A Brief History of Google – Part 11

In the last part of this series we looked into a few of Google’s behind-the-scenes updates including their Manual Action Warning and Exact Match Domain Updates. In this edition we will explore a couple of larger updates: Google’s Hummingbird Update which led to huge changes in the search infrastructure, and their Pigeon Update which shook up the Local SEO fraternity.

August 2013 – Hummingbird

Google’s Hummingbird update lead to significant changes within the organic search infrastructure, bringing in an entirely new search algorithm to serve up responses to search queries. This brought with it great improvements in semantic search (i.e. understanding the context of search queries and applying this to the results in order to make them more relevant) and the knowledge graph (Google’s own database of information about people, places, media and other items, which is used to add extra information to search results), targeting ‘precise and fast’ search results.

Introducing the ability to approach your search query more ‘conversationally’, Hummingbird acknowledged that voice search was growing, and users would find it more natural to have a conversational approach to their spoken search queries. The meaning behind the query is better understand post-Hummingbird, with all the words reviewed and contributing to the served results rather than just a couple of selected keywords. Using this approach, the presented search engine results pages should be a better match to the whole meaning of the query and provide a better user experience.

From a digital marketing or webmaster perspective this change didn’t bring about any major panics, Google’s guidance clearly remained that original, high-quality content is the way to rank well. The same signals that have been optimised for since the previous updates are still important, Hummingbird just allows Google to process them more efficiently for the user. Indeed, by considering the full context of a search those pages best optimised with more than just keywords are likely to have been rewarded subtly as a result of this wider consideration to the search query.

July 2014 – Pigeon

Following Hummingbird, Google’s Pigeon update was one of the most significant changes, completely reinventing the local SEO landscape. Although technically a behind-the-scenes update, this new local algorithm ties deeper into Google’s existing web search capabilities and improved the distance and location ranking parameters affecting served search results.

With differences being seen in both Google’s List and Map results, some businesses woke up following this update to find they had dropped out of the top listings. As with Hummingbird, there wasn’t a great deal that businesses could do about this update as it was a pure technical adjustment and the physical location of a business will rarely have updated overnight. However, it became vital that webmasters make sure their website is optimised appropriately for their locations, checking Google My Business to confirm that they have address details listed.


Keep an eye out for the next edition of this series where we will look into the security and mobile optimisation updates, where Google rewarded websites providing safe and mobile-friendly user experiences.