Google Turns 15, Introduces New Search Algorithm

Just as Google turns 15 years old, it unveils a new search algorithm that could drastically impact how search affects Websites.

Google started 15 years ago today in a Menlo Park, Calif., garage that was rented for $1,700 a month. The company celebrated its 15th birthday by holding a media event in that same garage on Sept. 26, but the milestone was overshadowed by an announcement of a new search algorithm that aims to give better answers to search queries.

The algorithm change came as part of an update called "Hummingbird" that Google now says it has been gradually rolling out over the past month, according to a story by the Associated Press. "The changes could have a major impact on traffic to web sites. Hummingbird represents the most dramatic alteration to Google's search engine since it revised the way it indexes websites three years ago as part of a redesign called 'Caffeine,'" Amit Singhal, senior vice president for Google Search, said at the media event, the AP reported. Singhal estimates that the redesign will affect the analysis of about 90 percent of the search requests that Google gets.

The potential impact of such a move is huge because Google is such a large part of today's Internet. "Google fields about two out of every three search requests in the U.S. and handles an even larger volume in some parts of Europe," according to the AP story. "The changes could also drive up the price of Google ads tied to search requests if websites whose rankings are demoted under the new system feel they have to buy the marketing messages to attract traffic."

The algorithm change was made to try to better handle the longer, more complex queries that are entered into the Google search engine by users, according to a Sept. 26 story by Reuters.

Google did not respond to several email inquiries from eWEEK seeking more details about the new algorithm and its uses.

In his own Sept. 26 post about the company's 15th birthday on the Google Inside Search Blog, Singhal didn't actually mention the recent algorithm changes as he described how much the world of search has changed in the years since Google first appeared online.

"Remember what it was like to search in 1998?" he wrote. "You'd sit down and boot up your bulky computer, dial up on your squawky modem, type in some keywords, and get 10 blue links to websites that had those words. It seemed like magic (and it was way, way faster than card catalogs and microfiche!)."

Google even lets users get a glimpse of those first, old days of Google searches. If you type "Google in 1998" into Google's search box, it will take you back to those heady days of 1998 when Google had a look that is similar, yet different from today. Instructions on how to use Google and descriptions of what it was and would do were also featured back then, making it a fun trip back in time. How much has changed in the ensuing 15 years suddenly feels very palpable.

Yet despite the advances that have already arrived, wrote Singhal in his post, much more is to come in the world of Google Search, such as expanded features for Google's Knowledge Graph and more unified future designs on mobile devices of all sizes.

"We'll keep improving Google Search so it does a little bit more of the hard work for you," wrote Singhal. "This means giving you the best possible answers, making it easy to have a conversation and helping out before you even have to ask. Hopefully, we'll save you a few minutes of hassle each day. So keep asking Google tougher questions—it keeps us on our toes! After all, we're just getting started."

Back in March, Google created a Website, How Search Works, to explain the unexplainable in the complex process that occurs when a user begins looking for answers using Google's search engine. The site offers an interactive tour and detailed explanations for what happens in a search, using a step-by-step format that makes it easier to understand and visualize along the way.