Major Google Algorithm Change History

Google algorithm updates are complex algorithms and mathematical instructions that tell crawlers or bots how to pick the most accurate search results or what we will refer to as SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) in this post.

Google’s ranking algorithms change 500-600 times a year. These are minor tweaks or experiments. SERPs are usually not impacted by these changes.

What tumbles the SEO world are major algorithm updates. The changes that cause major drift in search rankings are a source of a headache for most SEO professionals. However, these algorithm updates are not made with the aim to disrupt the optimizing efforts of SEO professionals but to enhance user experience on Google. Those who understand the importance of “user experience” are sure to succeed in the SEO game.

Most Google algorithms often come unannounced. This definitely makes things harder for SEO professionals. This post elaborates on the major Google algorithm updates in history.

“Medic” Core Update — August 1, 2018

The “Medic” Core update was released over a week’s period and made its impact on search results on August 1 and 2 in 2018. The major impact was on health and wellness vertical and YMYL (Your Money Your Life) sites, but many other sites also bore the impact.

Google called it a “broad core algorithm update” and subtly mentioned that there is nothing websites that now performed lower could do about it except focus on creating great content.

The update, if summed up, impacted websites that recommended important decisions people make after relying on them.

Under this, came the websites that required acquiring important personal information, pages that performed monetary transactions, websites that offered health and medical advice and websites that gave decision-making advice on legal and financial concerns.

Mobile Speed Update — July 9, 2018

Google rolled out the mobile speed update after six months preparation on July 9, 2018. As per Google, this only impacted the slowest sites on the internet and search performance of most websites would not be impacted.

To measure the page speed performance of their page, Google suggested developers to use metrics from tools like Page Insights, Lighthouse and the chrome user experience report to measure a website’s speed performance.

In this update, Google stated that highly relevant content was still an important ranking factor. The update led to major upheavals in the SEO industry unless a website was slow.

“Brackets” Core Update — March 8, 2018

Brackets, a core update, focused on content quality. As per the industry experts, the Brackets update was an improvement on the Fred update released in March 2017.

Nobody knows why the update was called “Brackets”, but it was coined by Glenn Gabe. The update continued for two weeks and as a result, rankings of many websites saw fluctuation.

The worth noting highlight of the update was “rich snippets”. The update saw SERPs eliminating low quality rich snippets.

Rich snippets yield high CTR and some websites that had managed to show up in snippets in many search results faced a major setback.

Ultimately, Google gave highest priority to high quality content that gave useful information to display in the rich snippet. Websites that had little to no relevant content for the search query ranked lower with

“Maccabees” Update — December 14, 2017

In December 2017, Google brought out the Maccabees algorithm update that consisted of multiple changes. The update’s focus was search and keyword relevancy. The websites with keywords stuffed into their pages with poor content relevancy suffered the most.

Among others who lost search rankings were websites with too many affiliate links, black hat link building practices, no integration and, too many pages displaying similar content.

Many websites whose rankings dropped drastically were able to recover quickly after removing the bad practices from their website. But panicking to update your website overnight as per the Google’s latest algorithm can do more harm than good.

“Fred” (Unconfirmed) — March 8, 2017

Fred was an unconfirmed algorithm update that came out in March 2017. It caused a tumult in the SEO world and impacted websites of all niches. Google updates its algorithms many times and most of these go unnoticed. Fred came unannounced and created waves of panic.

Fred hit content-driven websites loaded with advertisements. One may interpret that the websites that gave more priority to monetization over content tumbled down in the search rankings. Some other websites that were hit included websites with content on a wide range of niches, too many affiliate links and deceptive ads.

Their loss was someone else’s gain. Websites with high quality content and reasonable advertising rose higher in search rankings overnight.

RankBrain* — October 26, 2015

RankBrain stands apart from all other algorithm updates by Google because it used artificial intelligence to determine the most relevant search results. With introduction of RankBrain, artificial intelligence became the 3rd most important factor in ranking high on Google.

After the RankBrain update, when a user entered a query into the search field, RankBrain algorithm applied factors that personalized the search for the user. These factors include location, and the real intent behind a query. This helped Google display results that were truly relevant to the user’s query.

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence, which means it can teach itself how to get better. It identifies each time the user is not satisfied with the search results and decides to search for a different query instead. This helps it improve at giving personalized results.

To stay safe and rank atop, SEO professionals need to make user experience a top priority.

Mobile Update AKA “Mobilegeddon” — April 22, 2015

Mobilegeddon was a mobile-friendly algorithm update, released in April 2015. The algorithm update came with an announcement that the SERPs for mobile and desktop searches would not differ.

It was one of the most important algorithm changes that its name was tweaked to names like mobilepocalyse, mobocalypse and, mopocalypse.The update was called for with increasing number of users using mobile phones to surf the web. It brought with itself Google’s shift to “mobile-first”.

Prior to this, users were forced to zoom in on desktop versions of websites that were not mobile-friendly. The update prompted the websites to become more mobile friendly and fast. In fact, months after this update, there were hardly any websites that did not have both mobile and desktop versions.

Pirate 2.0 — October 21, 2014

Pirate, introduced in October 2014, targeted a limited number of sites. It started back in 2012 with the launch of Pirate to penalize websites that infringed copyrights by lowering their ranking. Google tackled websites that supplied pirated products on the basis of copyright removal notices. It penalized the websites violating DMCA guidelines and websites that had a high volume of copyright infringement reports. It also enhanced user-experience by helping users find trust-worthy and reliable websites.

The second Pirate algorithm (Pirate 2.0) demoted torrent websites that distributed material without owner’s consent. With this update, the search rankings of such websites dropped dramatically.

Pigeon — July 24, 2014

Rolled out in July 2014, the Pigeon algorithm update took the SEO world by a storm. It wasn’t a penalty-based update, but significantly impacted local searches. It led to sudden rise in the traffic of locally located businesses.

Pigeon enhanced user experience by giving preference to the user’s location. Rankings of many websites dropped as preference was given to local results.With this update, users could see a service-listing specific to their location. It also saw a boost in the ranking of local directory listing sites like Yelp, TripAdviser, YellowPages, etc.

The update was in fact released after Yelp complained that Google preferred itself more than Yelp in SERPs. After this update, Yelps ranking improved dramatically.

Many people who were in the SEO industry complained that the aim of Google is to keep them on their toes. However, it is quite the opposite. Google aims to make the user-experience smooth and easy. If the SEO professionals bear that in mind while working on their websites, they will not be beaten down by any algorithm updates by Google.

Hummingbird — August 20, 2013

As its name explains, the update made performing a search on Google “precise and fast”. It was released in 2013 and aimed to make Google Search more user-friendly. Prior to this, search results were based on individual keywords in a query and not the entire query. Hummingbird updated led Google to understand the query as a whole and display relevant results.

With this update, SERPs displayed better results for conversational queries, displayed results related co-occurring terms and synonyms. Further, it aimed at understand the search intent better.

As per the search experts at Google, Hummingbird brought some of the most dramatic changes in Google’s search algorithms. It laid emphasis on page authority, website relevance and understood the relationship between keywords related to the same query.

Website owners were encouraged to focus more on giving information in natural tones rather than focusing on keywords inserted forcefully. Though this was not a penalty-based update, it did impact the result in changing of SERPS and ranking of certain websites.

Penguin — April 24, 2012

With the Penguin algorithm update, Google targeted sites that were over-optimized for SEO, implemented keyword-stuffing and used blackhat methods to get backlinks.Nevertheless, websites that followed white hat SEO practices, to say the least, only gained from the Penguin update.

Most websites targeted over-optimized for anchor text. Some other key factors that this algorithm update entailed were link relevance, outbound link quality, over-optimization of anchor texts, bad affiliate links, hidden links, link pyramid and many other black hat SEO practices that websites implemented solely to rank high in the SERPs.

The Penguin algorithm update impacted 3% of the SERPs, most SEO professionals were anguished by it.

The first version of Penguin rolled out in April 2012 and penalized websites that over-optimized. Subsequent penguin updates were released in 2012, 2014 and 2016 but did not have a significant impact on the SERPs.

Panda/Farmer — February 23, 2011

The Panda update was introduced in February 2011 with the intent to remove spammy content websites or sites with low quality or “thin content” from the SERPs. It was the first algorithm update to focus on quality content.It specifically targeted “content farms” that is designed to catch attention of search engines. It impacted the way Google displayed results to a great extent and its effects can be seen even today.

The Panda updated eliminated ages-old SEO practices of posting articles on reference-based sites like Ezine articles Find Articles and Mahalo. The update tumbled many top ranking websites to be seen nowhere on any of the result pages.

It was one of the first algorithm updates to penalize websites sacrificing content quality and only aimed to earn high traffic via Google. Over 3.1% of websites on the internet were impacted by this update.

The algorithm behind Panda used site’s inbound links, reference queries and search queries to create a modification factor, which is then used to rank the page for a search query. And in 2016, the Panda algorithm update became an important part of Google’s core algorithm.

“Payday Loan” Update — June 11, 2013

Google released the Payday Loan algorithm update to target notoriously spammy results of pornography, gambling, drugs, pharmaceuticals and, payday loans. This update did not affect most website rankings, but instead targeted a specific industry that implemented spam techniques to gain search rankings.

The Payday Loan algorithm penalized websites that used illegal SEO tactics to rank higher on the search engine. These tactics especially encapsulated hacking other websites or infecting them with malware for their personal advantage.

At Digital Marketing Singapore, we can help you fix the issue if you effected by Google Update. Contact us now.

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