The internet has come a long way.
And no technology company can arguably say they have been more responsible in shaping up the internet than Google.
Google isn’t the first search engine to be launched. It was Archie.
After it, came Veronica, Ask, Excite, Look Smart, and a long list of other search engines, all of which preceded Google.
But it was Google, despite coming late, that would go on to become the overwhelmingly dominant provider of general online search.
Over the years, the giant search engine has embarked on countless quests, spent millions trying to understand its users and making necessary changes to its algorithm.
That explains their seemingly endless algorithm updates. As it stands, Google releases an average of about nine algorithm updates per day.
They don’t formally announce these updates, but their impact can be felt, almost instantly after they’re released.
They are minor updates that Google never announces formerly. Consequently, they’re hard for SEOs to keep up with.
Instead, Google just rolls them out to us unaware, without any fanfare.
However, every time Google makes a major algorithm update (a core algorithm update), they will officially announce it.
While minor updates can come and go unnoticed, core updates are impactful and sizeable enough to make a notable change in Google search results.
In this article, we’d like to walk you through each of Google’s core update, in order of their release date to help you better understand how far the search engine has come.
What’s a Google Algorithm
In order to understand what the Google algorithm is, it would be best to first understand what an algorithm is.
Straight to it, an algorithm is a set of rules or a finite list of instructions followed in a problem-solving operation or to solve a specific task.
Google algorithm follows the same basic rule and definition.
Think about all the time you go online to search for something. You simply enter your search query, and Google will respond by returning several pages of results, sometimes thousands of them.
Ever stopped to think about how they came up with the results and why they were ordered that way?
Well, that’s the result of an algorithm.
Google uses a complex algorithm to serve search results. They have been using this algorithm since they started.
The difference is that the algorithm is always undergoing frequent changes, perfected with every passing minute.
When Google makes minor changes to their algorithm, they don’t publicly announce them. Instead, they only announce their core algorithm updates.
So, to define, Google algorithm are the set of instructions and rules that Google uses to find, rank, and return relevant search results.
Google only wants to deliver the best and most relevant search results for every single one of their queried searches, and an algorithm is how they make it happen.
How Often Does Google Roll Out an Algorithm Update?
Google has confirmed that it rolls out an average of 9 minor algorithm updates each year. It bears repeating that Google never announces these updates publicly, save for the major ones, released once after a couple of years.
In 2018, Google says that they made over 3, 000 improvements to their search engine. Those were 8 times more than the updates they made in 2009. Today, Google releases an average of 9 updates per day.
Here’s a list of the confirmed number of updates that Google has been making over the years:
Numbers of Updates
|2009||350 to 400 minor changes|
|2010||516 minor changes|
|2011||538 minor changes|
|2012||665 minor launches|
Google is always updating their search systems as you can see.
In 2010, they made about 350 updates. However, in 2018 they made more than 3200 updates to their search system – that’s about 8 updates per day.
While the nature of these changes isn’t exactly known, SEOs speculate that they have something to do with user interface and experience.
Google points out that some of these changes came in the form of new visible features, while others were just meant to ensure their search results stay relevant and useful.
Google also mentioned that some of the changes they make take time. While changes to auto-suggestions and knowledge panel predictions happen almost instantaneously, complex changes such as featured snippet tend to take much longer.
It’s worth mentioning that Google doesn’t release their update at a specific date, time, or month. Instead, they release them when it’s necessary. They, however, make at least one minor change per day.
Do All these Updates Matter?
Most of the algorithm changes Google makes are minor.
They’re minor improvements that the SEO industry wouldn’t necessarily consider “algorithm updates.”
They can range from UI changes to the introduction of new features.
Think of Google search as an engine with so many moving parts. Some parts will need to be oiled, fixed, and improved.
Also, Google is always introducing new elements.
For example, local SEO, which drastically accelerated the rate of change in the past two to three years.
Not every Google update matters. Some only affect a certain segment of Google users and SEOs. For example, let’s say that Google decides to make an update to fix a list of misspelt words in Japanese, for a user in Canada or the United States, this change isn’t going to affect them in any way. However, if you’re a Japanese brand that’s been working hard to rank for a list of commonly misspelt words, then this change could have a huge impact on you.
The SEO Benefits of Google Algorithm Changes
Google algorithm changes happen for the overall benefit of the internet. It all depends on how you look at it, but Google prides itself as one of the internet’s good guys.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of Google algorithm changes:
- Focused on the User
Every change that Google makes to their search engine is aimed at helping the user find the right information or what made them use their search engine in the first place.
The updates they make solidify the commitment they have to their users.
While Google still has so much to do to improve the quality of their search results, the thing is, their results keep getting better and becoming more relevant by the day.
Try searching for the best smartphone to buy, and your top results will have the exact information you want. Most of the time, users don’t even have to scroll past the first page to find what they want.
Not only that. Google has also made tremendous strides in meeting the needs of those searching the internet on the go. As it stands, you don’t necessarily have to state where you are. Just enter your search query, followed by the term “Near Me” and watch as Google works its magic to give you the information you want.
- Improved Ranking for High-quality Content
Google doesn’t like it when people try to game its search engine. They have, as such, dedicated their life to reward those who produce in-depth, high-quality content, while penalizing those who try to play games with them.
One of the changes they made that reflected this is content length. In modern SEO, a lengthy piece of content has a better chance of ranking than a shorter one.
Before this change, you could still rank with a thinner piece.
We had content developers approaching SEO with a lazy mindset. All they did was churn out so many 300-word articles, sprinkle them with a few keywords, and ta-da! They had SEO on lock.
But things took a better turn with the Google Panda update. And unless you’re ready to put in the work and start making long posts, a prime ranking in the SERPs will continue being elusive to you.
Ever wondered about what happened to sites like EzineArticles, Go Articles, and Buzzle? Their rankings plummeted, despite being mobile friendly and dominating search engines for ages.
Their content wasn’t in-depth enough to provide meaningful, relevant, and long-term solutions with long-lasting SEO power.
The same way Google rewards in-depth posts, it’s the same way they punish thin, questionable content.
- Fresh Content
Google introduced a fresh score in one of its updates.
Every time you publish something new on your site, Google rewards the webpage with a fresh score. The assigned fresh score will fizzle out with time, and the only way to keep it up is by supplying Google with more fresh content.
This is exactly where a website auditor comes in handy.
Usually, your freshness score is assessed and awarded when Google bots crawl and index your webpage.
The thing is if you’re always updating your website content, and writing well-researched, in-depth, 2500-plus-words posts, then you should expect to see your organic ranking improve on Google.
In the same vein, sites that don’t make any effort to update their content should expect to see their ranking plummet with time.
Sites like Moz publish almost every day:
They do this to boost their freshness score.
- Brand Awareness
Google algorithm changes have been supporting a shift towards branding.
If you can remember, in the early days of SEO, people could use a lot of keyword-rich anchor texts in their content, and it worked for them.
That was before Google decided to take a sledgehammer to all sites doing that by releasing an update.
This update affected every over-optimised site.
Now SEO has evolved. It’s no longer about backlinks and anchor texts, but the quality of backlinks your site receives.
According to Moz, you’re likely to rank better when 17% of your backlink’s anchor text are your brand names (instead of descriptive keywords or text).
In other words, if you want other sites to link back to you, then it should at least be by your brand name instead of random texts or keywords.
Anchor Text Distribution
To find out more about anchor texts, and how they affect your ranking, here’s an article you might want to read:
Web owners and corporation have become more meticulous with how they use anchor texts.
The point is, if you’re looking to improve your organic ranking, then you should build links that improve your relevance and brand online, not random links.
A Brief History of Google Algorithm Updates Over the Year: A List of all Their Core Updates
Google is set out to launch a new algorithm update (somewhere in 2021). The name of this update will be page experience.
It will be about the core web vitals (metrics for measuring if your users deem your website as pleasant or not).
We promise to come back and update this list once Google releases the update. But before that, let’s walk you through a list of all Google algorithm updates made over the years:
1# Google Panda Update
Date Released: 24th February 2011
Of course, Google started long before 2011. We’re only had to mention Panda as the first Google update because it was the first core algorithm update released in the modern SEO era.
Google made this update to combat websites that were specifically created to aid in ranking.
It focused on evaluating websites for on-page SEO ranking factors.
Google wanted to make sure that websites offered the exact information that users wanted to see after running their search queries.
This update affected two types of websites:
- Those with thin content
- PBN websites (site specifically built to link to other sites).
How it Works
This update came with the idea of quality scores.
It introduced the idea of assigning quality scores to web pages.
For those who know, a quality score is one of the factors that Google uses to rank websites.
Initially, this update didn’t have that much of a bigger effect. It would, however, take full force in 2016 after it became part of Google’s core algorithm.
After Panda, Google started rolling out their updates frequently. They have also improved their search engine and sped up the rate at which Panda Penalties and recoveries are served.
Sites Affected: The panda update affects sites with duplicate, thin, and plagiarised content.
The update also affects sites with user-generated spam content and those still hang up on keyword stuffing.
How to Redeem Your Website from a Panda Penalty:
Run regular checks on your site for thin content, content duplication, and keyword stuffing.
You need a tool that mimic’s Google’s crawler for this. We recommend PowerSuite’s Website Auditor.
Website Auditor’s “New Content Editor” module is great for taking necessary precautions against a potential Panda penalty.
The module can save you from accidental keywords stuffing.
You can also use it to analyse top-performing websites for some recommendations on the best SEO approach to take.
If you want to find out if your content has been duplicated somewhere, then use a tool such as Copyscape to scan your website for originality.
Improvements Over the Years
Note that, Google used to rerun Panda after the first release before incorporating it into their core algorithm in 2016.
Now the Panda algorithm permanently affects how we approach SEO. In other words, there’s no way a site with low-quality content can rank in the modern world of SEO.
2# The Venice Update
Release Date: February 2012
After the Panda update, came Venice. It was the second noteworthy update ever released by Google.
In February 2012, Google published a post talking about the 40 changes they had made to their algorithm in the past month.
Among the updates they had made, there was the rich snippet (expanded worldwide), Nesehorm (affected flight queries), and another update that touched on local queries.
Google had officially changed the way they showed place entries.
How It Works
Before the update, Google relied on Google place to serve localised content. But with Venice, they were going to use the traditional “10 blue Link” results to also cater for local intent.
Usually, users define local intent with search queries such as “X in place” or “X near me.”
However, you want to note that a query could have a local intent that isn’t that clear.
So, whenever a user made a query without a clear local search intent, Google had to rely on optimisation.
However, with Venice, they had found a simple solution to this predicament. They started serving content based on the specified physical location or based on the user’s IP address.
The Venice update was a big win for smaller businesses. It allowed them to rank for short-term keywords.
It Didn’t Stop Spam
The Venice update didn’t turn out as expected.
That’s because it didn’t put a stop to spam. Instead, it shifted the focus to local SEO, and not in a good way.
It encouraged spamming, only that this time it was with doorway pages and location stuffing.
What makes this algorithm update special is the fact that it stirred up an increase in the number of local hybrid results.
It localised searches, not to the same advanced scale as what we have now, but it was a huge step in the right direction.
3# The Penguin Update
Date Released: 24th April 2012
Two months after releasing the Venice update, Google followed it up by releasing one of the most impactful updates ever released, the Penguin update.
The update was released to fight black hat link building strategies, such as spammy links, keyword-stuffed anchor texts, and link directories.
Google lumps them all under “black hat web spams.”
It even goes ahead to define them as link building strategies that don’t benefit the user but is more hang up on creating shortcuts and loopholes to get them to rank higher than they deserve.
How It Works
It introduced off-page SEO as one of Google’s ranking factors.
Before the update, Google only focused on on-page elements such as content and keyword optimisation when ranking websites. It still ranked websites for links, but it never went beyond the number of backlinks a site has.
The Penguin update took things a step further by placing links under a microscope, determining which ones were irrelevant and spammy.
The update put a stop to the menacing issue of buying links.
Sites Affected: The update affected any site with spammy or irrelevant links. It also affected sites with over-optimised anchor texts.
The update down-ranked any website whose backlink profile appeared unnatural. It put an end to low-effort link building strategies, likes buying links from PBNs and link farms.
How to Adjust: To keep your site safe from the Penguin update, you have to start monitoring its link profile. Run regular link audit using a tool such as SEO SpyGlass.
After signing up, you’ll be provided with a summary dashboard that you can use to monitor your link profile growth.
Check to see if there are any unusual link spikes. Your competitors might be on your neck with negative SEO.
You also want to navigate to the Penalty Risk tab. Here, you can start by sorting out your link list from highest risk to lowest.
Any link with a risk of above 50% should be investigated. If they come off as malicious, then it helps to disavow them.
Here’s an article you want to read to find out more about link disavow and how to do it:
4# The Pirate Update
Date Released: August 2012
This wasn’t a major update from Google, but it’s one of the honorary mentions we just have to make.
Introduced in August 2012, this update aimed to combat sites lots of copyright infringement reports, filed through Google’s DMCA system. Any sites with multiple copyright infringement report would be ranked down or penalised.
How It Works: Piracy was a real menace in the flesh of the then-budding SEO.
Lazyweb owners pulled blog post straight from other people’s websites and passed them as their own.
Google made this update to make sure any site with stolen or pirated content couldn’t benefit from their search engine.
How to Adjust: If your site was downranked as a result of a copyright claim, then the most logical thing to do would be to check the site for any trace of illegal content. Find out which one of your posts was reported.
It doesn’t have to be something serious. It could be a more obvious infringement – like playing a copyrighted song in the background of one of your videos or embedding someone else’s YouTube video without their permission.
Here’s what you should do when your website gets hit by the Pirate update:
- Remove the Content that Violates Google’s DMCA policy: If your website has been reported for piracy or stolen content, then the most logical first step would be to remove that particular piece of content.
Use Copyscape to find out if your site has duplicate content.
Look for any trace of illegal content on your site, and immediately remove it. That way, the pirate update will have nothing to use against you.
- Use a different domain name for user-generated content: It’s common for websites to allow users to share their content. If that’s part of your plan, then it helps to create a separate domain name for user-generated content.
For all we know, it’s hard to control what your users post, and doing this is the only way to protect your main site from being hit by the Pirate update.
5# The Hummingbird Update
The Hummingbird update had Google laying down the groundwork for voice search.
The update also saw Google paying more attention to all the words in a search query, instead of a list of keywords like they had been doing.
Google started doing this to understand the user better to serve them personalised results, instead of a generic list of results.
The impact of this update couldn’t be felt immediately. But eventually, people would start realising that it reinforced the idea of making your website content more readable and natural.
How It Works: The hummingbird algorithm update aimed to help Google interpret search queries better. It helped them read searcher intent, instead of relying on keyword usage as it had always been.
It eliminated the need for keyword stuffing. Meaning, they could still rank a page if it didn’t contain the exact keywords or words that the searcher used.
They were able to achieve this with the help of natural language processing (NLP), which relies on co-occurring terms or latent semantic indexing.
How to Adjust: It’s time you started doing thorough keyword research. Better, instead of focusing on keywords, started focusing on the concepts behind them.
Start analysing related search terms, and see the user intent. This should guide your writing and how you structure your content.
Remember to also look for synonyms and co-occurring terms.
Use Google autocomplete suggestions and related question to source for more keyword ideas.
Link Tracker can help you out a great deal with this. Remember to check their Keyword research module, and you’ll be provided with a long list of related keywords.
Use these keywords to better understand your user’s language and figure out how to diversify your content.
In the end, you want to create content that satisfies the search intent and is more directed towards driving engagement.
6# The Pigeon Update
Year Released: July 24th, 2014
The Hummingbird update was followed by the pigeon update, one of the least talked about updates in the history of Google algorithm updates.
It served to provide more accurate and relevant local search results.
Google mentioned that the update improves their location and distance ranking parameters.
How It Works: Local search improved drastically after the update.
However, the update wasn’t without its fair share of glitches. But Google was quick to correct them, as a result, the update would be officially launched on 1st August 2014 (after they had remedied most of the issues).
Before the Pigeon update, Yelp and other local directories started complaining that Google was manipulating search results to favour Google reviews. They were getting outranked even in situations where the user specifically added the word Yelp to their search query.
All these would change after the Pigeon update, as Google started treating them favourably, ranking them higher in the search results, as it was supposed to be.
7# The Mobile Update
Release Date: 21st April 2015
This update shifted the focus from desktop usage to mobile usage. It became clear that more and more users were browsing the internet with their mobile phones, not desktops.
The Mobile update shook up the internet, hence the name the Mobilegeddon.
How it Works: This came after Google found out that more than 50% of the search queries they received were from mobile. In response, they had to release this update, which acted in favour of mobile-friendly websites.
That mean, mobile-friendly websites had a better chance of ranking compared to mobile-unfriendly ones.
Sites Affected: The update would hurt any website that didn’t have a mobile-friendly page or had poor mobile usability.
How to Adjust: You can start by redesigning your web pages and making sure they’re all mobile-friendly. While at it, you want to focus on two key things, speed and usability.
Run Google tests for speed and mobile-friendly to see which aspect of your website could use some improvement.
All these tests are integrated right to the Website Auditor.
8# Rank Brain
Release Date: 26th October 2015
Rank Brain is a one-of-a-kind update from Google. It introduced the concept of machine learning to the way that search engines processed queries.
You must have noticed search engines completing words for you or serving you with relevant results even when your query wasn’t that clear.
With Rank Brain, Google search could analyse your past searches and pull out the best results possible.
How it Works: The Rank Brain update was released as part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm.
It aimed to help Google read the intentions behind search queries, and serve users with the most relevant search results possible.
Google mentions Rank Brain as their third most important ranking factor.
While no one knows the exact formula Google uses for this update, the consensus is that they try to customise each user’s results.
It goes beyond looking at the keywords used, to digging into a larger context like the use of synonym and the user’s search history among other things.
How to Adjust Your Website for the Rank Brain Update: Optimise your website for comprehensiveness and relevance.
Use Website Auditor’s TF IDF module to discover a list of relevant search terms and concept that some of your top-ranking competitors use. Figure out how to integrate these terms into your website content and watch as your search relevance dramatically sore.
Date Released: May 4th 2018
This algorithm update caused a bit of a stir online.
It affected many websites.
How it Works: Even though the update wasn’t directed at medical websites, they were among the most affected.
It’s still unclear why Google came up with this update, but people think it was because it wanted to protect the wellbeing of its users.
It was Google’s way of fighting disreputable information.
How to Adjust Your Website for the Medic Update: Up to date, no one has any idea of the logic behind this update. We can only speculate that Google wants SEO to start hiring expert writers.
We can all agree the internet is swamped with hastily written pieces of articles with no factual accuracy.
With this update, Google was hoping that SEOs would start hiring expert writers to lend some little bit of credibility to their websites.
In that same token, Google only wants to rank high authority websites, and like we know the only way to attain the said authority is by building your link profile.
10# The BERT Update
The BERT algorithm ought to be one of the biggest updates ever made in the past five years, impacting one out of every 10 searches.
How it Works: BERT is a neural network-based, machine learning kind of algorithm, but for Natural Language Processing.
BERT = Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers
It was designed to figure out the full context of search queries based on the words used.
It tries to connect words and identify their relation to draw context from a search query.
In other words, it came as a massive improvement in the manner at which Google search interpreted search queries and deciphered the intent behind them.
How to Adjust Your Website for the BERT Update: Simple, stop obsessing over keyword integration and instead focus on producing well-written, nicely-researched web content.
With BERT, that means Google will finally get to reward you for good writing. Strive to write better and drawing meaning to your web copies.
Go slow on fluff by adopting an expository writing style. Remember to include relevant entries in your copies to draw context and give the search engine something to work on.