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Google alters search to handle complex queries

Claire Cain Miller 

on Thursday announced one of the biggest changes to its search engine, a rewriting of its algorithm to handle more that affects 90 per cent of all searches. The change, which represents a new approach to search for Google, required the biggest changes to the company's search algorithm since 2000. Now, Google, the world's most popular search engine, will focus more on trying to understand the meanings of and relationships among things, as opposed to its original strategy of matching keywords. The company made the changes, executives said, because users are asking increasingly long and complex questions and are searching more often on mobile phones with voice search. (ENGINE OVERHAUL) "They said, 'Let's go back and basically replace the engine of a 1950s car,' " said Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, an industry blog. "It's fair to say the general public seemed not to have noticed that ripped out its engine while driving down the road and replaced it with something else." announced the new algorithm, called Hummingbird, at an event to celebrate the search engine's 15th birthday. The event was held in the garage Google's founders rented when they started the company. revealed few details about how the new algorithm works or what it changed. It said it made the change a month ago, though consumers may not have noticed a significant difference to search results during that time. originally matched keywords in a search query to the same words on web pages. Hummingbird is the culmination of a shift to understanding the meaning of phrases in a query and displaying Web pages that more accurately match that meaning. had taken smaller steps toward this. The Knowledge Graph, introduced last year, understands the meanings of and relationships between things, people and places, which is known as semantic search.

It is why a search for Michelle Obama, for instance, shows her birthday, hometown and family members' names, as well as links to related people like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph R Biden Jr. The algorithm also builds on work has done to understand conversational language, like interpreting what pronouns in a search query refer to. Hummingbird extends that to all Web searches, not just results related to entities included in the Knowledge Graph. It tries to connect phrases and understand concepts in a long query. The outcome is not a change in how searches the Web, but in the results that it shows. Unlike some of its other algorithm changes, including one that pushed down so-called content farms in search results, Hummingbird is unlikely to noticeably affect certain categories of Web businesses, Sullivan said. Instead, says it believes that users will see more precise results. also announced a few smaller changes to searching. It is changing the visual layout of mobile search to better suit phones and tablets. People can now compare two things, like butter and olive oil, or corgis and pugs, in search results. And with a new app for Apple devices, people can set reminders on an Android device at home and receive them later on an iPhone. ©2013 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Sat, September 28 2013. 00:12 IST