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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. Some of the larger & more impactful updates are in bold.

Year by Year Index

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

2003

Florida Update: November 16th ... this is 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

  • Nofollow launched: January 18th ... Google would later shift the purpose of this tag from fighting blog comment spam to something which should be required on any paid links
  • Search personalization: June 28th ... 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.

2007

Universal Search: May 16th ... Google mixes in 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.

2008

Google Suggest: August 25th ... this 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 

Vince Update: February 20th ... this is where we started the whole "brand, brand, brand" stuff. note 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.

2010 

Google Instant: September 8th ... made 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

  • Panda Update 1.0: Feb. 24, 2011, impacts 12% of queries, US & English only.
  • Panda Update 2.0: April 11, 2011 (about 7 weeks later) impacted about 2% of queries, incorporated user block signal, hit eHow & was rolled out internationally in the English language.
  • Panda Update 2.1: May 10, 2011 (about 4 weeks later)
  • Panda Update 2.2: June 16, 2011 (about 5 weeks later) allegedly improved scraper detection (though Google has still asked for help on this front)
  • Panda Update 2.3: July 23, 2011 (about 5 weeks later)
  • Panda Update 2.4: August 12, 2011 (about 3 weeks later) rolled out to foreign languages with the exception of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. impacted 6% to 9% of search queries.
    • 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 24th: (about 2 weeks later) not an official update, but a number of folks here that were using the subdomain work-around for a few weeks to a month or so saw their sites whacked on the 24th.
  • Panda Update 2.5: September 28, 2011 (about 10 weeks since August 12 update)
  • Panda 2.6/3.0: November 18th, 2011
  • Panda 3.1: December 13th & Panda 3.2 December 19th (smaller/minor updates)

2012

2013

  • Panda 24 January 22
  • Image Search interface update January 23
  • Panda 25 is out & Google says they are unlikely to confirm or announce any further Panda updates. March 15
  • Panda 25.1 (not announced, but likely started between May 5th & 7th)
  • May: Phantom/Quality update 1
  • Penguin 4 / 2.0 May 22nd, impacts 2.3% of queries
  • Spammy Query Update June 11th
  • Unnamed Authority Boosts: on June 26th & July 1st, Google dialed up the weighting on some signals aligned with domain authority (or, conversely, they dialed down the weighting they place on raw matching relevancy). On July 9th they dialed it back slightly.
  • Panda 26 July 16 - 18...allegedly more granular
  • Mobile searches as direct visits somewhat fixed: on July 29th/30th Google started showing a lot of mobile searches as keyword (not provided) where they were showing up as direct website visits in the past ... this was the leading edge of a multi-month campaign of Google's where they hid about an additional 1% daily of search traffic...driving the not provided percent from under half to about 90% in about 2 months (the included chart below is slightly lagging).
  • Unannounced update: August 21st/22nd
  • Hummingbird: extension of Google's scrape-n-displace efforts...apparently started around August 26th or perhaps September 4th (though rolling out in phases).
  • Wave of manual link penalties: September 3rd/4th
  • Penguin 2.1 October 4th
  • unnannouced Panda refresh December 17th

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.
  • ...

 

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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