I’m sure that by now, everybody is aware of the latest big update to Google, that launched in February, and went global just a few days ago. And you’re probably equally aware that Google makes regular changes to its algorithm. What you might not know, is that Google is pretty sure its algorithm will never be complete.
It makes sense really. From the Caffeine update, to the later Panda update, we see only the changes that make it through Google’s rigorous internal testing procedure. We’ve mentioned before that Google made more than 500 updates to its algorithm in 2010.
What hasn’t been such common knowledge is that they actually tested somewhere round 6,000 potential updates, and those 500+ were just the ones that made it to the stage where they were implemented as permanent updates.
Algorithm A Work In Progress
According to Google’s Amit Singhal, the now famous search algorithm is tweaked twice a day on average. Most changes are not publicised, and most of them affect only a very small percentage of searches.
Scott Huffman, whose team is responsible for improving the Google search results, explains, “On the one hand, we want to be moving quickly and we want to make great changes. On the other hand, we don’t want people to come to Google and say they don’t recognize it.”
He also said that Google understands what people want when they search. “People are not just expecting a search engine to return every document that has most of the words typed in a query box. They want the context understood; there are a lot of nuances hidden within that.”
Working The Algorithm Changes
Initially, potential changes to the algorithm are tested on a network of computers that simulate real searches on Google. If the results look promising, teams of evaluators get to test the change, by rating the relevance of the results that come up in the tests.
The next step is to make real-world tests, by blending the changes into normal searches. “At any given time,” Huffman reveals, “some percentage of our users are actually seeing experiments.” They don’t know about it of course. And the first round of testing ensures that nothing bad is going to be experienced by them.
If the results continue to be positive, the change might be phased into the existing algorithm. Google handles more than 1 billion search queries every day.
The Future Of Google Search
Google assures people that there is no way that their algorithm will ever be complete. It’s a work in progress, they explain. And they’re planning plenty more changes in the future too.
Right now, Huffman says, they’re thinking about ways to improve how Google understands and derives inferences from the many languages used around the world.
Singhal himself envisaged what he called the “ultimate dream,” a day when search engines understand users so well, that they predict what they want to know, and prompt them with messages to smart phones.
Right now, I’m not sure how I feel about that.