Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times. While most of these changes are minor, Google occasionally rolls out a "major" search algorithm update (such as Google Panda and Google Penguin) that affects search results in significant ways. For search marketers, knowing the dates of these Google algorithm updates can help explain changes in rankings and organic website traffic and ultimately improve search engine optimization. Below, we’ve listed the major algorithmic changes that have had the biggest impact on search.
Google rolled out what appeared to be a major update, with reports of widespread impacts across the SEO community. Gary Illyes jokingly referred to is as "Fred",
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Another major update, that was never named, continued to influence the SERP for almost a week, starting from February 1st and peaking on February 6th.
To further improve the user experience on mobile, Google’s latest update rolled out to punish sites with excessive advertisement or pop-ups. Google actually announced this update five months prior.
It took two years, but Penguin 4.0 returned as the final update to the algorithm. Google announced that Penguin 4.0 will now run in real time and devalue links instead to penalizing websites.
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The Possum update heavily influenced local search rankings as it subjected local information to more filters while highlighting the differences in how local and organic search results are processed.
Google revealed the use of AI and machine learning for delivering better search results over the last few months. The ranking signal was valued at third place, behind content and links.
Google took mobile search to a whole new level with this update as it gave preference to mobile friendly websites and demoting sites that were not responsive.
The latest Penguin update was data-only, affecting less than 1% of English queries. In fact, the update came with recoveries for previously penalized websites during its slow global roll-out.
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According to Google, the new update took user and webmaster feedback to identify low-quality content with more precision. The update was estimated to influence 3-5% of search queries.
The Pigeon updated focused on local SEO, including more signals from core search such as knowledge graph, synonyms and more. The algorithm also improved distance and location ranking parameters.
Although it was announced on 26th September, Google suggested that the ‘Hummingbird’ was activated a month prior. The update was a major overhaul to the Search algorithm, improving on semantic and long search queries.
The update, as the name suggests, targeted payday loan, pornographic and other spammed queries. Matt Cutts suggested that the complete roll out of the update would take 1-2 months.
The 4th update to Penguin, dubbed 2.0 was hyped to have a new generation of tech to better counter spam. The update affected 2.3% of English queries, according to Matt Cutts.
This update changed the way Google dealt with exact-match domains. It largely reduced the boost EMDs received, while making sure that businesses avoid over optimization of URLs.
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Intended to improve semantic search, the Knowledge Graph identified and offered information about people, places and things while providing users with answers and summaries directly in the search results.
In their attempt to filter out spam, Google rolled out the “Webspam Update” aka “Penguin”. The update aggressively punished sites that used buying links, keyword stuffing among other spam tactics.
The quick update to Panda targeted all English queries worldwide while integrating new signals to judge the quality of websites. These signals included data about sites blocked by users via SERPs or Google Chrome.
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The first update of its kind, Panda took on low-quality websites with thin content, high ad to content ratio and on-site over optimization, affecting up to 12% of the search results.
Google confirmed the use of social signals from the likes of Facebook and Twitter for search rankings. Originally used in Google Realtime Search, Matt Cutts announced that Google considered a possible expansion to web search.
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Following a preview release in August 2009, Caffeine rolled out as an infrastructure change, causing massive boosts in search speed, along with improved crawling and indexation contributing to a 50% fresher index.
Integrating freshly indexed content, Google News, Twitter and other sources, Google revealed real-time search to its users. Facebook was soon added to the ever growing list of sources.
Google, along with Microsoft and Yahoo added support for the ‘canonical’ tag, simplifying search indexing for webmasters and its bots.
Google Universal Search combined search results with Local, News, Books, Images and Videos, changing the format of SERPs to offer more value to the users.
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Google combined its Map data with Google Local, vastly changing local SEO (for marketers) and local search for its users.
Google’s latest attempt at personalization of search user data from a user's’ search history to deliver optimal results, while fighting spam tactics from search marketers.
Targeting websites practicing strategies such as meta-tag stuffing and hidden links, the “Austin” update continued the dirty work of “Florida”.
The “Florida” update made massive changes to search rankings and in process, made the SEO industry relevant. It criminalized SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing as many websites lost their rankings.
“Fritz” brought a change in Google’s monthly algorithm updates policy as Google switched to a more continuous (“everflux”) model of daily changes.
The update affected websites indulging in black hat SEO techniques such as linking from co-owned domains, hidden links and more.
Google’s first named update to its algorithm was announced at SES Boston (hence the name). Google’s original idea on updates was combining algorithm changes and data refreshes on a monthly basis.