Tracking Google’s Algorithm Updates


One major difficulty in the SEO world is trying to stay on top of all the changes that are made to search engine algorithms. In 2008, Google announced that they made 450 changes to their algorithm in 2007! That’s close to an average of 9 changes per week! Those were the good old days with limited updates. Now, most people believe that there are well over 1,000 changes per year.

So what major updates (there are hundreds that aren’t listed…) took place between 2008 and today?

2008 to 2010

  • April 2008: The Dewey Update (pushing Google books)
  • August 2008: Google Suggest (this is where suggested results started showing up)
  • Feb 2009: The Vince Update (strongly favoring big brands)
  • Aug 2009: Google Caffeine (this was a preview, with the full rollout in early 2010
  • Dec 2009: Real-time Search (this added twitter & lots of news feeds in real time)
  • Apr 2010: Google Places (originally, these were only part of Google maps)
  • May 2010: Google May Day (this hit sites that mostly focused on long tail phrases)
  • Jun 2010: Google Caffeine (this boosted Google’s speed and a fresher index)
  • Sep 2010: Google Instant (expanded Google Suggest, displaying results as typing took place)
  • Dec 2010: Social Signals (using social signals to alter search engine rankings)

2011 – Introducing Google Panda

  • Jan 2011: Overstock Penalty (a rare public penalty of shady practices…JC Penney hit later)
  • Jan 2011: Google Attribution (this removed lots of spammer, & sites with scraped content)
  • Feb 2011: Google Panda (cracked down on content farms, replicated or thin content, etc)
  • Mar 2011: The +1 Button (clicking the +1 allowed users to influence search results)
  • Apr 2011: Panda 2.0 (this rolled out Panda to all English queries throughout the world)
  • Jun 2011: Schema Update (Google, Yahoo and Bing united to consolidate structured data)
  • Jun 2011: Google+ (Lookout Facebook! In just 2 weeks, Google+ had over 10 million users!)
  • Sep 2011: Holy cow! Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced that Google made 516 updates in 2010. But the real shocker? Google tested over 13,000 updates (12,500 that weren’t implemented!)
  • Oct 2011: Query Encryption … this resulted in “Not Provided” showing up in Analytics 🙁
  • Nov 2011: The Freshness Update (rewarded fresh content, impacting 35% of all queries)
  • Nov 2011: The November 10-Pack (this was 10 updates all at once (on November 14)
  • Dec 2011: The December 10-Pack (query refinements, handling parked domains, and more)

2012 – Introducing Google Penguin

  • Jan 2012: The January 30-Pack (yes, 30 changes all at once!)
  • Jan 2012: Ads Above the Fold / aka Top Heavy Sites (this penalized sites with too many ads above the fold)
  • Feb 2012: Google Venice (this aggressively localized organic search results. In other words, search results became even more customized based on the location of the searcher with an attempt to try and show local companies ahead of others)
  • Mar 2012: The March 50-Pack (this is getting crazy, isn’t it? ! ? ! )
  • Apr 2012: Google Penguin (huge update that cracked down on spam, keyword stuffing, etc)
  • Jul 2012: Link Warnings (Google sent unnatural link warnings via Webmaster Tools)
  • Aug 2012: DMCA Penalty (this targeted sites with repeat copyright violations)
  • Aug 2012: 7-Result SERPs (this reduced the results from 10 to 7 for many searches)
  • Sep 2012: Exact Match Domains / aka EMD Update (lessened the value of the domain matching the search)
  • Dec 2012: Panda 23 (between Apr 2011 and Dec 2012, Panda was updated 20 times!)

2013 – Google Hummingbird: A Brand New Algorithm

  • May 2013: Domain Crowding (reduced the total number of domains in the results)
  • May 2013: Penguin 2.0 (the updates to Penguin begin…)
  • Jun 2013: The Panda Dance (announced that Panda rolls out updates monthly)
  • Jun 2013: Payday (tried to clean up results for spammy queries like payday loans and other heavily spammed search queries
  • Jul 2013: Panda Recovery (believed to have “softened” some previous Panda penalties)
  • Aug 2013: In-Depth Articles (dedicated to reward fresh, long written content)
  • Aug 2013: Google Hummingbird (on Sept 26, Google announced this took place in Aug). In short, prior to this, Google always tweaked the existing algorithm. Hummingbird replaced the algorithm with new code.
  • Dec 2013: Authorship Shake-Up (this reduced the number of authorship results)

2014 – Local Search Changes with Pigeon

  • Feb 2014: Page Layout (this penalizes sites with too many sites above the fold)
  • May 2014: Payday Loan (cracking down on spammy searches, especially regarding pay day loan sites)
  • May 2014: Panda 4.0 (the updates to Panda continue, even after Hummingbird) – NOTE: eBay got nailed on May 19th…duplicate content penalty?
  • Jun 2014: Authorship Photo Drop (pictures disappeared from authorship results)
  • Jul 2014: Pigeon (huge change in the local search algorithm…uses more ranking signals than just the city name or company address)
  • Aug 2014: HTTPS Update (gives preference to secure sites)
  • Aug 2014: Authorship Removed (no longer showing individual authors in the results)

2015 – Be Prepared for Mobilegeddon!

  • Apr 2015: Mobile Friendliness Update (penalized sites that aren’t mobile friendly). This affected so many sites that it was nicknamed “Mobilegeddon”. See if your site is Mobile Friendly
  • Jul 2015: Panda 4.2 (this was simply refreshing the data from past Panda updates
  • Oct 2015: RankBrain (it’s likely this actually took place prior to the official October announcement). RankBrain refers to the fact that machine learning is part of the algorithm. It’s trying to anticipate your intent. You might have searched for this, but really wanted to know that.

2016 – AdWords Shake Up (No More PPC Ads on the Side)

  • Feb 2016: AdWords Shake Up (while technically this was a PPC change, it made a big SEO impact. This is when the right side ads stopped showing up and the 3 top ad positions became 4 ad positions. Big impacts on Click Through Rates (CTR) for SEO and PPC.
  • May 2016: Mobile Friendly 2 (an additional SEO boost for mobile friendly sites)
  • Sep 2016: Possum (this was a big local search update. If affected who shows up on the map, who shows up on the right side of the page, and tried to add more variety to the results. It also boosted the results of businesses that are just outside of the actual defined city limits. For example, a business in a suburb had a tough time ranking for a search with the main city listed. This helps those sites show up higher.)
  • Sep 2016: Image Drop (this affected which images showed up in Google Image searches)
  • Penguin 4.0 (Google suggested that the most current Penguin rules are now part of the core algorithm. It also now runs in real-time, instead of just applying to indexed results)

2017 – Providing a Better User Experience

  • Jan 2017: Intrusive Interstitials (interstitials refer to things like pop-ups that cover part of the main search content, or pop-ups that require you to click to close in order to access the main content)
  • Mar 2017: Fred (working on targeting the link quality aspects of the overall algorithm. It specifically appears to target low value content sites that care more about revenue than helping site visitors)
  • Apr 2017: HTTPS Rewards (for the first time, more than half the search results are occupied by HTTPS sites instead of HTTP sites)
  • Nov 2017: Snippet Length Increase (on Nov 30, Google rolled out this update to go into effect on Dec 1. Google started utilizing 300 character snippets – this is the text you see in the SEO results. This made the SEO results page a bit longer, but provided more information in the search results.)

2018 – Mobile Issues

  • Mar 2018: Mobile First Index (Google has been testing showing the mobile version of the pages for indexing and ranking to provide a better experience for mobile users)
  • May 2018: Snippet Length Drop (in December 2017, lengthened the snippets, but in May 2018 Google reversed this change and now shows about 150-160 characters like they have for many years)
  • Jul 2018: Mobile Site Speed (in Jun 2015, Mobilegeddon penalized site pages that looked funny on mobile devices. In Jul 2018, Google introduced a penalty due to site pages that load slowly on mobile devices. How fast do your pages load on mobile devices? Test my mobile site speed!)
  • Jul 2018: Chrome Security Warnings (have you noticed that sites that are not https sites – they don’t have an active SSL certificate – are showing up with a Not Secure message? It’s because of this update.)
  • Throughout 2018: Lots of Core Updates (these updates are broad updates to the overall algorithm)

2019 – More Core Updates & BERT

  • Throughout 2019: A bunch of CORE updates
  • Oct 2019: BERT Natural Language Processing (BERT technically stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. But what does that mean? It’s trying to better understand natural language / conversational or long tail queries). Many people said this is the biggest algorithm change in the last 5 years.

2020 – Core and BERT Updates

  • Throughout 2020: there were a bunch of updates but they were basically tweaks to the existing algorithm.
  • However, in May of 2020, Google announced a BIG algorithm change that would take place in late 2020 or early 2021.

2021 – Page Experience Update

  • Feb 2021: Passage Ranking (this looked at the value of individual paragraphs or passages on a web page. It essentially allowed lower quality pages to show up higher in the search results if they had a passage on their site that directly addressed search queries.)
  • Jun 15, 2021: The Long Awaited Page Experience Update. This will take some explaining. Google introduced 3 key metrics known as Core Web Vitals. Sites that have good scores provide a better experience, and thus get rewarded in the search results. What are the 3 Core Web Vitals?
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – this measures how fast your page initially loads
  • First Input Delay (FID) – this measures the responsiveness and interactivity of your site
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – this measures how much the items on the page move around (ie: the visual stability of the page)
  • Nov 2021: Local Search and Core Updates (these were more tweaks to the existing algorithm)
  • Dec 2021: Product Reviews Updates (trying to better reward outstanding, proven and evidence based reviews written by topical experts)

2022 – Page Experience Full Rollout

  • Mar 2022: Page Experience Rollout is Complete (Google announced on March 3, 2022 via Twitter that the desktop version of the Page Experience update is complete. They wrote “The page experience rollout is now complete for desktop.”

Phew! This is a bit scary isn’t it? You show up one day, you disappear the next. Aren’t you glad you found Sebo? We actually like keeping on top of all this stuff! Read below to see how Sebo Marketing can help you stay on top of the ever-changing SEO world.


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