Every Important Google Algorithm Update Since 2003 -

Every Important Google Algorithm Update Since 2003

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  • Dec 07 2017 14:50About: 4 days ago
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To the everyday user, Google’s search engine might seem pretty unremarkable. Type in “corgi,” and you’re going to get a bunch of corgi-related results. You’ll see a page called, “10 Facts about Corgis You Paw-bibly Didn’t Know.” You’ll see a Knowledge Panel featuring the life span and temperament of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. You’ll get a dropdown suggestion for the query, “corgi butt.” These aren’t tremendous cognitive leaps. The goal of Google Search is to provide you with results from which you’ll derive value. Most reasonable people value corgi butts.

Fact is, however, that Google’s search algorithm didn’t always have such a keen understanding of what most people find valuable. It’s evolved quite a bit over the years. Our goal today is to paint a more in depth picture of that evolution.

Below is a to-date list of the most impactful Google algorithm updates since 2003. We’ll keep adding to this list as time rolls along.

Let’s hop in!

Google Fred Update – March 2017

Google Algorithm Update Fred

Image via Search Engine Roundtable

Google’s “Fred” Update (unofficially named) occurs in March of 2017. Its purpose is to crack down on sites that prioritize monetization over user experience. The name “Fred” is arbitrary, and is jokingly assigned by Google analytics expert Gary Illyes. The results of the update are not arbitrary.

Google Algorithm Update Visibility

Image via GSQi

Sites with low quality user engagement—thin content, content heavily geared toward conversions, UX barriers (popups, navigational obstacles) and aggressive on-page advertising tactics—lose organic search traffic overnight. Some sites report up to 90% traffic loss.   

Google Intrusive Interstitial Penalty – January 2017

Google Algorithm Update Interstitial

Image via Google Webmaster Central Blog

Google announces the Intrusive Interstitial Penalty in August of 2016, writing, ”Pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.” The update itself rolls out in January 2017, and cracks down on sites with intrusive mobile interstitials. Google gives the following examples of techniques that will negatively impact a page’s organic search ranking:

1. Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.

2. Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user must dismiss before accessing the main content.

3. Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Glenn Gabe tracks the ramifications of the Intrusive Interstitial Penalty, and records some interesting insights in this blog post.

Google Penguin 4.0 – September 2016

Google Algorithm Update Penguin

Penguin 4.0: the Penguin we deserve. Image via Pew Trusts.

Google announces Penguin 4.0 in September of 2016. The two main revisions to the original Penguin update are:

1. Penguin goes real time, and becomes a part of Google’s core algorithm.

2. Penguin now devalues “spammy” links at a granular level, reversing earlier-enforced site-wide penalties. 

Sites that see search visibility reductions after Penguin updates 1.0-3.0 now see improved rankings—so long as they’ve taken the necessary steps to clean up their spammy links.

Google “Possum” Update – September 2016

Google Algorithm Update Possum

Image via Tech Critic

Unannounced and unconfirmed by Google, Possum gets its name from the impact it has on Google My Business listings. Google’s newly refined location filter filters out businesses based on certain criteria. Thus, the listings themselves “play possum.” Possum impacts local search rankings in the following ways:

1. Businesses outside of a city’s limits experience higher rankings for local search keywords. Prior to Possum, businesses not technically within a city’s limits have a difficult time ranking well for those keywords.

2. A new location filter filters out locations that share the same address.

3. The physical location of the person typing the query has a larger impact on results.

Google RankBrain – October 2015

Google Algorithm Update Rankbrain

Image via The Next Web

Bloomberg breaks the news that RankBrain, a machine-learning artificial intelligence system, has been incorporated into Google’s core algorithm. Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google, tells Bloomberg that RankBrain has been live for months, and has quickly become Google’s third most important ranking signal. The new system gives Google’s search algorithm the ability to understand relationships between words, and deduce results for never-before-seen queries.

“Mobilegeddon” – April 2015

Google Algorithm Update Mobilegeddon

In February of 2015, Google announces the expansion of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. Dubbed “Mobilegeddon,” the new algorithm goes live in April, and provides more mobile-friendly websites and relevant app content in search results. Sites given the tag “mobile-friendly” experience improved search visibility.

Google Pigeon Update – July 2014

Google Algorithm Update Pigeon

Image via Search Engine Land

In July of 2014, Google releases a significant local search algorithm update. Search Engine Land dubs it “Pigeon,” because “pigeons tend to fly back home.” The new local algorithm ties deeper into Google’s web search capabilities—including hundreds of core algorithm ranking signals, as well as features like the Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms, etc.

Google Hummingbird – August 2013

Google Algorithm Update Hummingbird

Google notices that queries are becoming more and more conversational. People have begun to treat their desktops and devices like humans. To keep up with the growing need to understand user intent, Google releases Hummingbird in the Summer of 2013.

Hummingbird is less a change to Google’s core algorithm than a total revamp—it has the ability to discern both context and intent when returning results for a query. Matt Cutts of Google estimates that 90% of all search results are affected.

Google Knowledge Graph – May 2012

Google Algorithm Update Fred KG

Google introduces the Knowledge Graph in May of 2012. The goal, according to Google, is to help users discover information more quickly and easily. The Knowledge Graph appears in the form of panels to the right of a user’s results. Google says the Knowledge Graph has the ability to understand real-world entities and their relationships to one another—to understand the world a bit more like people do. When it’s launched, the Knowledge Graph contains more than 500 million objects, as well as more than 3.5 billion facts about relationships between those objects.

Google Penguin – April 2012

Google Algorithm Update Penguin

Google announces Penguin in April of 2012 with a blog post entitled, “Another step to reward high-quality sites.” In fact, the primary goal of Penguin is to decrease rankings for sites that violate Google’s quality guidelines. Sites partaking in webspam techniques like keyword stuffing and link schemes see reduced organic search traffic. The update levies penalties at a site-wide level, rather than on specific pages. Google makes a point of distinguishing “white hat SEO” from “black hat webspam,” and encourages webmasters to continue creating high quality sites that create positive user experiences.

Google Panda – February 2011

 Google Algorithm Update Panda

Image via Search Engine Land

Initially dubbed “Farmer” for its crack down on content farms, Panda gets its name from one of engineers who helps develop the algorithm—an engineer named Panda. The Panda update is a response to the growing number of complaints in the search community that low-quality “content sites” rank higher than high-quality sites with positive user experiences. Panda goes primarily after sites with thin content, sites that have outsourced content to third-party “farms,” and sites with high ad-to-content ratios.

Google Caffeine – June 2010

Google Algorithm Update Caffeine

Image via Google’s Official Blog

Announced in 2009, Caffeine goes live in June of 2010. It provides 50 percent fresher search results, and is the largest collection of web content Google has ever offered. It’s less an algorithm update than an entirely new system of web indexing. Prior to Caffeine, Google’s index consists of layers, some of which are refreshed faster than others. Caffeine analyzes the web on a continuous, global basis, allowing users to find fresher information than ever before. “If this were a pile of paper,” Google’s Carrie Crimes writes, “it would grow three miles taller every second.”

Google Suggest – August 2008

Google Algorithm Update Suggest

After nearly four years of testing, Google Suggest drops in August of 2008. Suggest looks in aggregate at searches related to a given query, then lists popular searches containing that query in a dropdown panel. It’s a precursor to Google Instant (2010), which returns results as users type their queries. Google drops Google Instant in 2017 because of complications it poses mobile users. Suggest remains a mainstay.

Google Universal Search – May 2007

Google Algorithm Update US

Danny Sullivan writes a post for Search Engine Watch in 2003 describing what he calls “tab blindness”—the tendency on behalf of Google users to ignore tabs like News, Images, Video, etc. when making queries. With the release of Universal Search in May of 2007, Google provides a solution to tab blindness. Universal Search integrates results from all Google verticals to provide a more accurate and diverse SERP. The traditional 10-link results page becomes a thing of the past.

Google Personalized Search – June 2005

Google Algorithm Update Personalized Search

Introduced in 2005, Personalized Search draws on a user’s search history to deliver more personalized results to him or her. Previous attempts at personalization drew on customer settings and profiles; Personalized Search marks the first time Google has tapped directly into its users’ search histories.

Google Florida Update – November 2003

Google Algorithm Update Florida

Thanks to Roberto Sotelo for this gem of an image.

To get an idea of just how seminal the Florida update is, you need look no further than Danny Sullivan’s article, “What Happened to My Site on Google?”—a Q&A style blog that includes the question, “How can Google be allowed to hurt my business in this way?” The Florida algorithm update occurs before algorithm updates are really “a thing.” The notion that Google’s algorithm is a kind of “dance” that webmasters have to keep pace with in order to retain their organic rankings—and that that in itself could be a job (SEO)—is entirely new. Florida cracks down on late 90s tactics like keyword stuffing. Webmasters everywhere are befuddled. SEO becomes a necessity.

Google Boston Update – February 2003

Google Algorithm Update Boston

Google’s first official update, Boston is announced in 2013 at SES Boston, an engineering science conference put on by Northeastern. Google’s initial goal is to change its algorithm every month or so. It soon abandons that goal in favor of day-to-day changes. SEOs and webmasters everywhere begin an indefinite head-shake.

That’s all, folks.

For an in-depth look at the development of search engines in general, please don’t hesitate to check out our History of Search Engines! And if you’re interested in a list of every Google algorithm update since 2000, big or small, Moz has put together a useful list here.

Have an algorithm update you think should be added to the list? Let us know in comments below!

About the Author

Gordon Donnelly is a college hockey washout, failed poet, and all-around oxford comma enthusiast. He's a sucker for: fly fishing, mudslides, and the dwindling half-light of Clery's basement. Tweet him @gord_donnelly



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everyday user Google’s search engine might seem pretty unremarkable. Type “corgi” you’re going bunch corgi-related results. You’ll page called “10 Facts about Corgis Paw-bibly Didn’t Know.” Knowledge Panel featuring life span temperament Pembroke Welsh Corgi. dropdown suggestion query “corgi butt.” These aren’t tremendous cognitive leaps. goal Google Search provide with results from which you’ll derive value. Most reasonable people value corgi butts. Fact however that algorithm didn’t always have such keen understanding what most find valuable. It’s evolved quite over years. today paint more depth picture evolution. Below to-date list impactful updates since 2003. We’ll keep adding this time rolls along. Let’s in! Google Fred Update March 2017 Image Engine Roundtable Google’s “Fred” (unofficially named) occurs 2017. purpose crack down sites prioritize monetization experience. name arbitrary jokingly assigned analytics expert Gary Illyes. update arbitrary. Image GSQi Sites quality engagement—thin content heavily geared toward conversions barriers (popups navigational obstacles) aggressive on-page advertising tactics—lose organic traffic overnight. Some report loss.    Google Intrusive Interstitial Penalty January Webmaster Central Blog Google announces August 2016 writing ”Pages where easily accessible transition mobile rank highly.” itself 2017 cracks intrusive interstitials. gives following examples techniques will negatively impact page’s ranking: 1. Showing popup covers main content either immediately after navigates results while they looking through page. 2. Displaying standalone interstitial must dismiss before accessing content. 3. Using layout above-the-fold portion appears similar interstitial original been inlined underneath fold. Glenn Gabe tracks ramifications Penalty records some interesting insights blog post. Google Penguin September 2016 Penguin 4.0: deserve. Image Trusts. Google 2016. revisions are: 1. goes real time becomes part core algorithm. 2. devalues “spammy” links granular level reversing earlier-enforced site-wide penalties.  Sites visibility reductions 1.0-3.0 improved rankings—so long they’ve taken necessary steps clean their spammy links. Google “Possum” 2016 Image Tech Critic Unannounced unconfirmed Google Possum gets Business listings. newly refined location filter filters businesses based certain criteria. Thus listings themselves “play possum.” impacts local rankings ways: 1. Businesses outside city’s limits experience higher keywords. Prior Possum technically within difficult ranking well those keywords. 2. locations share same address. 3. physical person typing larger results. Google RankBrain October 2015 Image Next Web Bloomberg breaks news RankBrain machine-learning artificial intelligence system incorporated into algorithm. Greg Corrado senior research scientist Google tells Bloomberg live months quickly become third important signal. ability understand relationships between words deduce never-before-seen queries. “Mobilegeddon” April 2015 In February 2015 expansion mobile-friendliness Dubbed “Mobilegeddon” April provides mobile-friendly websites relevant Sites given “mobile-friendly” visibility. Google Pigeon July 2014 Image Land In 2014 releases significant update. Land dubs “Pigeon” because “pigeons tend back home.” ties deeper capabilities—including hundreds signals features like Graph spelling correction synonyms etc. Google Hummingbird 2013 Google notices queries becoming conversational. People begun treat desktops devices humans. growing need intent Summer 2013. Hummingbird less change than total revamp—it discern both context when returning query. Matt Cutts estimates affected. Google 2012 Google introduces 2012. goal according Google help users discover information easily. form panels right user’s says real-world entities another—to world When it’s launched contains million objects billion facts objects. Google 2012 post entitled “Another step reward high-quality sites.” fact primary decrease violate guidelines. partaking webspam keyword stuffing link schemes reduced traffic. levies penalties level rather specific pages. makes point distinguishing “white SEO” “black webspam” encourages webmasters continue creating high create positive experiences. Google Panda 2011   Image Land Initially dubbed “Farmer” farms engineers helps develop algorithm—an engineer named Panda. response number complaints community low-quality “content sites” experiences. primarily thin content outsourced third-party “farms” ad-to-content ratios. Google Caffeine June 2010 Image Official Blog Announced 2009 2010. percent fresher results largest collection ever offered. entirely indexing. Caffeine index consists layers refreshed faster others. analyzes continuous global basis allowing before. “If were pile paper” Carrie Crimes writes “it would grow three miles taller every second.” Google Suggest 2008 After nearly four years testing drops 2008. looks aggregate searches related query then lists popular containing panel. precursor Instant (2010) returns type queries. complications poses users. remains mainstay. Google Universal 2007 Danny Sullivan Watch 2003 describing calls “tab blindness”—the tendency behalf ignore tabs News Images Video etc. making With release 2007 solution blindness. integrates verticals accurate diverse SERP. traditional 10-link thing past. Google Personalized 2005 Introduced 2005 draws history deliver personalized her. Previous attempts personalization drew customer settings profiles; marks first tapped directly users’ histories. Google Florida November 2003 Thanks Roberto Sotelo image. To idea just seminal look further Danny Sullivan’s article “What Happened Site Google?”—a Q&A style includes question “How allowed hurt business way?” really “a thing.” notion kind “dance” pace order retain rankings—and could (SEO)—is new. late tactics stuffing. Webmasters everywhere befuddled. necessity. Google Boston 2003 Google’s official update announced 2013 Boston engineering science conference Northeastern. initial month soon abandons favor day-to-day changes. SEOs begin indefinite head-shake. That’s all folks. For in-depth development engines general please don’t hesitate check History Engines! interested 2000 small together useful here. Have think should added list? know comments below! About Author Gordon Donnelly college hockey washout failed poet all-around oxford comma enthusiast. sucker for: fishing mudslides dwindling half-light Clerys basement. Tweet @gord_donnelly. 

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