plain English” but that’s exactly what Hummingbird is designed for. With so many searches now being done via mobile devices using voice, the evolution to plain language questions and semantic queries is the next evolution in Google search.
As a demonstration, here are 50 questions, all done using voice search, to show you just how powerful this new algorithm really is.
Of course, these are mostly simple fact recall style questions, and more sophisticated queries will still benefit from a more sophisticated approach to writing search queries – using good search terms, excluding words or phrases, using search operators like site:, filetype:, etc, as well as making the most of extras like colour filters, date ranges, and so on.
But if you’re still telling students not to write plain language queries because that the advice you’ve you’ve always given them, maybe it’s time to update your advice?
And of course, it highlights why the things we ask students to do these days need to be based on far more than simple fact recall. With most students now carrying around Google in their pockets, the value of “facts” has been completely commoditised. We need to focus on helping them develop knowledge and wisdom, not just facts. Facts are cheap.
Header Photo: J Brew on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/7NxJZy
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