Google Inc has quietly retooled the closely guarded formula running its Internet search engine to give better answers to the increasingly complex questions posed by Web surfers.
The overhaul came as part of an update called 'Hummingbird' that Google Inc has gradually rolled out in the past month without disclosing the modifications.
The changes could have a major impact on traffic to websites. 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,' according to Amit Singhal, a senior vice president for the company. He estimates that the redesign will affect the analysis of about 90 percent of the search requests that Google gets.
Any reshuffling of Google's search rankings can have sweeping ramifications because they steer so much of the Internet's traffic. Google fields about two of out every three search requests in the U.S. and handles an even larger volume in some parts of Europe. 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 search ads and other commercial pitches related to Web content account for most of Google's revenue, which is expected to approach $60 billion this year.
Google disclosed the existence of the new search formula Thursday at an event held in the Menlo Park, California, garage where CEO Larry Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin started the company 15 years ago.
Google celebrates its birthday on Sept. 27 each year, even though the company was incorporated a few weeks earlier. The company is now based in Mountain View, California, at a sprawling complex located about seven miles from the 1,900-square-foot home where Page and Brin paid $1,700 per month to rent the garage and a bedroom. The co-founders' landlord was Susan Wojcicki, who is now a top Google executive and Brin's sister-in-law.
Wojcicki sold the home to Google in 2006 and it is now maintained as a monument to the company's humble beginnings.
Google's renovations to its search engine haven't triggered widespread complaints from other websites yet, suggesting that the revisions haven't resulted in a radical reshuffling in how websites rank in the recommendations. The Caffeine update spurred a loud outcry because it explicitly sought to weed out websites that tried to trick Google's search engine into