Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals to deliver webpages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).
In its early years, Google only made a handful of updates to its algorithms. Now, Google makes thousands of changes every year.
Most of these updates are so slight that they go completely unnoticed. However, on occasion, the search engine rolls out major algorithmic updates that significantly impact the SERPs such as:
Below we have compiled a full list of Google algorithm launches, updates, and refreshes that have rolled out over the years, as well as links to resources for SEO professionals who want to understand each of these changes.
March 12, 2019
March 2019 Core Update (a.k.a. Florida 2)
Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter the release of a global broad core algorithm update. SEJ confirmed this update is particularly important and one of the biggest Google updates in years. Sullivan once again recommended following the guidance it provided following the March 9, 2018 update.
Algorithm trackers and industry chatter indicated some sort of unconfirmed update took place on and before this date. However, unlike other updates, mostly positive changes in rankings were being reported.
Some webmasters reported changes starting around Halloween, perhaps indicating an (unconfirmed) Google update. But there was little evidence of a significant update here. The more likely cause of the chatter was spillover from the August broad core algorithm update and Google ramping up its use of neural matching.
On September 27 (Google’s 20th birthday), many within the SEO community began noticing significant spikes and drops in traffic, indicating some sort of update was underway. Some of the sites impacted by the August broad core algorithm update reportedly made a recovery. Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter September 29 that some sort of “smaller” update had taken place (but it wasn’t a broad core algorithm update).
Google confirmed via Twitter for the third time this year the rollout of a broad core algorithm update. In doing so, Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan recommended following the guidance it provided following the March 9, 2018 update. This update has been referred to as “Medic” by some in the industry, even though Google said it was a general ranking update and wasn’t specifically targeting medical sites.
On March 12, Google confirmed via Twitter that a “broad core algorithm update” had rolled out the prior week. While Google was light on details, Google said the changes were meant to “benefit pages that were previously under-rewarded,” and advised everyone to “continue building great content.”
Some in the search community reported their websites being hit by update between December 12 and 14. Google confirmed several minor changes to the core algorithm during the timeframe, but downplayed the significance of the period of flux.
Industry chatter and SEO tracking tools indicated some sort of (still unconfirmed) Google update may have occurred on this date. Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive, also detected several noteworthy Google changes impacting traffic and search visibility starting September 8. This was followed by additional volatility and fluctuations on September 18, 25, and 29, as well as October 4, 8, and 12.
Webmasters and SEO ranking tools detected some minor volatility on August 19-20, with signs indicating this may have been another (unconfirmed) Google quality update. Among the ranking casualties: category pages, pages with aggressive advertising, lower-quality/thin content, and other negative user experience elements, according to an analysis by Glenn Gabe, president of GSQi. There was some speculation that Google began testing this algorithm on August 14 because pages that were impacted (either positively or negatively) on this date were further impacted on August 19.
Various SEO tracking tools detected a significant, though unconfirmed, Google update on this date. One analysis found that this update caused the biggest fluctuations for pages ranking in Positions 6-10. While it impacted most niches, the good and beverage industry was reportedly impacted the most.
Starting May 17 and lasting for about a week, SEO tracking tools reported lots of SERP volatility. While the impact seems limited, those sites impacted by this update tended to have issues with aggressive/deceptive advertising, UX issues, and thin/low-quality content.
Google’s Gary Illyes jokingly referred to this update as “Fred” and the name ended up sticking. But this algorithm was no laughing matter for those impacted. This major algorithm update seemed to mainly target low-value content. On March 24, Illyes officially confirmed the update. But Google has refused to share any more specifics, instead choosing to say that all the answers about Fred can be found in Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines.
This unconfirmed major update resulted in massive rankings shifts in Google’s SERPs, which also meant major increases or decreases for some websites. Overall, it seems higher-quality and more relevant websites gained the most visibility.
On August 23, 2016, Google announced an upcoming change that would target intrusive interstitials and pop-ups that hurt the search experience on mobile devices. As promised, this update rolled out January 10, 2017. The impact of this update on rankings was minimal.
The final update to the Penguin algorithm saw it integrated into Google’s core algorithm, meaning Penguin was now evaluating websites and links in real-time. Another big change was Penguin devalued links, rather than downgrading the rankings of pages.
Though unconfirmed by Google, data indicates that another content-related Quality Update to Google’s algorithm began rolling out around June 1, with additional search ranking volatility seen on June 8, 21, and 26.
Google confirmed that Panda had been incorporated into the core Google algorithm, evidently as part of the slow Panda 4.2 rollout. In other words, Panda was no longer a filter applied to the Google algorithm after it does its work, but is incorporated as another of its core ranking signals. It has been clarified, however, that this doesn’t mean the Panda classifier acts in real time.
Though it had been in testing since April 2015, Google officially introduced RankBrain on this date. RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm that filters search results to help give users a best answer to their query. Initially, RankBrain was used for about 15 percent of queries (mainly new queries Google had never seen before), but now it is involved in almost every query entered into Google. RankBrain has been called the third most important ranking signal.
Google announced a Panda refresh that would take months to roll out and impact 2 to 3 percent of English queries. Due to the slow nature of the rollout, it’s unclear how substantial the impact was or precisely when it occurred. It was the final confirmed Panda update.
The Quality Update (or the Phantom Update) was a confirmed change to Google’s core ranking algorithm – specifically, how Google assesses quality signals. Websites with content quality issues, as well as too many ads, seemed to be impacted the most by this update.
The Mobile-Friendly Update (or “Mobilegeddon”) was an update meant to reward mobile-friendly websites with better search rankings and provide better results to searchers on mobile devices. This update impacted all languages globally
Though named like a major update, this was actually another data refresh of Google’s Penguin algorithm. Penguin 3.0 allowed those impacted by previous updates to emerge and recover, while many others who had continued to utilize spammy link practices, and had escaped the radar of the previous updates, saw an impact. The update took about three days to fully rollout and impacted less than 1 percent of English search queries.
Pigeon was a significant local search update that saw Google start using more traditional website ranking signals to influence local search results. It also improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters.
The Hummingbird update was a major overhaul to Google’s core search technology. Google needed a way to better understand and return the most relevant results to more complex queries as a result of the growth of conversational search (i.e., voice search). Google said the new algorithm affected about 90 percent of searches worldwide. Although this update was announced on this date, it actually started rolling out in August 2013.
Google Payday Loans algorithm update targeted spammy queries mostly associated with shady industries (including super high interest loans and payday loans, porn, casinos, debt consolidation, and pharmaceuticals). It took about 1-2 months to fully rollout and impacted about 0.3 percent of U.S. queries.
This was a “next generation” of the Penguin algorithm, as Google’s Matt Cutts explained in a blog post. This version looked deeper than the website homepage and top-level category pages for evidence of link spam being directed to the website. Penguin 2.0 impacted around 2.3 percent of English queries.
This update was not confirmed by Google though tools suggest it occurred on roughly this day. Google’s Matt Cutts seemed to suggest that this would be the final update before Panda would be incorporated directly into the core Google algorithm. Instead, however, Panda data refreshes started rolling out monthly over a 10-day period, without any further confirmation from Google.
Google’s Matt Cutts announced that the page layout algorithm had been updated, impacting 0.7 percent of English queries. This update gave an opportunity to websites hit by the first Google algorithm rollout to potentially recover.
Google confirmed a refresh of the Panda algorithm started rolling out on this date, impacting less than 1 percent of U.S. queries and ~1 percent of worldwide queries. Ranking tools suggested it was bigger than more recent Panda updates.
Google’s Matt Cutts announced a data refresh of the Penguin algorithm, impacting less than 0.1 percent of English searches. Websites that saw their rankings downgraded by the initial Penguin launch, and had been proactive in clearing up their link profiles, saw some recovery. Other websites that hadn’t been caught by Penguin the first time around took a hit.
A long-anticipated “over-optimization” penalty finally arrived on this day. Google announced the launch of a (then unnamed) algorithm change meant to downrank websites engaging in aggressive webspam (e.g., keyword stuffing, unnatural linking) that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google said this update would impact 3.1 percent of English queries. Just two days later, we learned the name of the algorithm: Penguin.
After the Venice Update, Google began including search results based either on the searcher’s physical location or IP address. Also, Google could better detect whether a query or webpage had local intent or relevance.
Google’s page layout algorithm update (or Above the Fold) targeted websites with too many ads above the fold. In other words, a user would have to scroll down the page to see any actual content. Google said this algorithm impacted less than 1 percent of websites.
With this update, Google altered its ranking algorithm to better determine when to deliver search results that are fresher (e.g., current events, hot topics, recurring events) to be more relevant to searchers. This update impacted 35 percent of searches.
Another iteration of the Google Panda algorithm. Then, on October 5, 2011, Google’s Matt Cutts announcedto “expect some Panda-related flux in the next few weeks.” Confirmed flux dates were October 3 and October 13.
The first iteration of a then unnamed Google algorithm update was introduced (12 percent of queries were impacted), shocking the SEO industry and many big players, as well as effectively ending the “content farm” business model as it existed at the time. Initially dubbed Farmer within the industry, Google revealed soon after launch that the update’s was called Panda, named after the engineer who came up with the primary algorithm breakthrough.
Google’s Caffeine update was a new web indexing system that allowed Google to crawl and store data more efficiently, resulting in 50 percent fresher results. Developers were given early access starting in August 2009 before the update officially rolled out June 8, 2010.
Google’s Vince update was a quick, noticeable change in broad-level, competitive keyword terms to favor first page rankings for big brand domains vs. previously ranking sites (typically less authoritative sites, affiliate sites, and sites that had won this coveted visibility purely through SEO efforts).
Big Daddy (or Bigdaddy) was a gradual update to Google’s infrastructure that began rolling out in December 2005 and was completed in March 2006. This update changed how Google handled technical issues such as URL canonicalization and redirects. Some websites didn’t make it into the new Big Daddy data centers, typically due to unnatural linking (e.g., excessive reciprocal linking, linking to spammy neighborhoods, paid links).
Jagger was an update in three phases (Jagger 1, Jagger 2, and Jagger 3) that began with a number of backlink-focused updates in early September meant to crack down on unnatural link building, paid links, and other types of spam. The second phase of Jagger had the most noticable impact in October. The final phase was completed near the end of November.
Google’s Florida Update signaled a new era of SEO. Websites (including retailers who relied on affiliates to drive traffic) using spammy tactics of the previous decade (e.g., keyword stuffing, using multiple sites under the same brand, invisible text, and hidden links) to rank for high-commercial keywords saw their rankings wiped out right before the lucrative holiday season.
Rex has been an SEO and Digital Marketing practitioner since the mid-90s, He is an SEO Expert that helps businesses gain an online presence to increase leads and generate sales. Rex has a B.S. in Communications with a specialization in Emerging Media and an MBA in Digital Marketing.
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