“Conversational search” is one of the biggest examples Google gave. People, when speaking searches, may find it more useful to have a conversation.
“What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?” A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says “buy” and “iPhone 5s,” for example.
Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.
In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
I thought Google did this conversational search stuff already!
It does (see Google’s Impressive “Conversational Search” Goes Live On Chrome), but it had only been doing it really within its Knowledge Graph answers. Hummingbird is designed to apply the meaning technology to billions of pages from across the web, in addition to Knowledge Graph facts, which may bring back better results.”
So, we should not say Google Search is just exact words search. In fact, now is more than that. Much closer to semantic search.