Google algorithm history

Google Updates History – Core Algorithm Updates

Every year Google makes hundreds of changes to its algorithm, and while these changes may be minor and hard to spot, they impact rankings. Alongside this, every few months Google will roll out a major change to its algorithm that will have significant  impact on a website’s traffic and visibility.

It’s important that any search marketers are aware of the history of Google’s core updates and when they took place – after all, they explain fluctuations in organic traffic and rankings. They can also help identify why websites are hit with penalties and what changes need to be made in order to resolve the penalty. Below, we have listed the big core changes of Google’s algorithm that had a notable impact on search results.

Google Algorithm changes in 2019

Site Diversity Update –  June 2019

On June 6th, Google announced a “site diversity” update. The aim was to improve situations where sites had more than two organic listings.

Core Update –  June 2019

In June 2019, Google pre-announced a “core” update. It looked like websites that had been affected by former core updates were impacted, along with some major UK publishers reporting heavy traffic losses.

Deindexing bug –  April 2019

In April 2019, Google had issues with a bug that was dropping pages from the search index. This happened on the weekend of April 5th. Another deindexing update was rolled out on May 23rd.

Core Update – March 2019

In March 2019, Google confirmed their third “core” update.

Google Algorithm changes in 2018

Medic Update  —  August 2018

In August 2018, Google had another “broad core algorithm update,” that impacted health and medical sites. Rolled out over a week, it highlighted the importance of E-A-T and YMYL.

Mobile Speed Update  —  July 2018

On July 8th 2018, Google made page speed a ranking factor for mobile results. They said that the update would only affect the slowest mobile sites – there was no evidence of major mobile rankings shifts.

Video Carousels – June 2018

In June 2018, videos were moved from organic-like results with thumbnails into a dedicated video carousel. Alongside this, the same time, the number of SERPs with videos increased significantly

Dropping the longer descriptions – May 2018

At the end of 2017, Google decided to test descriptions that had 300+ characters. In March 2018, they rolled back most snippets to about 150-160 characters

Mobile-first indexing – March 2018

In March 2018, Google announced that the mobile-first index was”rolling out.” Mobile first indexing had been tested for a while, and Google had hinted that they are migrating sites gradually. Webmaster showed notifications within Google Search Console.

Zero-results on the SERP – March 2018

Another big update in March was the ‘zero-results’ SERP. Google started displaying a small set of Knowledge Cards with some time/date queries and unit conversion calculators, as well as zero organic results and a “Show all results” button. One week later, Google stopped this test. However, this could be an indicator of what’s to come.

Brackets ‘Core’ update – March 2018

SEOs noticed volatility in the SERPs from March 4th 2018, but Google didn’t confirm the update until March 7th. The SERPs then displayed changes for a further two weeks. Glenn Gabe came up with the name “Brackets” – Google provided no comment.

Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller said “{A] lot of the updates that we make are more around relevance. Where we’re trying to figure out the relevance of certain queries, and not so much a matter of quality overall”

Google Algorithm changes in 2017

Search snippet update —  November 2017

In November 2017 Google increased the number of characters featured in meta descriptions across number of results. The characters almost doubled, from 150 to 300.

Google Jobs —  June 2017

On June 20th 2017, Google’s  jobs portal officially launched. This update featured a stand-alone 3-pack of job listings in the SERPs, and scraped data from LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor, and CareerBuilder.

The unconfirmed “Fred” update  —  March 2017

At the beginning of March, there was an unconfirmed major update that had impacted a wide range of websites. Webmaster Trend Analyst, Gary Illyes jokingly called it “Fred”, and the name stuck. It was thought that this update hit sites using ‘Black Hat’ SEO techniques.

Unnamed Updates  —  February 2017

February 1st – February 6th was a stressful time for SEOs across the globe, as there were numerous changes to the SERPs in a really short period of time. Industry chatter suggested that there were numerous updates, some of which focused on links.

Intrusive Interstitial Penalty  —  January 2017

On January 10th 2017, Google rolled out a penalty that was aimed at aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that impeded mobile user experience. What was interesting about this update was that Google gave digital marketers a warning about this update five months prior. Google also provided a rare warning of this update five months in advance. Websites with pop-ups or interstitials that damaged user experience would be punished.

Google Algorithm Updates 2016

Penguin 4.0: Penguin becomes real-time & granular – September 2016

September 2016’s saw a change to the way in which Penguin works.  As Google states on their Official Webmaster Central Blog:

“Penguin is now real-time. Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google’s algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed. With this change, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page. It also means we’re not going to comment on future refreshes.

Penguin is now more granular. Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.” 


Google Ads Change- February 2016

From 19th February 2016 ads will now only show at the top and bottom of the SERP. For businesses this will mean the organic space is even more precious and  will therefore lead to an even bigger focus on SEO. For Paid Search advertisers the change will certainly drive up average CPCs as the competition for the top slots increases.

The reasoning behind this change is because Google has calculated that the Right Hand Side ads create a poor click-through-rate compared to the ad’s appearing just at the top and bottom of the SERP.

Google Core Quality Rank – January 2016

At the start of 2016 Google updated the Core Quality Rank algorithm, affecting both desktop and mobile search. This update caused volatile fluctuations to occur in desktop and mobile search, although Google kept quiet on whether or not this was an update that had occurred.

During a livestream on January 12th 2016 Google’s John Mueller finally gave confirmation of this update and issued a statement confirming that ‘Google Panda is now part of Google’s Core Ranking Algorithm. The Panda algorithm measures the quality of the site based on Google’s guidelines and adjusts rankings prior to this quality score.

Google Algorithm Updates 2015

HTTPs Update – December 2015

In December 2015 Google announced that they would be indexing HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) pages by default as user security is a priority for them. Sites using HTTPS will be rewarded for using it with an improved Google rank.

With this update comes the issue of two URLs from the same domain that seem to be sharing content. There is a set of criteria that the algorithm follows to decide on whether the HTTPS or HTTP page will be served.

Hacked Sites Update – October 2015

The Hacked Sites Algorithm update is expected to start removing hacked sites from the search results in order to improve the quality of search. It’s expected that this update will impact around 5% of search queries across the board including multiple languages.

Gary Illyes said that this update to the algorithm will only affect spammy queries.

Panda 4.2 Update – July 2015

The Panda 4.2 update in July 2015 was the first refresh of Google Panda quality content policing of the web since September 2014. This update affects spammy link farms and sites with low quality content. Any sites affected by the previous updates 4.1 should welcome this update if they have corrected the issues regarding low quality content and spammy links meaning they shouldn’t be penalized by this update.

This update will affect both desktop and mobile search results and it has been reported that it impacted around 2% -3% of english queries.

Google Core Quality Update- May 2015

Between April 2015 and May 2015 there was a Core Quality update to the Google algorithm which had been confirmed by Google.

During this period it was reported that search traffic had seen a significant drop. The algorithm update related to the quality signals that Google uses in determining the rank of a page. In May 2015 Google would not provide any specifics about how quality would now be assessed, but we know from the past that the quality for a page or site is determined by a range of factors. This update could favour certain factors over others, increasing or decreasing the rank of each individual page or site.

Google Mobile Friendly- April 2015

Weeks leading up to Google Mobile Friendly Ranking factor algorithm update Mobilegeddon swept the web. Adding the mobile friendliness as a ranking signal will affect mobile searches across the globe and across all languages too. This ranking signal will impact search results, but will provide better and more relevant data for users.

Google had announced that this update would roll out gradually beginning at the end of April 2015 and will be fully rolled out after several weeks.

Google Algorithm Updates 2014

Local Algorithm Expands- December 2014

The Local Algorithm was launched in July 2014 and in December 2014 was expanded to English speaking countries globally. This update was given the name of Pigeon, and allows Google to provide more accurate and relevant information regarding local searches.

Penguin 3.0 Extended- December 2014

Since April 2012 when the first Panda update was rolled out, it has had significant changes and in December 2014 Google confirmed that the major and infrequent updates will be replaced by a steady stream of minor updates. The idea behind this update is that sites will need to keep optimising as time goes by.

Pirate Update #2- October 2014

Pirate Update #2 will not affect a wide variety of sites since it will only target sites who have received DMCA takedown requests. This second update comes after the first Pirate Update in 2012 which filtered down pirated content in order the help copyright owners.

So, it’s important to remember to always write your own content and not copy it from another site.

Penguin 3.0 Update – October 2014

In October 2014 Google confirmed the roll-out of the Penguin 3.0 algorithm update, which will affect fewer than 1% of queries in the US English search results.

For anyone hit in October 2013 with a Google penalty from the Penguin 2.1 update this should be great news. Google had confirmed that anyone hit with a penalty during the 2.1 update would need to wait for the next refresh of the algorithm to see any changes based on the new situation. This Penguin 3.0 update should help refresh sites that have already cleaned up the webspam signals that were brought up in the previous update. Any sites that are discovered with new spam will be targeted and demoted.

Panda 4.1 Update- September 2014

The Panda 4.1 update targets low quality content with great precision, this update identifies low-quality content and results in greater diversity of higher rankings for small sized sites containing high-quality content. The update was rolled out gradually across the globe and was said to affect around 3%-5% of search queries.

Panda 4.0 May 2014

During May 2014 an update to the Panda Algorithm took place and it was announced by Matt Cutts that the update would be rolling out.

The Panda Algorithm’s aim is to penalise poor quality content and scraper sites whilst boosting sites with high-quality content in the SERPs and therefore that provides Google users with high quality search results.

Top Heavy 3 Update – February 2014

This update in February 2014 contained a page layout change targeting pages with disproportionate number of ads above the fold in relation to page content. The Page Layout Algorithm’s aim is to make users search experience more efficient and quick, meaning they can reach the content they were searching for.

Authorship Rich Snippet Update – December 2013

During 2013 the Authorship & Rich Snippet results dropped as much as 15% due to the algorithm update in December 2013. This was seen as one of the most dramatic Google Update of 2013. Authors who had reported problems were advised to refer to the Google rel=”author” FAQ’s to ensure that they were following the rules set out by Google.

Matt Cutts has said that the ability to have and use rich snippets may be taken away for low quality sites. Matt said this would likely reduce authorship by 15% to only show more authoritative authors.

Hummingbird Update – August 2013

Hummingbird was released during August 2013, it’s a new search algorithm that Google have developed. The focus of this new algorithm will be Semantic Search, with the goal being to provide more personalised results which will base around online behavior, location and trends.

This update will allow more precise search results when searching for example ‘Best Restaurants to eat near my home.’ A traditional search engine may only focus on certain words in the sentence like ‘restaurants’. This Hummingbird Update should therefore focus more on the meaning behind the words that you have searched for. It should better understand the actual location, if this is shared with Google. Therefore searching for still ‘restraunts’ but using the ‘near my home’ or ‘near me’ as the location to show restaurants in. Creating a more personalised and relevant search result for each user.

Panda Update 25- March 2013

Panda update #25 was another attempt by Google at dealing with spammers and people who abuse the system.   Matt Cutts from Google, recommends using Google’s Webmasters tools Fetch as Google to see how Google was viewing pages on site.

Panda Update 24 – January 2013

Google announced in January 2013 that they were refreshing the Panda update with an approximate impact on 1.2% of English Search Results.

Google Algorithm Updates 2012

Panda Update 23- December 2012

Panda update affected about 1.3% of English search queries and came as a surprise during the last minute holiday shopping season. In 2011 Google had said they would not release any more updates before Christmas so this one came as a surprise.

Panda Update 22- November 2012

The 21st Panda refresh was on November 5th and impacted about 1.1% of English queries. This update, Google told us 0.8% of English queries were affected to a degree that a regular user might notice.

Panda Update 21- November 2012

Panda Update 21 was reported to affect 1.1% of English queries. Google said that worldwide, the update would impact about 0.4% of queries that a regular user might notice. For those searching in the United States in English, the percentage was higher. 1.1%.

Top Heavy 2 Update – October 2012

Google’s Page Layout Algorithm targets pages with disproportionate number of ads above the fold in relation to page content. This update affected approximately 0.7% of English queries. This update comes from complaints from users about it being difficult to find the content after clicking through the search results affecting the user experience.

With this update it means that sites which do not have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or has a lot of ad’s above-the-fold then they might not rank as highly anymore.

Penguin Update 3- October 2012

This multilingual Penguin refresh has been reported as small, but far reaching in an international sense. The latest “data refresh” of its Penguin spam-fighting algorithm will affect searches across multiple languages.

Panda Update 20 and Exact Match Domain- September 2012

In September 2012, there was 2 big updates, Panda 20 and EMD (Exact Match Domains).

This Exact Match Domains update changes the way Google handles Exact Match Domains by reducing low quality matches. The Panda update was a fairly big one affecting the queries of approximately 2.4% of search results.

The EDM Update includes a new filter that tries to ensure that low-quality sites don’t rise high in Google’s search results simply because they have search terms in their domain names. Similar to other filters like Panda, Google says EMD will be updated on a periodic basis.

Pirate Update #1 / DMCA Penalty – August 2012

With the Pirate Update, Google aims to help copyright owners by filtering down or out pirated content.  For example, websites with multiple submitted copyright removal notices will be ranked much lower in Google results. It will also be possible that links will be dropped from Google completely in cases of valid copyright removal notice submission.


Google Algorithm Updates 2011

Freshness Update – November 2011

This freshness update will be focusing on promoting fresh posts and content, this update will focus on fresh content and regular updates on a site. This means that search results should be more accurate and relevant as they will be showing more up to date content and favouring it over older content. This was said to affect around 35% of all searches.

Panda Update 1- February 2011

Google launched their Panda update in February 2011. The focus in this change was to target link farms and low quality content. This major update affected 12% of searches and was the beginning of a new era in SEO. This algorithm change will now favour sites with higher quality content and good links and will promote them to higher position on the search results.

Google Algorithm Changes 2010

Google Instant – September 2010

Google Instant launched in September 2010. This would allow entry of search faster by automatically suggesting options for completion of a search term.  It uses Google’s autocomplete technology to show predicted search terms in a drop-down box, and begins to display search results below the drop-down.

With this new technology this should allow the time between searching and finding the result lower as the user doesn’t need to type out what they are searching for.

When a site is hit by any of these penalties this can cause a loss of traffic to the site leading to reduced business opportunities. If you think that your site has been hit by a penalty then get in touch with us and we can work towards helping removing this from your site and get traffic flowing again.

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