Over time, Google consistently changes and updates its algorithm intending to provide accurate, faster, and relevant search results to its users.
But what is a Google Algorithm? Why is it important to keep updated with algorithm changes for your website?
This post will explain what Google algorithms are, why Google continuously updates and changes its algorithms, and what you can do to keep your website up to date with all Google’s updates.
What is Google algorithm?
To better understand how Google’s algorithms work, let’s look at the definition of the algorithm first.
Essentially, an algorithm is a specific set of directions or processes to follow to solve a problem or accomplish a task.
One practical example of an algorithm is a recipe. When preparing a dish, you can’t mix the ingredients all at the same time.
To know which ingredient comes first, and which ones are added at a later time, the recipe has specific instructions on how the dish is prepared.
The same goes for Google’s algorithms. Google search’s algorithm complex system retrieves information from its search index, assembles, and delivers the best possible and relevant query result in an instant.
For instance, when you type “coffee shops in Manila” or “chewy chocolate chip cookies” in the search bar, Google will provide millions of results for you to choose from. Now, how did Google come up with search results for you? How did Google find and choose which result to show you?
A Google algorithm will look for, rank, and return the most relevant pages for your search query.
To get a clear picture of how Google search works, watch this YouTube video from Google.
Why Google keeps updating its algorithms
Since Google began, they knew the extreme importance of providing better and more accurate results for search users. In the early years, Google would only update a few of its algorithms.
As time went on, updates became more frequent and often unannounced. This is because Google wanted to provide higher quality, relevant search results and prevent users from manipulating the system.
Google algorithm updates
As mentioned, Google makes hundreds of algorithm updates and changes every year. Some minor updates were unannounced, but the majority of core algorithm changes were rolled out in a manner that webmasters and SEO experts notice them significantly, especially in their site audits.
Here’s our list of noteworthy Google algorithm updates over the last decade, including a summary of what were the updates for.
We have also included an infographic of Google’s algorithm updates and its history for your quick reference:
Launched in February 2009, it was named after one of Google’s engineers in admiration of his effort to this algorithm update. Big brands and government sites have largely benefited from this update as Google favors and ranks them first in SERP (Search Engine Results Page). It focuses on the trustworthiness of the websites.
While Google claims Vince isn’t a major algorithm update, it has impacted many small and medium businesses, in the sense that they need to build their brand to establish trust between the search engine and their audiences.
Google initially released its preview in August 2009, but it wasn’t until June 2010 when it was fully rolled out. This update significantly gave Google a boost in speed, accuracy, and index size by 50% in web search results.
The Caffeine update was made in response to the growing number of content on the web, including news, images, and videos. As content becomes more complex, Google has to adapt to the ever-changing behavior of its users.
In February 2011, Google launched Panda (a.k.a. Farmer) as its first core algorithm update. It works as a search filter, weeding out websites with “content farm” business models and with an excessive ad-content ratio.
“Content farm” or “content mill” is a website or company that creates tons of content that are mass-produced, which compromises the quality of content as a result. Google penalized websites with thin, duplicate, or low-quality content by ranking them low in the search results.
Google slowly continues to integrate and roll out updates for the Panda algorithm. To date, MOZ tracked 28 Panda updates in total between 2011 and 2015.
Venice was released in February 2012 by Google, in response to local organic searches where users search for products or services nearby. This update allows your search results to show local listings based on your physical location or your IP address.
Small local brands and businesses have largely benefited from this update as they can rank for short-tailed keywords. At the same time, small businesses with local intent can compete with bigger brands using keywords with high search volumes.
Google loves to reward high-quality sites and penalize “black-hat webspam” sites at the same time. When Google rolled out Penguin in April 2012, its goal is to downrank websites that do keyword stuffing and buy spammy links.
Websites that employ “black-hat” techniques desperately wanted to get higher traffic or search result rankings. However, Google always aims to provide an excellent experience and fulfill the in-depth, accurate information needs of its users. As a result, it was reported that this update affected an estimate of 3.1% in English searches.
Google took the copyright infringement issue seriously, and so the Pirate or DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Google algorithm update was released in August 2012. They started taking down sites with repeat copyright violations requests and had a copyright removal notice from the owner.
Sites with pirated content like videos, music, and movies and have a high number of copyright violation notices began to appear lower in search results.
This was not a simple core update. Hummingbird was a significant core update as it’s a complete overhaul of Google’s algorithm.
Google wanted to provide more precise search results as users began utilizing voice search. Google began using semantic search to do the heavy lifting in creating and understanding its user query intent. Its initial roll out was in August 2013.
Launched in August 2014, Pigeon aims to strengthen the connection between local and core algorithms. Google modified its local search results’ accuracy by using more conventional site ranking signals to it.
This update helped many local businesses improve their ranking in search results and reach their audiences better.
Mobile update or mobilegeddon was rolled out in April 2015, as Google aims to reward mobile-friendly websites. Google recognizes that people use mobile phones, and so it began adapting its search technology to its users.
Tagged as the third most important ranking factor, RankBrain was launched in October 2015. Google revealed its addition of machine learning and artificial intelligence in its system to provide more relevant search results.
RankBrain is a ranking algorithm added to Hummingbird’s search algorithm. It aims to better predict what users are searching for and process faster results.
Possum was one of the unconfirmed Google algorithm updates. However, when it was launched in September 2016, the local SEO community noticed a change in the local pack results.
According to Search Engine Land, Possum has particularly impacted ranking in the 3-pack and local results or Google Maps results. As a result, many businesses have seen a significant increase in their local ranking.
Another unconfirmed but major Google algorithm update, Fred was rolled out in March 2017. This update was aimed at sites with low-quality content and only focus on revenue instead of its users.
The majority of marketers noticed its impact on sites with aggressive ad placements, spammy content, negative user experiences, or utilizes shady black-hat tactics. Google also targeted other websites who have violated the Webmaster Quality Guidelines as well.
Google launched Project Owl to target fake news, offensive or misleading content sites, and upsetting search suggestions. Launched in April 2017, this Google algorithm update aims to improve search quality by emphasizing authoritative content.
To address problematic content, Google utilized data from “quality raters” who responded to its feedback forms to better identify offensive and inaccurate results.
Another unannounced Google algorithm update but with massive impact, Medic was rolled out in August 2018. This update significantly affected health, wellness, and medical websites, and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) pages.
In a survey done by Barry Schwartz, Google penalized pages and websites in the medical, health, and fitness spaces that make medical claims or provide health advice without authority, expertise, and trust.
Google emphasized that there was no “fix” for pages or sites that were penalized, other than to continue creating high-value content.
BERT is another major Google algorithm update that focuses on the NLP (Natural Language Processing). Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers was launched in October 2019, and its focus is to better understand users who make longer or conversational queries. It was internationally rolled out in December 2019.
Google announced that BERT is the “biggest change of the last five years”, one that would “impact one in ten searches.” It officially impacts featured snippets and 10% of search queries.
Similar to BERT model, MUM (Multitask Unified Model) aims to handle complex tasks for its user queries. Rolled out in May 2021, MUM lets you get comprehensive results with your search because it can read, understand, and learn languages.
When ytu search, Google will provide search results that aren’t just limited to texts and images, but also videos and audios relevant to your query. John Mueller said it best, “MUM can understand things with a fined-grained level of detail.”
Page Experience Update
Launched in June 2021, this update focuses on user browser experience. Google’s Page Experience Report tool provides accurate data of your website. This tool checks your website’s mobile usability, security issues, HTTPS usage, ad experience, and core web vitals.
With this update, Google rewards sites with better UX/UI design with better SERPs (search results page rankings).
With Google algorithms constant updates, it’s a challenge to keep up with them. There are more minor and unannounced updates that I have not included in this list. Instead, I’ve listed all algorithm updates and changes that impacted us and our clients since 2010.
You don’t have to keep abreast of every algorithm update Google has. This post is meant to make you aware of how the Google search system is changing, and what you can do to stay in the loop.
By doing this, you will know how to optimize your website and pages. At the same time, you will have a better understanding of how to decide on the most effective strategies for your business.