On the surface, the concept of a search engine can be straightforward, but there is significant work invested into search engine optimisation to ensure that the right people are finding the appropriate websites.
Despite search engine optimisation being a necessary part of maintaining a website, there have been several algorithm changes instilled by Google that has changed the way websites are optimised.
To understand the importance of SEO, it is worthwhile to look at the early days of Google, and how its algorithm has evolved over the years.
Not only does understanding the many algorithm changes released by Google give a better idea of the importance of SEO, it also shines a light on practices that should be avoided when trying to stay on top of the search results.
In the early days of Google, finding web pages was mainly based on keywords. This means Google would search for a website containing words that matched the entries made by users.
While this was sufficient for the short-term, it was not long before the Google algorithm was being manipulated, normally in the form of content being stuffed with keywords.
As well as offering little value to those using the Google search feature, it could also mean the results being shown were not correct for the terms being entered, which would lead Google to make a series of improvements that counteracted this, as well as many other factors that hindered the search experience.
Florida Update: November 16, 2003
Given how many websites where manipulating the use of SEO by keyword stuffing and hidden links, the first algorithm update from Google would signal a new way of carrying out SEO. A such, any website using these tactics soon found their rankings dropped, and work would need to be carried out to ensure that websites conformed with the updates moving forward.
Jagger Update: September 1, 2005
Another method to soar to the top of Google’ search engine results was using backlink manipulation, meaning that backlinks were accrued by linking to a series of websites. Google counteracted this with an update released in three phases, named Jagger 1, Jagger 2 and Jagger 3 respectively.
Big Daddy Update: December 15, 2005
The Big Daddy algorithm update focused on improving technical issues regarding URLS, which included redirects and canonicalization. Again, websites found to be linking unnaturally would find that their site would be omitted following this update.
The Big Daddy algorithm updated began rolling out in 2005 and was complete by March 2006.
Vince Update: January 18, 2009
The Vince update released in 2009 was of value to big brands, as it sought to provide first page results for big brands as apposed to sites with less authority, including affiliate sites. Despite the Vince update being one carried out quickly, it was one that was noticed straight away in the SEO community.
To improve the search results displayed to users, Google released the Caffeine update in 2009. The update allowed Google to crawl and store date in an efficient manner, which meant fresher and more relevant results for those using the search engine.
Developers were given access to the Caffeine update in August 2009, and the official updated was released on June 8, 2010.
MayDay Update: April 28, 2010
Google noticed that there were variants in the keywords being used, especially the use of long-tail queries.
Long-tail keywords are search terms consisting of three words or more, and the MayDay algorithm update assessed how websites would be ranked regarding long-tail keywords.
Despite the name of the update, the rollout of the algorithm update actually took place between April 28 and May 3.
Panda Update: February 23, 2011
Just as keywords and backlinks had been manipulated in the past, content was now being created to adhere to Google’s algorithm as opposed to ensuring value for readers.
The Panda update was revealed in February 2011 and caused ripples throughout the SEO industry, as it essentially ended the content farming tactics used up to that point.
Panda 2.0 Update: April 11, 2011
The Panda 2.0 update was one of several updates that would be released. The 2.0 variant of the Panda update included additional signals, including websites that had been blocked by Google users.
Panda 2.1 Update: May 9. 2011
Although the release of Panda 2.1 was cited as Panda 3.0, but the release was a data refresh, of which there would be several regarding the Panda algorithm update.
Panda 2.2 Update: June 21, 2011
Like the Panda 2.1 update before it, Google released Panda 2.2 as a data refresh.
Panda 2.3 Update: July 23, 2011
A further data refresh for the Panda algorithm update.
Panda 2.4 Update: August 12, 2011
The Google Panda algorithm update was rolled out internationally for both English and Non-English-speaking countries, except for Korea, Japan, and China.
Panda 2.5 Update: September 28, 2011
A further update of the Panda algorithm update which was followed by Panda-related flux, although the impact was lesser than observed in the past. The confirmed flux dates were October 3 and October 13 respectively.
Panda 3.0 Update: October 19, 2011
The Panda 3.0 update instilled new signals into the algorithm and recalculated how these amendments would affect websites.
Freshness Update: November 3, 2011
A further update was made to the algorithm that allowed the search to yield fresher search results for its users. These topics included current events and recurring events, and the algorithm reportedly affected 35% of searches.
Panda 3.1 Update: November 18, 2011
A further update was released for the Panda algorithm, albeit with minor changes that affected less than 1% of search engine results.
Panda 3.2 Update: January 18, 2011
Another data refresh was released on January 19, 2011, which again affected few search engine results.
Layout Update: January 19, 2011
The layout update released by Google targeted sites with too many ads above the fold. This means those viewing a website would often have content obscured by a series of ads. The Layout update was a countermeasure for this but impacted fewer than 1% of website rankings.
Venice Update: February 27, 2012
The Venice update allowed Google to offer search results based on IP addresses and physical locations. The update also allowed Google to confirm the local intent of businesses and display these results accordingly.
Panda Update 3.3: February 27, 2012
The Panda 3.3. update was implemented to ensure that the algorithm was more aligned to recent changes on the web.
Panda Update 3.4: March 23, 2012
A minor refresh of the Panda algorithm that impacted few websites.
Panda Update 3.5: April 19, 2012
Google confirmed that a further data refresh was a carried out on April 19, 2012.
Penguin Update: April 24, 2012
Keyword stuffing and unnatural linking were some of the focal points for the Penguin update. When the update was released, 3.1% of websites were affected, and any websites found to be over optimising their site or manipulating the algorithm would fall in rankings as a result.
Panda Update 3.6: April 27, 2012
A further data refresh of the Panda algorithm.
Penguin Update 1.1: May 26, 2012
A date refresh of the Penguin update was released on May 26, 2012 and impacted fewer than 1% of websites. Websites that had altered their infrastructure to comply with Google Webmaster regulations also found their rankings recovered.
Panda Update 3.7: June 8, 2012
A further refresh that, while impacting less than 1% of queries, was believed to be bigger than data refreshes witnessed in the past.
Panda Update 3.8: June 25, 2012
A further refresh of the Panda algorithm that impacted less than 1% of search engine results.
Panda Update 3.9: July 24, 2012
Another data refresh of the Panda algorithm that affected less than 1% of search results.
Panda Update 3.9.1: August 20, 2012
A further data refresh of the Panda algorithm was released that impacted fewer than 1% of search results.
Panda Update 3.9.2: September 18, 2012
A rollout of a data refresh was confirmed on September 18, 2012 that caused some flux in the industry, despite affecting fewer than 0.7% of search queries.
Panda Update: September 27, 2012
The update released on September 27, 2012 was deemed a significant one and would go on to impact 2.4% of English search queries.
Exact Match Domain Update: September 28, 2012
Another SEO tactic used in the past was using exact match domains. Although this can be effective, the Exact Match Domain update meant that sites with low-quality content or an abundance of spammy ads would fall in search engine results.
Penguin Update 1.2: October 5, 2012
The second refresh of the Penguin update impacted fewer than 0.3% of English search engine queries.
Page Layout Update #2: October 9, 2012
A further update of the Page Layout that impacted fewer than 0.7% of English queries. The update also helped those who were affected by the first update to recover, although this was not always the case.
Panda Update: November 5, 2012
A further data refresh of the Panda algorithm.
Panda Update: November 21, 2012
Another update of the Panda algorithm that affected less than 0.8% of English search queries.
Panda Update: December 21, 2012
Another data refresh regarding the Panda algorithm was released December 21, 2012.
Panda Update: January 22, 2013
Another data refresh released by Google that would affect 1.2% of English search queries.
Panda Update: March 14, 2013
Although not confirmed by Google, tools suggest the Panda data refresh took place on March 14, 2013 and was thought to be the last before being incorporated in the core algorithm.
However, updates regarding Panda rolled out monthly over ten days, without any confirmation by Google.
Penguin 2.0: May 22. 2013
Cited as the next generation of the Penguin algorithm, this iteration of the algorithm would look deeper than homepages and top-level pages for signs of link spam. The Penguin 2,0 update affected 2.3% of English search queries.
Payday Loan Update: June 11, 2013
Despite the many reputable lenders available online, the Payday Loan Update sought out websites that were considered nefarious, including debt consolidation and high-interest loans. The update affected around 0.3% of US-based search queries.
Hummingbird Update: September 26, 2013
Keen to instil a better way if delivering search results, Google used Hummingbird to overhaul its core technology, and allowed the search engine giant to understand complex queries. The Hummingbird Update also took other factors into account, including the popularity of voice search.
The update affected 90% of search engine results, and first started rolling out in August, despite it not being confirmed until September.
Penguin Update 2.1: October 4, 2013
The Penguin 2.1 update was the first and only update released and impacted fewer than 1% of search queries.
Page Layout Refresh: February 6, 2014
The Page Layout Refresh did not change any aspect of the algorithm but was considered a rerun of the initial refresh with an updated index.
Payday Loan Update 2.0: May 16, 2014
The next iteration of the Payday Loan Update made further changes to better analyse the potential threat of spammy websites.
Panda Update 4.0: May 20, 2014
The 4.0 update of the Google algorithm was considered a major one and impacted 7.5% of search engine results.
Payday Loan Update 3.0: June 12, 2014
The Payday Loan Update 3.0 focused on spammy attacks and offered more protection regarding negative SEO attacks.
Pigeon Update: July 24, 2014
The Pigeon update introduced new ranking signals regarding local search, meaning that search engine results would differ depending on the location. The update also improved location ranking parameters.
Panda Update 4.1: September 23, 2014
The Panda 4.1 update included signals to help Google identify low-quality content and impacted approximately 5% of search queries.
Penguin Update 3.0: October 17, 2014
Although many assumed the Penguin 3,0 update was a major update, it was merely a data refresh that allows those impacted by past updates a change to recover. The rollout took a total of three days to roll out and affected less than 1% of search queries.
Mobile Friendly Update: April 21, 2015
As the name of the update implies, the Mobile Friendly Update was created to ensure that those using mobile devices were provided with relevant search results, and search queries of all languages were affected.
Quality Update: May 3, 2015
Also referred to as the Phantom Update, the Quality update was a further change to the core ranking algorithm used by Google and updated the quality signal used to assess websites.
As such, websites that had an abundance of content issues as well as too many ads found their rankings dropped.
Panda Update 4.2: July 17, 2015
The 4.2 update of the Panda update was rolled out slower than other iterations, meaning that the impact on rankings is unclear, but was estimated to affect approximately 3% of search queries. This would be the final time a confirmed Panda update was released.
RankBrain Update: October 26, 2015
RankBrain is an algorithm that uses machine learning to filer results for users. Although it was originally used for 15% of search queries, it is now part of every search query entered into Google, making it the third most important tanking signal.
Panda Core Algorithm Incorporation: January 11, 2016
Although Panda has been part of several updates in the past, this was the first time it would become part of the core algorithm as opposed to a filter. However, it has been reported the Panda classifier does not always act in real-time regarding search results.
Mobile Friendly Update #2: May 12, 2016
The second update for the Mobile-Friendly Update concentrated on increasing the effect of the ranking signal, yet again delivering relevant search results to mobile users.
Quality Update: June 1, 2016
Although Google did not confirm the Quality Update, the algorithm began to roll out on June 1, with volatility in search engine results experienced on June 8, 21 and 26.
Penguin Update 4.0 and Core Algorithm Integration: September 23, 2016
The final update of the Penguin algorithm was incorporated inro the core algorithm, allowing Penguin to evaluate links and websites in real time. Another change observed was the Penguin algorithm, which now devalued links as opposed to deranking pages.
Unnamed Update: November 10, 2016
Those using SEO tools reported that some form of unconfirmed updates took place on November 10.
Intrusive Interstitials Update: January 1, 2017
The Intrusive Interstitials Update targeted the use of intrusive ads that hindered a user’s mobile experience. The impact of the update was minimal when compared to past updates.
February 1 Update: February 1, 2014
A minor update that targeted those creating private blog networks as well as nefarious link-building
February 7 Update: February 7, 2014
The February 7 update focuses on delivering results for high-quality websites, which mean rank increases for some, whereas others saw their online rankings decrease.
Fred Update: March 7, 2017
The nickname of “Fred” was appointed as a joke and ended up sticking. The focus of the update was to target low-quality content, although there was not much speculation following this. However, Google did state that any questions could be answered by visiting Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines.
Quality Update: May 17, 2017
The Quality Update released on May 17, 2017 caused significant flux regarding search results, and websites with low-quality content and user-experience issues were among those experiencing the ramifications of the update.
June 25 Update: June 25, 2017
Another unconfirmed update that caused fluctuations for those ranking in position six to ten, as well as those operating within the beverage industry, although several other sectors also recorded volatility regarding SERPS.
Quality Update: July 9, 2017
Another update confirmed by those employing the use of SEO tools, the update caused some minor volatility regarding SERPS upon its release.
Quality Update: August 19, 2017
Following the release of the Quality Update on August 19, 2017, minor volatility was recorded between August 19 and August 20.
Fall Flux: September 8, 2017
Volatility and fluctuations were recognised on September 18, 25 and 29 following the release of the Fall Flux update. As the update was unconfirmed by Google, it was industry professionals and those using SEP tools that reported the update.
Further volatility and fluctuations were also witnessed on October 4,8 and 12.
Maccabees Update: December 12, 2017
The update was first recognised following the search community recording flux between December 12 and December 14. Although Google confirmed that updates were made to the cote algorithm, it downplayed the flux reported by the search community.
Broad Core Algorithm Update: March 9, 2018
News of the Broad Core Algorithm update was confirmed via Google’s Twitter account on March 12, which clarified the update had rolled out the week prior.
Although there was little in the way of detail, Google did state that the update was focused n the creation of great content.
Broad Core Algorithm Update: April 16, 2018
A further Broad Core Algorithm update was released that focused on content relevance.
Broad Core Algorithm Update: August 1, 2018
The third rollout of the Broad Core Algorithm led to many being referred to guidance released following the initial March 9 release. The update was though to focus on medical sites, although Google states it was a general ranking update with no focus on medical websites.
A “Small” Update: September 27, 2018
September 27 was Google’s 20th birthday, and a day when significant spikes and drops were witnessed within the SEO community, leading to speculation that an update was underway. A minor update had been confirmed, although it was stated the update was not a Broad Core Algorithm update.
Unconfirmed Halloween Update: October 31, 2018
Industry insiders recorded changes in search engine results, although this was presumed to be in connection with the August Broad Core Algorithm Update.
Valentine’s Day Update: February 13, 2019
SEO insiders recorded evidence of an unconfirmed change, although the rankings were improved in this instance.
March 2019 Core Update (Florida 2): March 12, 2019
Cited as one of the most important updates released by Google, the Broad Core Algorithm was updated to contend on a global scale, with recommendations being given to follow the guidance released the March 9, 2018 update.
June 2019 Core Update: June 2, 2019
News of the Core Update was first released on June 2, with Google confirming the update a day later. The rollout was made to many data centres and encompassed various factors.
Broad Core Algorithm Update: September 24, 2019
A further Broad Core Algorithm update which referred the community to previous guidance.
BERT Update: October 25, 2019
The BERT update was citied as one the of the biggest updates in five years and was released to better understand search queries.
BERT Worldwide Rollout: December 9, 2019
Following the initial release on October 25, 2019, the BERT update was rolled out globally on December 9, 2019.
January 2020 Core Update: January 13, 2020
A further Core update that offered the same guidance as past updates.
Feature Snippet Deduplication: January 22, 2020
Web pages featured in a snippet would no longer be repeated in first-page organic search results. This update affected 100% of all global search queries.
May 2020 Core Update: May 4, 2020
A further Core update was released on May 4, 2020 and took between one to two weeks to rollout completely.
The updates released by Google are all important, but there are some who will feel the ramifications more than others.
The many changes witness with Google’s algorithm reinforces the importance of professional SEO and ensuring that the right updates are instilled at the right time.