A History of Google Algorithm Updates

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The Google algorithm changes on an hourly basis. It’s impossible to keep up with every change and test, but we’ve chronicled the main updates since 2011, to help you understand the type of changes Google makes, and why certain websites and content perform better or worse than others.

We’ve included some information about the algorithm, and how it works, but if you’d prefer you can jump straight to the algorithm updates

What is the Google algorithm?

The Google algorithm is the process Google uses to find the most relevant content each time a search is made.

It’s made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of different data signals that are referenced each time you make a search. This helps Google return the best search results for an individual, rather than them being the same for each individual person’s search query.

Each time you make a search, Google is gathering data about you. This could be the type of searches you normally make, the location you are searching from and potentially your age and gender based on previous searches. This means that Google can use these signals to give you the best search results possible.

No-one outside of Google knows exactly how the algorithm works as this is a close guarded company secret. It’s also so complex that no one person can surely understand the complexities of the entire thing. We do get some aspects shared with us via Google’s updates, which we can use to create the best content possible for our websites.

Why Does Google Update the Algorithm?

Google regularly updates their algorithm for various reasons. This could be as big as changes in law, or as small as wanting to improve a ranking signal. Historically there were large scale updates that completely changed the way the algorithm worked, for example the Panda update and the Penguin update, but currently these updates are rolled out as broad core updates which don’t have the same impact.

Previous updates have tackled:

  • Spammy link building tactics
  • Improvement to voice search
  • Promoting mobile-friendly websites for mobile searches
  • Return searches based on location

…and many other aspects of Google search that we take for granted today.

These updates happen all the time, but some larger updates can have a huge impact on website traffic, for better or for worse.

What to Do If Your Ranking Drops

Large algorithm changes can leave a huge impact on your website’s traffic. If this happens, don’t panic! We’ve put together a mega guide on what to do if your ranking drops. It’s full of actionable advice to get you back on track.

It can take a long time to reverse ranking drops, so it’s best to take immediate action.

Once you’ve identified that a Google algorithm update has caused the drop in traffic — which you can do by using the traffic/ranking checking tool, Panguin Tool — you should:

  1. Check that your content matches search intent
  2. Improve your content
  3. Earn new backlinks

Google algorithm updates can feel scary, but most of the time they roll out with little to no impact. As you’ll see in the next section, over the years Google have improved their communication skills and are more forthcoming with confirming algorithm changes.

Google communicate new updates either through the Google Search Liaison Twitter account or the Google Search Central Twitter account. Following these two accounts is the best way to keep up to date with any Google algorithm changes.

Google Algorithm Updates

A header image for the 2022 section of the Google algorithm history. The text reads "2022" and has Google's search robot logo as well as a ninja

2022 Algorithm Updates

Helpful Content Update (Announced 18th August)

On August 18th 2022, Google announced the “Helpful Content Update”, an algorithm update that will “tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people”.

What does that mean for you and your SEO strategy?

Well, if you’ve followed our content creation recommendations then you’ve nothing to fear. Our first recommendation has always been to write for humans, not robots.

What Google is trying to avoid is having low-quality content ranking at the top of Google.

Instead of aggregated content, they’re looking for expert-led thought leadership and expertly researched (or peer-reviewed) content.

Rather than ranking websites that cover lots of loosely-related topics, they’ll instead choose to rank websites that have expertise in one area.

Instead of ranking pages that seem like they should be about a subject (because of the way the title has been written), but actually been only loosely related, they’ll rank another website instead.

Consider it an extension of their “Your Money, Your Life” requirements that Google established with E-A-T (What is E-A-T?) and the Medic Update.

What is “Your Money, Your Life”?

Your Money, Your Life” is a categorisation of search queries that relate to the searcher entrusting either their money or their life into the pages that ranked at the top of Google.

Google, looking to distance itself from “Google always says you have cancer” accusations and inadvertently ranking, and therefore, advertising “medical professionals” who held no medical credentials.

Google is looking to improve customer satisfaction:

Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?

Every person who searches on Google is a customer. When searchers are checking multiple pages in the search results — or they’re having to fine-tune their query to get the answer they’re looking for — then Google’s algorithm has failed the searcher.

This enhancement of the algorithm to focus on people-first, knowledge-first content should help to improve searcher satisfaction.

Do you need to change the way you create content?

If you’re following our guidance and Google’s too then, no, you shouldn’t need to change anything.

If every piece of content you create starts with the question “What would I want to read as the searcher?“, you shouldn’t need to change your content creation process.

If you haven’t yet created a standardised process for content creation, then we highly recommend reading through our guidelines, written to match our award-winning client campaigns:

  1. Conduct Keyword Research
  2. Prioritise Your Content
  3. Check out Competitors
  4. Identify The Target Audience
  5. Create An Outline
  6. Write Your Content
  7. Optimise the Metadata
  8. Add Images, Videos and Resources
  9. Backlinking and Internal Linking
  10. Update and Optimise Your Content

You can read through each step of the process in this post: How to Create Content that Ranks Top of Google.

For further analysis of the “Helpful Content Update”, including whether Google is looking to penalise automated/artificial intelligence-written content, please read through our blog post: Everything We Know about the Helpful Content Update (So Far)

May 2022 Broad Core Update

Google confirmed their May 2022 core update had begun to roll out. The update finished rolling out on 9th June 2022.

What is a Google broad core update? These broad core updates make significant and broad changes to Google’s algorithms.

Core updates can affect your Google ranking – for better or for worse. If you’ve seen a sudden drop in traffic around this time, check out our guide on what to do if your Google ranking drops.

March 2022 Product Algorithm Update

On 23rd March 2022, Google announced via their Search Central blog that they’d be making changes to the way Search ranks product reviews, prioritising detailed reviews with evidence of the products being tested and used.

February 2022 Page Experience Update

On 22nd February 2022, Google announced that the page experience update had begun to be rolled out across desktop search results, with an expected competition of March 2022. This page experience update was originally announced November 4th 2021 and aims to offer users high quality search results.

A header image for the 2022 section of the Google algorithm history. The text reads "2021" and has Google's search robot logo as well as a ninja

2021 Algorithm Updates

December 2021 Product Review Update

On 2st December 2021, the Google Search Central Twitter account announced that the product review update has begun to be rolled out for English-language pages. They shared a blog explaining how to improve the product reviews on your site.

This included

  • Providing evidence such as visuals (images or video), audio, or other links of your experience with the product to support the expertise and authenticity of your review.
  • Including links to multiple sellers to give the reader the option to purchase from their merchant of choice, rather than all the links pointing to one site, for example, Amazon.

November 2021 Broad Core Update

On 17th November 2021, Google Search Central announced that they would be releasing a board core update later that day. Google Search Central directed webmasters to their, “What site owners should know about Google’s core updates” blog. This update was completed on 30th November 2021.

Screenshot of a Google Search Central Tweet from November 2021

November 2021 Google Spam Update

On 3rd November 2021, Google Search Liaison shared a tweet announcing that a spam update had been released, and encouraged sites to follow their best practices for Search.

July 2021 Google Link Spam Algorithm Update

On July 26th 2021, Google announced that an update to how they process links was being rolled out in an effort to combat link spam. In their announcement blog they stated that,

“Web creators nowadays have many ways to monetize their websites and blogs. Some of these methods lead to the creation of outbound links that, if overdone and not annotated correctly, could violate our quality guidelines.”

This covers both inbound and outbound links.

July 2021 Core Update

On July 1st, 2021, Google Search Liaison announced that the July core update was being rolled out. They also shared a blog about how and why they update Search. This core update was completed on 12th July 2021.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from July 2021

June 2021 Spam Update

On June 23rd, 2021, Google Search Liaison announced they had released a spam update. They shared a video about spam websites, types of online scams and how Google protects their users from threats. They also linked to a blog explaining how Google fought spam in 2020.

The first part of this update went live on June 23rd, and the second part on June 28th.

Screenshot of a Google Search Central Tweet from June 2021

June 2021 Page Experience Update

On June 15th, 2021, Google announced that they had begun to roll out their Page Experience update. This update took several page experience signals into consideration, including Core Web Vitals.

June 2021 Known Victims Protection Update

In a post on the Google Keyword blog, Google announced that they would be updating search to better protect people from harassment. They wanted to explain how they balance maximising access to information while also protecting people from online harassment.

They expanded on this, stating,

“Once someone has requested a removal from one site with predatory practices, we will automatically apply ranking protections to help prevent content from other similar low quality sites appearing in search results for people’s names. We’re also looking to expand these protections further, as part of our ongoing work in this space.”

June 2021 Broad Core Algorithm Update

On 2nd June 2021, Google Search Liaison announced the June 2021 Core Update, and shared a link to a guide for website owners about core updates.

April 2021 Product Reviews Update

On April 8th, 2021, Google’s initial product review update went live, with the goal of promoting, “product reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products.” The April 8th rollout only impacted English language reviews.

February 2021 Passage Ranking Update

Announced on 11th February 2021, this update was made to help small sections of long-form articles rank. Google staff described the update as internal, and expanded by saying, “It’s just us getting better at more granularly understanding the content of a page, and being able to score different parts of a page independently.”

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from February 2021

A header image for the 2022 section of the Google algorithm history. The text reads "2020" and has Google's search robot logo as well as a ninja

2020 Algorithm Updates

December 2020 Core Update

On 3rd December, 2020, Google confirmed the rollout of the December 2020 Core Update, and linked to their webmaster blog post.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from December 2020

May 2020 Core Update

Google Search Liaison announced a broad core algorithm update on May 4th 2020, which launched the same day. They also linked to their webmaster blog post.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from December 2020

January 2020 Featured Snippet Deduplication Update

Google announced that pages which had the featured snippet position would not be repeated in page one listings as an ordinary result.

A tweet by Danny Sullivan

According to a tweet by Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, the change works as follows,

“If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat the listing in the search results. This declutters the results & helps users locate relevant information more easily. Featured snippets count as one of the ten web page listings we show.”

January 2020 Core Update

On January 13th 2020, Google announced that a broad core algorithm update was planned to launch that day. They also linked to their webmaster blog post.

A header image for the 2022 section of the Google algorithm history. The text reads "2019" and has Google's search robot logo as well as a ninja

2019 Algorithm Updates

December 2019 BERT Worldwide Update

On 9th December 2019, Google announced that the BERT update had been rolled out worldwide.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from December 2019

October 2019 BERT Update

On October 25th, 2019, Google announced the BERT update. This update would impact many site owners, as it would make changes to how Google understands search queries. BERT models, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, helping Google understand how the words in a search query work together. As Google put it,

“BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.”

September 2019 Broad Core Algorithm Update

On 24th September, 2019, Google announced that a broad core algorithm update was planned to launch that day. They also linked to their webmaster blog post.

June 2019 Core Update

On 24th September, 2019, Google confirmed that a broad core algorithm update was launched.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from June 2019

March 2019 Core Update

On 13th March, 2019, Google confirmed that a broad core algorithm update was launched.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from June 2019

A header image for the 2022 section of the Google algorithm history. The text reads "2018" and has Google's search robot logo as well as a ninja

2018 Algorithm Updates

August 2018 Broad Core Algorithm Update (The Medic Update)

On August 1st, 2018, Google confirmed a broad core algorithm update. This update appeared to impact the health and wellness sector, earning it the nickname of the Medic update.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from August 2018

April 2018 Broad Core Algorithm Update

On April 16th, 2018, Google confirmed a broad core algorithm update, and also linked to a tweet about the March broad core update, indicating that it may have a similar impact.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from April 2018

March 2018 Broad Core Algorithm Update

On 12th Match 2018, Google confirmed a broad core algorithm update that had taken place the week before.

Screenshot of a Google Search Liaison Tweet from March 2018

A header image for the 2022 section of the Google algorithm history. The text reads "2017" and has Google's search robot logo as well as a ninja

2017 Algorithm Updates

March 2017 Fred Update

The Google “Fred” update targeted low quality results. These pages were ones with limited content and lots of ads. Many affiliate sites were affected during this time, and sites lost up to 90% of their traffic in some cases.

January 2017 Intrusive Interstitials Update

This update was announced in August 2016, and rolled out in January 2017, with the goal of reducing intrusive interstitials and pop-ups that were damaging the user search experience on mobile devices.

Other Notable Historic Google Algorithm Updates

2015

The Google RankBrain Update

Google’s RankBrain update was rolled out in spring 2015, but wasn’t officially confirmed until October 26th, 2018. This update allowed Google to use machine learning to identify the intent behind a search.

The Google Mobile Update

On April 21, 2015, Google released their mobile-friendly update, which aimed to provide mobile users with more mobile friendly sites, rather than desktop sites squashed onto a phone screen. This meant that mobile friendly sites got a mobile search ranking boost.

2014

The HTTPS/SSL Update

Google began giving a small ranking boost to websites with HTTPS/SSL security set up on their site.

The Google Pigeon Update

The Pigeon update was launched in July 2014, with the goal of improving local search. They enhanced ranking signals on Google Search and Google Maps.

2013

The Google Hummingbird Update

At a press event in September 2013, Google announced the Hummingbird search update, which was designed to better handle complex search queries. It also helped set the foundations for voice searches, which would be more conversational in nature, such as, “where is my nearest fuel station?” rather than typing “fuel station lincoln” into search.

2012

The Google Pirate Update

The Google pirate update aimed to crack down on pirated content ranking highly on their search results.

The Google Penguin Update

The Google Penguin update was officially announced in 2012, and was known as the “webspam algorithm update”. The goal of this update was to combat targeted link spam and manipulative link building practices.

The Google Venice Update

The Google Venice update paved the way for location search, using the searchers IP address to return search results local to them.

2011

The Google Panda Update

The Panda update, released in February 2011, is often thought of as the update that changed modern SEO. It aimed to filter out low-quality pages, and reward high quality pages.

Google is making updates regularly, and luckily today’s updates are on a smaller, more managed scale than older updates. Rather than changing the entire algorithm like they did in the past, Google makes smaller changes that may have a small impact on your traffic and ranking, but won’t have business altering effects.

What to Read Next

 


This blog post was first published on July 5th, 2022. It was updated on August 19th, 2022 by Dale Davies.

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About the Author
Jess Percival
Jess is a Digital Marketer here at Exposure Ninja. She splits her time between social, video and blogging with some live streaming and gaming on...

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