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Overview of site contents. Includes site map, glossary, and quick start checklist.
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Contains information about keywords, on page SEO, link building, and social interaction.
PPC
Tips on how to buy traffic from search engines.
Tracking
Learn how to track your success with organic SEO and PPC ads. Includes information about web analytics.
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Google Algorithm Updates

There are a number of algorithm update logs available online.

We don't aim to be the most comprehensive, but rather to highlight some of the more important changes in terms of their impact on the field of SEO. The biggest & most impactful updates (like Florida, Panda & Penguin) are bolded.

Current Google SERP volatility is shown in the following widget from SEMrush.

Year by Year Index of Historical Google Updates

2003 2005 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

2003

November 16th: the Florida Update was when SEO first got complex enough to where many people started needing the help of external experts. Before this update one could easily rank well by buying lots of links using the anchor text they wanted to rank for & repeating a keyword on the page. This is the update that introduced nuance into SEO. Google rolled out this huge update while they were still powering Yahoo! Search & before Yahoo! switched to their own in-house search algorithm.

2005

  • January 18th: Nofollow launched to allegedly curtail comment spam. Google would later shift the purpose of this tag from fighting blog comment spam to something which should be required on any paid links. After about 15 years Google later changed their policies stating they may count some nofollow links for rankings as they would treat nofollow as a hint rather than a directive. They also announced rel="ugc" & rel="sponsored" when they announced the change to rel="nofollow" would go into effect on March 1, 2020.
  • June 28th: Search personalization features added so websites you visit regularly may be ranked higher in the search results. Later on Google would further enhance personalization by increasingly localizing the search results, both within a particular country and down to the city level. In 2014 Google even started going more granular like down to the neighborhood level in some larger cities. As online news ad budgets crumbled newspapers became more partisan to maintain audience by feeding a constant drip of confirmation bias to readers. This economic shift in news creation along with social networks that amplified outrage caused the rise of what Eli Pariser's book The Filter Bubble, Donald Trump getting elected as president of the United States, and savvy marketing by DuckDuckGo forced Google to dial back on personalization of the search results outside of localization.

2007

May 16th: Google rolls out Universal Search which mixes YouTube, news & other vertical search types into their core index. Later they add their knowledge graph and a variety of paid-only verticals in areas like hotel search, flight search, financial products, product/shopping search. Some verticals change over time to include free tiers (shopping search, flights search) or are retired (financial offers).

2008

August 25th: Google Suggest auto-completes user search queries after they start typing their search query, which attempts to drive them down well worn paths, further minimizing traffic sent to misspellings and some lesser searched for longtail phrases. 

2009 

February 20th: The Vince Update is where we started the whole "brand, brand, brand" stuff. This happened *after* the financial crisis, when Google's revenue growth stagnated & Google share prices plunged. March of 2009 was the bottom of the stock market plunge, when congress pushed FASB to allow for widespread accounting games by relaxing mark-to-market requirements. By promoting brands Google achieved a number of key objectives:

  • took much of the risk out of result rankings
  • defunded a lot of independent SEO-only or excessively SEO-focused publishing efforts
  • shortened the information supply chain
  • consolidated ad spend back toward Google
  • increased the perceived importance of the search channel (paid and organic) to large brand advertisers
  • increased the awareness of already popular brands & gave them extra incentive to bid on their branded keywords (even though the economics of bidding on their own brand typically did not make sense for advertisers as it cannibalized their organic search clicks & taking advantage of selection effect)
It’s plain to see that junior’s no marketing whiz. Pizzerias do not attract more customers by giving coupons to people already planning to order a quattro stagioni five minutes from now. Economists refer to this as a "selection effect." It is crucial for advertisers to distinguish such a selection effect (people see your ad, but were already going to click, buy, register, or download) from the advertising effect (people see your ad, and that’s why they start clicking, buying, registering, downloading). Tadelis asked how exactly the consultants made this distinction.

When you bid on your own brand, you are frequently paying to capture an audience you would have already reached without spending that money.

Brand keyword advertising, the presentation informed him, was eBay’s most successful advertising method. Somebody googles "eBay" and for a fee, Google places a link to eBay at the top of the search results. ... Three months later, the results were clear: all the traffic that had previously come from paid links was now coming in through ordinary links. Tadelis had been right all along. Annually, eBay was burning a good $20m on ads targeting the keyword ‘eBay’.

Microsoft - which owns the Bing search engine - also did a study showing most brand-bidding on your own brand wastes money.

At Microsoft, Rao had a search engine at his disposal: Bing. Following the news about the millions of dollars eBay had wasted, brand keyword advertising only declined by 10%. The vast majority of businesses proved hell-bent on throwing away their money.

If brand bidding offers such a horrible ROI why do so many advertisers still do it? Largely for job preservation of the internal marketing team and external markeitng consultants. Anyone who looks at the data without understanding selection effect will think the numbers are better than they are. Plus if the consultant gets a percent of spend and has required ROI metrics to meet then ignoring the brand cannibalization makes the numbers look better than they are with little to no effort AND allows them to increase ad spend on other keywords by using the phantom profits to meet an overall ROI goal.

He graciously admitted that he either added or omitted data to his model if it led to the ‘wrong’ results. Lewis: "I was like: oh man. All of that is bad scientific practice, but it’s actually great job preservation practice.

2010 

September 8th: Google Instant turned Google suggest the default search behavior. On July 26, 2017 Google turned off this feature, but in the 7 years it existed it helped consolidate search query volumes into tighter buckets which users still rely on as they type, particularly on mobile devices.

2011

  • February 24th: Panda Update 1.0 impacted 12% of queries, US & English only.
  • April 11th: Panda Update 2.0 (about 7 weeks later) impacted about 2% of queries, incorporated user block signal, hit eHow & was rolled out internationally in the English language.
  • May 10th: Panda Update 2.1 (about 4 weeks later)
  • June 16th: Panda Update 2.2 (about 5 weeks later) allegedly improved scraper detection (though Google has still asked for help on this front)
  • July 23rd: Panda Update 2.3 (about 5 weeks later)
    • Google analytics changes (that further obfuscated some data)
      • July 28th - Google blended image traffic in core search traffic by default. Previously they were seen as separate traffic sources.
      • August 11th - changed session handling, which increased visit counts while offsetting that with lowering time on site metrics, higher bounce rates, and such.
  • August 12th: Panda Update 2.4 (about 3 weeks later) rolled out to foreign languages with the exception of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. impacted 6% to 9% of search queries.
  • August 24th: (about 2 weeks later) not an official update, but a number of folks here that were using the subdomain work-around to get out of Panda saw their sites whacked on the 24th.
  • September 28th: Panda Update 2.5 (about 10 weeks since August 12 update)
  • October 4th: flux on Panda 2.5.1. After publicly complaining about being hit again Daniweb recovered once again (along with some other large sites), showing how responsive Google is to public relations issues.
  • October 13th: Panda 2.5.2
  • October 18th & 19th: Panda 2.5.3
  • November 11th: Panda 2.6/3.0
  • December 13th: Panda 3.1
  • December 19th: a smaller / minor Panda 3.2 update

2012

  • January 16th & 22nd: Panda 3.2, which was claimed to be folding data in rather than an algorithm update
  • January 19th: Ad Heavy Update 
  • March 23rd: Panda 3.4 
  • April 19th: Panda 3.5 
  • April 24th: Penguin update penalized aggressive low-quality link building. They also rolled out an on-page spam classifier to further obfuscate the update. Further, notice how Panda updates were included tightly on either side of this to make the weekly "what changed" SEO services have many changes appear all at once so that it is harder to isolate variables & impacts.
  • April 27th: Panda 3.6 
  • May 16th: Knowledge graph implemented. Google begins to re-represent the world's knowledge by hosting it directly rather than indexing content and sending traffic elsewhere.
  • May 25th: Penguin 2 / 1.1 
  • June 8th: Panda 3.7 
  • June 25th: Panda 3.8 
  • July 17th: Japanese & Korean Panda update
  • July 24th: Panda 3.9 
  • August 20th: Panda 3.91 
  • September 18th: Panda 3.92 
  • September 27th - October 3rd: Panda 4.0 / 20 impacted 2.4% of search queries
  • September 28th & 29th: EMD update lowered the rankings of exact match domain names
  • October 5th: Penguin 3 
  • October 9th: Ad Heavy Update 2 penalized sites with a heavy ad load
  • November 5th: Panda 21 
  • November 17th: Stealth update which hit MetaFilter and a number of other sites. The MetaFilter penalty was allegedly a false positive, but it went uncorrected for over a year, causing mental health issues & forced the founder to step away from the business.
    [Google's Matt] Cutts said, “Oh yeah, I think you’re ensnared in this update. I see a couple weird things. But sit tight, and in a month or two we’ll re-index you and everything will be fine.” Then like an idiot, I made some changes but just waited and waited. I didn’t want to bother him because he’s kind of a famous person to me and I didn’t want to waste his time. At the time Google paid someone to answer his email. Crazy, right? He just got thousands and thousands of messages a day. I kept waiting. For a year and a half, I waited. The revenues kept trickling down. It was this long terrible process, losing half overnight but then also roughly 3% a month for a year and a half after. It got to the point where we couldn’t pay our bills. That’s when I reached out again to Matt Cutts, “Things never got better.” He was like, “What, really? I’m sorry.” He looked into it and was like, “Oh yeah, it never reversed. It should have. You were accidentally put in the bad pile.”
  • November 21st: Panda 22 
  • December 21st: Panda 23 

2013

2014

2015

2016

  • January ~ 8th - 11th: update to the core ranking algorithm
  • Feb 23: Google shifted from showing up to 8 right rail textads & up to 3 top ad units to showing no right rail ads (unless they are shopping ads) and showing up to 4 ad units at the top of the search results. Around the same time Google announced they were shutting down their Google Compare / Google Advisor vertical shopping comparison service which operated in markets like credit cards, mortgage rates and insurance. A couple days later Google added more whitespace between the search results to further push the organic results below the fold.
  • March 3, 14 & 21: adjustments which appear to be related to phantom updates (thus related to search quality / Panda).
  • May 11: mobile friendly update 2.0 now live.
  • June: Phantom/Quality update #4
  • July 26: broad roll out of Google AdWords expanded text ads, which further displace organic results by pushing them below the fold on more devices.
  • September 1st: local update
  • September 2 (ongoing throughout month): likely a quality update, either new singal reweighting or a quite major data refresh. (I believe this was them testing Penguin 4).
  • September 20: Google AMP live in mobile search results in categories beyond news.
  • September 23: Penguin 4.0 live. real-time updates & more granular impacts rather than sitewide hits.

  • November 10 & 18: tested update which was rolled back

2017

2018

  • February 15: Chrome to begin ad blocking on sites it deems to have a poor Ad Experience based on the Coalition for Better Ads standards.
    Chrome will remove all ads from sites that have a “failing” status in the Ad Experience Report for more than 30 days. Assessment of participating companies’ compliance conducted in connection with the Program will be based on measureable, empirical thresholds that establish the frequency of display of ad experiences that do not comply with the Standards. In the initial phase of the Program’s operation, the threshold for non-compliance for web sites will be measured according to the following percentages of page views assessed:
    • 7.5% in the first two months following the Effective Date of the Program
    • 5% in the ensuing four months
    • 2.5% in the months thereafter
  • Early March: Core algo update, focused on search quality. The update was rolled out over time in multiple waves, with significant volatility in the results on the 7th & 14th, followed by another wave of volatility on the 18th & 23rd.
  • March 26: Google began broadly rolling out mobile-first indexing, which uses the mobile version of a page as the canonical version.
  • April 16: Core ranking algo updated once more. Glenn Gabe wrote about how the March & April updates tie together.
  • July 9th: mobile page speed became a ranking factor for search (previously the speed signal was focused on desktop searches)
  • July 24th: pages not using HTTPS are marked "not secure" in Chrome 68.
  • August 1st - 7th: broad core update which had a significant impact on sites in the health category & some other your money your life (YMYL) categories.

  • August 22nd: yet another update
  • September 18th - 20th: elevated volatility
  • September 24th: for their 20th anniversary Google announced improvements to visual search, adding a news feed to the default search homepage, grouping related searches in journeys & more layers to the knowledge graph. Some branded search queries now include classification groups at the bottom of the search results for things like storage companies, computer manufacturers, multinational corporations, etc.
  • September 26th - 27th: elevated volatility
  • October 31 - November 7th: unnamed update

2019

  • February 27: increased volatility shown on multiple rank trackers
  • March 12: Google announced a broad algorithm update, which was significant enough that WebmasterWorld founder Brett Tabke dubbed it Florida 2.0, though it is unrelated to the original Florida update from 2003. So far it appears some sites with eggregious anchor text repetition were hit hard, while the apparent anchor text adjustment also coincided with a rescoring of other search quality-based algorithms. Many sites which were hit on the August 1st update in 2018 recovered according to many of the rank monitoring tools. Google also stated the update was not associated with any major change in their neural matching technology: “Neural matching has been part of our core ranking system for over half-a-year. None of the core updates we have confirmed coincided with some new use of neural matching,” the company said.
  • April 7: Major reverberation on the above Florida 2.0 update. It appears Google is mixing in showing results for related midtail concepts on a core industry search term & they are also in some cases pushing more aggressively on doing internal site-level searches to rank a more relevant internal page for a query where they homepage might have ranked in the past. Google also has some issues with many pages being dropped from their search index.
  • April 27: minor update, perhaps a continuation or rescoring of the above update which began on March 12th.
  • June 3 - 8: another major core update. the Daily Mail's Mail Online lost half their organic search traffic & 90% of their Google news feed traffic
  • June 4 - 6: update to promote increased result diversity by typically limiting the number of results that can appear from any individual domain (inclusive of subdomains) to 2 results in cases where the user intent is not navigational to that particular site
  • July 11-13: unannounced update with a further spike in ranking volatility on the 18th
  • September 10th: Google announced they would treat rel="nofollow" as a hint versus a directive & also launched rel="ugc" for user generated content & rel="sponsored" for links which are based on financial compensation.
  • September 24th: another core update which seemed to have increased weight on link authority relative to the weight placed on engagement for a particular keyword.
  • September 24th: Google announced a new meta tag which limits snippet performance on featured snippets. This will go live in the middle of October & these will operate as directives versus hints.
    • individual options
      • "nosnippet" = if featured snippets can be used
      • "max-snippet:[number]" = how many characters can be shown in a featured
      • "max-video-preview:[number]" = how many seconds of an animation can be shown in a preview
      • "max-image-preview:[setting]" none, standard or large = limit size of preview images shown. This can also be used in AMP.
    • examples
      • <meta name="robots" content="max-snippet:75, max-image-preview:standard, max-video-preview:10">
      • <meta name="robots" content="nosnippet">
    • In addition, there is a new data-nosnippet attribute which can be applied to specific spam, div & section elements within a page to prevent that portion of the page from appearing in search snippets.
      • example usage <p><span data-nosnippet>Peanut butter</span> is the most delicious food. Period.</p>
    • The new granular snippet controls are a core plank in Google's efforts to play hardball with publishers & evade compulsory copyright fees to European news publishers as the Article 15 copyright directive goes into effect in October. Much like how efficient PPC markets have marketers bidding against one another to see who can hand Google more money, French news publishers will either appear with little to no supplemental information (& thus get few search clicks), apply for a broad-based exemption to show full listings, or use the granular controls to set how much of their content appears in search. Those who opt to show more information will likely garner better user engagement, more search traffic, more influence & higher rankings.
  • October 22nd to 25th: Google rolled out BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a Rankbrain like neural network-based technique for natural language processing to better understand the user intent of search queries & rank documents which match the searcher's intent. A before and after example they gave was a person searching for travel information to the United States from Brazil may have previously seen an article about a US person visiting Brazil but will now get the result directionally correct, returning documents about how Brazillians can visit the United States.
    by applying BERT models to both ranking and featured snippets in Search, we’re able to do a much better job helping you find useful information. In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.
    Dawn Anderson did a deep dive review on the technology associated with BERT here. Google's Pandu Nayak described the ranking signal update as "the single biggest change we’ve had in the last five years — and one of the biggest from the beginning."
  • October 30th - November 1 & November 9th: More unannounced updates, including a later confirmed update which used neural matching in local search.
  • December 17th - December 19th: Another unannounced update, which appeared to have increased the weighting on link equity.

2020

  • January 13th: Another broad core update

    When Google rolled out the above update they shifted their default desktop search results to using favicons like they do by default on mobile devices
  • January 22: Google announces de-dupliation between organic search results & the featured snippet. Featured snippets now count as one of ten organic listings & if a page appears in the featured snippet spot it won't be repeated in the remaining organic results.

    Some advertisers saw an immediate jump in thier ad CTR after the new search layout was announced. In response to broader web criticism from sites like TheVerge Google stated they would test other layouts.
  • February 7-8: unannounced update
  • March 1: Link rel="nofollow" attribute becomes a hint versus a directive for ranking purposes.
  • March 2: Update appears to have granularized some cross-country localization

  • March 23: Unnanounced update which either seemed to place more weight on link diversity or lower the dampening on links relative to other ranking signals.
  • May 4: Google update
  • June 3: Google announced they now redirect some featured snippet clicks to the relevant section of the associated web page

    This change could have a significant impact on the earning power of some rankings:
    "With this, searchers may skip down past ads and/or call to actions to jump directly to the relevant content. SEOs should take measures to track if your site is doing this in Google search, and possibly replace your ads/call to actions in a more appropriate location."
    Publishers can opt out of appearing in featured snippets by using the nosnippet tag.
  • ...

2021

  • On May 28, 2020 Google search ecosystem director of engineering Sowmya Subramanian announced Google will incorporate user experience directly into rankings in 2021. The post mentioned...
    • they would give webmasters at least a 6 month lead time before rolling out the new ranking algorithm
    • AMP would no longer be required to appear in Top Stories
    • this update will incorporate existing metrics (mobile friendly design, safe browsing, using HTTPS, no intrustive interstitial ads) along with new metrics from Core Web Vitals measuring loaing speed, interactivity and visual stability, as shown in the following graphic
      Search Page Experience Graphic.
  • ...

Other Algorithm Update Lists

Here are a few third party algorithm update lists & tools...

Search Flux Monitors

These are tools which use a seed set of keywords and compare today's search results against yesterday's results & then compare how much the recent change has been against the typical daily churn.

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