From the beginning (1997), Google’s primary goal has been to provide the best user experience possible by organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.

Its algorithms (which are basically just computer processes and formulas) are constantly being updated to tune and refine the results delivered.  Here are a few of the major updates and how they impacted search results:

Panda – February 2011 (rolled out internationally in August 2011)

According to Google approx 12% of search results were affected by this major update – for some businesses they found their websites vanishing from Google search results overnight.  It was aimed at eradicating websites which contained, what it considered to be ‘thin content, little or no added value’.

For example, websites built with multiple ‘landing or doorway pages’. The 2 main types are:

  • those designed around a single keyword phrase – in many cases there will be very little content, accompanied by a click here button to take the visitor to the main home page.
  • location based businesses using a specific town or city.  Here you are more likely to see duplicate content as the only difference between many pages would be the location.

Penguin – April 2012

The next major update (said to affect approx 3.1% of google search queries) took Panda to the next level – decreasing ranking for sites which they considered were violating Google’s Quality Guidelines.  You can read more about this update by visiting Google’s official Inside Search blog post ‘Another Step To Reward High-Quality Sites’

Hummingbird – August 2013

Panda and Penguin were considered to be updates to Google’s Algorithm, Hummingbird is a complete replacement – think of it as a full renovation instead of just redecoration. Thats said, the renovation will still include some of the old features as well as the introduction of new ones.

The major change is the introduction of ‘Conversational search’, the ability to produce results which are linked to previous searches just as if you were having a conversation with Google. Answers can also be based on who you are and where you are (if you have shared your location with Google).  This is particularly important information for small business owners looking to target local people e.g fast food delivery outlets, painters and decorators and other local trades etc.

Pigeon – July 2014

This algorithm update impacts on local search results, by producing results that are tied more closer with traditional web search ranking signals and improving distance and local ranking parameters. It also seems to reduce duplication within results.  If you have a local business it is more important that ever to make sure your information is clear, concise and easily available – this includes Business Name, Address and Phone Number (known as you NAP). So if you haven’t claimed your local profile pages in local directories (e.g. Google+, Yelp and any others specific to your niche) – do it today!


Whilst mostly minor, it would seem that Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times a year.

To produce its search results, Google relies on more than 200 unique signals which can include freshness of content, region, pagerank etc.

If you are considering appointing a SEO Consultant, make sure they deploy ‘white hat’ strategies to help improve your business search engine rankings. Black hat may be quicker, but the chances are Google already know all the tricks and should you opt for the quick win, in the longer term your website will be at best penalised and significantly drop back down the rankings, or at worst banned from their index entirely.