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A Walk Through Google's Changes With Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan

Search Engine Land founding editor and search engine guru Danny Sullivan appeared in SunTrust Robinson Humphrey's Investor Conference Call Series, hosted by Robert Peck, to discuss the ongoing changes at search giant Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), including an explanation of Hummingbird.

“Hummingbird was a complete rewrite of the core search engine itself,” said Sullivan.

He compared past engines to running like a car engine, but said that Google realized stuff was coming in and “gumming up the works,” so they added filters to purify the running process, Sullivan said.

“Let's create a filter that we'll call Panda and we'll screw it into the engine, kind of like [how] an oil filter works, and we hope that'll catch any content that we think is low quality,” said Sullivan.

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“And, oh we've just discovered that a bunch of people are spamming us, ah, in ways we haven't been catching very well. We'll create another new filter, kind of like, you know, an air filter, and we'll put it on there and that'll be our Penguin filter.”

Sullivan noted that new ways to communicate and search for information came along, which made the nature or search far different than it was prior to these new technologies hitting the scene. Social signals, like hashtags, and voice controlled searches via mobile are prime examples that he listed as prominent innovations.

With Hummingbird the idea was, “let's build a new engine for, you know, this whole new decade…two decades…that we're really into,” replacing the outdated 2001 engine that didn't meet the standards of a transformed Web, Sullivan outlined. The rebuilt model is meant to match modern efficiency, and new expectations mean new tricks, such as accepting “alternative fuels,” if it likes.

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They rolled out Hummingbird in September 2013, but no one really noticed, Sullivan said; with traffic remaining relatively the same for most sites.

Google still mostly relies on link signals, which he jokes are very much the “fossil fuel of the Internet,” and have become diluted for a variety of reasons as new types of signals simultaneously enter the stage.

Sullivan also noted that this indicates that the engine works much like it did before. The difference now, he said, that is if you want to sometimes use that car as a hybrid, then you can.

There is now a more present demand to enhance users' search experiences by creating connections that better optimize filtering by ranking ratings. According to Sullivan, part of this concerns entities; not only their relevance by definition, but by their deeper meaning. He said that upgrading, including new filters for the unexpected, can always come up in the future, which also encompasses updates to filters like Panda.

While Google is hesitant, he said, they'll have to utilize social signals eventually because of link dilution. Currently, they use Google+ as their main source of social signals. Sullivan also pointed to the other reason for them not taking on social signals fully: their network isn't ready for it yet. He said that their engine still needs lots of “fossil fuel” to run. It's what it was originally designed for, despite being rebuilt.

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) both argue that Google doesn't cover its platforms during live sessions and other valuable activity time that's trackable for advertising. That translates to ad dollars that they can't tap into, and many experts don't see them as a serious part of that social space, Sullivan added.

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