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Google Search Algorithm Changes 2003 – 2019 [Updated]

Google Search Algorithm Changes 2003 – 2019 [Updated]

Google has come a long way since its inception in 1998. While its appearance has changed a lot over the years, the purpose of the universally-recognized search engine has remained the same: to help users find the information they’re looking for. To do that, Google has had to make multitudes of updates (and continue to do so, pretty much every day) to their algorithm so they can sift through websites and content more efficiently and provide searchers the most useful and relevant results. From an SEO standpoint, it’s useful to monitor how Google changes their ranking signals with each new update.

Here are some of the major Google algorithm updates.

June 2019 Core Update (June 3, 2019)

Announced by Danny Sullivan of Google’s Search Liaison

Broad changes to core algorithm is released. After the roll out there has been two high authority websites, The Daily Mail and CCN.com, that reported lost traffic and rankings. Google’s guidance on Core Algorithm Updates was authored by Danny Sullivan to consider 4 areas of content for web publishers: 1. Content and quality questions, 2. Expertise questions, 3. Presentation and production questions and 4. Comparative questions.

March 2019 Core Update / Florida 2 (March 12, 2019)

Confirmed by Danny Sullivan of Google’s Search Liaison

Release of a global broad core algorithm update. Broad core updates are overall upgrades to Google’s algorithm to better understand search queries and user intent. 

Valentine’s Day Update (February 13, 2019)

Unconfirmed

In early February, WebmasterWorld forum members noted changes to SERPs in the UK, and then in the U.S and other parts of the world closer to Valentine’s Day. Effects of the update varied, but most SEO specialists agree that the update targeted content quality and user intent, as most updates in the past year did.

Halloween Update (October 31, 2018)

Unconfirmed

WebmasterWorld forum members discussed changes to rankings of long-tail keywords and other SERP changes in October, but there was little evidence of any significant updates. Some hypothesize the ranking changes were caused by Google’s increasing usage of its Neural Matching algorithm.

A “Small” Update (September 27, 2018)

Confirmed by Danny Sullivan of Google’s Search Liason 

Significant changes in website traffic were reported by SEO specialists on September 27, Google’s 20th birthday. Website owners noticed both spikes and drops in traffic.

Unnamed Broad Core Algorithm Update (August 1, 2018)

Confirmed by Google Search Liason

This update has been nicknamed “Medic” by some web specialists as it was believed to have targeted health, medical and YMYL (Your Money Your Life) sites. Google said on Twitter that it was a general algorithm update. Websites owners saw their rankings drop, but Google confirmed that the shifts in rankings were not caused by low quality sites, but changes in relevance as they continue to better understand user’s search intent. 

Broad Core Algorithm Update (April 16, 2018)

Confirmed by Google Search Liaison.

On April 16, Google announced another broad core algorithm update that focussed on content relevance. 

Broad Core Algorithm Update (March 9, 2018)

Confirmed by Google Search Liaison.

On March 9, Google launched a broad core algorithm update and later confirmed it on Twitter on March 12. The update focused on improving query relevance. Websites who experienced drops in rankings were not necessarily low quality, but losing relevance to their users, said Google’s John Mueller. 

Maccabees (Fred) Update (December 12, 2017)

Confirmed by Danny Sullivan of Google’s Search Liaison.

Website owners reported changes to search result rankings between December 12 to 14. Google confirmed they had made minor adjustments to the core algorithm during this time. In a Search Engine Roundtable post, Barry Swartz gathered and reviewed over 100 sites that were hit by the update and found a pattern with landing pages that had heavy amounts of keyword permutations. 

Fall Flux (September 8, 2017)

Unconfirmed

SERP volatility and changes in traffic were reported on September 18, 25, 29 and October 4, 8, and 12 by Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive. Google has not confirmed any updates during this time.

Quality Update (August 19, 2017)

Unconfirmed

Between August 19 to 20, webmasters noticed swings with SEO visibility and traffic, though Google has not confirmed any updates. In a post by G-Squared Interactive president Glenn Gabe, websites with aggressive advertising, thin content and other low quality user experience elements were the most common sites to take a hit to their rankings during this update. 


June 25 Update (June 25, 2017)

Unconfirmed

SEO tracking tools reported significant fluctuations in page rankings on this date. Significant shifts in rankings were detected between positions 6-10, according to an analysis by RankRanger.

Quality Update (May 17, 2017)

Unconfirmed

SEO tracking tools detected shifts in SERP rankings from May 17 until May 24. Glenn Gabe of GSQi cited distracting advertisements and low quality content as common factors that websites that suffered during this update showed. 

Fred – Major Update (March 7, 2017)

Confirmed by Gary Illyes on March 24.

Fred encompassed multiple algorithm updates that were not confirmed until March 24. Google has not released any further details about Fred but the general consensus is that these algorithm changes targeted low-quality content meant to generate revenue. The name “Fred” was coined jokingly by Gary Illyes as a blanket term for any unnamed, unannounced algorithm update that Google released. 

Intrusive Interstitials Update (January 10, 2017)

Confirmed by Google on August 23, 2017

Google announced an update in August 2016 that would devalue pages with aggressive interstitials (pop-ups) for mobile devices. The update rolled out on January 10, 2017.

Penguin Update 4.0 & Core Algorithm Integration (September 23, 2016)

Confirmed by Google

The Penguin algorithm, which was formerly a standalone algorithm, was integrated into Google’s core algorithm on this date. This meant that pages affected by Penguin would now be refreshed at the same rate as Google’s main algorithm. Penguin was also updated to devalue site page with spammy links versus affecting the rank of the entire website. 

Mobilegeddon Update (May 12, 2016)

Confirmed by Google 

Google announced on May 12 that it would be “increasing the effect of the ranking signal to help [their] users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly” for its Mobile-Friendly Update (a.k.a Mobilegeddon). This update only affected search rankings on mobile devices, and only applies to individual pages, not entire websites. 

RankBrain — Major Update (October 26, 2015)

Confirmed by Google in October 2015 via Bloomberg article

RankBrain is a live, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that sorts Google’s search results to show the most useful links to users. It went live in April 2015 but wasn’t confirmed until October of the same year. RankBrain has been cited as one of the top 3 ranking signals, alongside content and links. 

Panda Update 4.2 (#28) (July 17, 2015)

Confirmed by Google

This was the final, confirmed Panda update. On this date, Google announced a Panda refresh would take a few months to roll out. 

Quality Update (Phantom Update) (May 3, 2015)

Mentioned by Google’s Gary Illyes during SMX Sydney 2015

Another update to Google’s core algorithm took place on this date. Websites with thin content, distracting ads, clickbait content and other quality issues lost visibility from this update. 

Mobile-Friendly Update — Major Update (April 21, 2015)

Confirmed by Google

The Mobile-Friendly Update boosts mobile search rankings for pages that are optimized and easy-to-use on mobile devices. Although Google has stated that other ranking signals like relevant, high quality content are still taken into consideration, websites that had readable text without zooming and avoid horizontal scrolling experienced an improvement in rankings. 

Penguin Update 3.0 (October 17, 2014)

Unconfirmed

A data refresh of Google’s Penguin algorithm took place on this date.

Panda Update 4.1 (#27) (September 23, 2014)

Confirmed by Google’s Pierre Far 

This update to the Panda algorithm added “a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely.” 

Pigeon Update — Major Update (July 24, 2014)

Confirmed by Google to Search Engine Land

Pigeon was a large-scale algorithm update that improved Google’s local search capacities. The purpose of Pigeon, a name coined by Search Engine Land, was to provide more local and relevant results based on the user’s location. Pigeon is commonly cited as one of the most influential 

Payday Loan Update 3.0 (June 12, 2014)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

Google’s Payday Loan algorithm was updated on this date. The algorithm “targets spammy queries” including the payday loan, casino and insurance industries. 

Panda Update 4.0 (#26) (May 20, 2014)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

A major Panda update took place on this date that impacted 7.5% of English search queries.

Payday Loan Update 2.0 (May 16, 2014)

Confirmed 

An update to Google’s Payday Loans algorithm occurred on this day to better target spammy websites. This update focused on links and CPC keywords.

Page Layout Refresh (February 6, 2014)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

Google released a refresh of the page layout algorithm and updated its index. Cutts didn’t mention the impact on search results this update would have on sites. 

Penguin Update 2.1 (October 4, 2013)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

The first Penguin algorithm data refresh took place on this date. Data from Search Engine Journal suggests that the data refresh also advanced on how deep Penguin looked into a website for spammy links. 

Hummingbird Update — Major Update (September 26, 2013)

Confirmed by Google at an anniversary event

Unlike Panda or Penguin, which were add-ons to Google’s algorithm, Hummingbird was a complete overhaul to Google’s core algorithm that sought to understand more complex queries. The three key search areas that Hummingbird worked on were conversational search (searches using more natural language), human search (Google worked on synonyms and theme-related topics) and voice search from tools such as Siri. Hummingbird worked on the semantics of different queries to better understand user intent. This update affected a whopping 90% of all search queries!

Payday Loan Update — Major Update (June 11, 2013)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

The Google Payday Loans algorithm was a major update that targeted spammy queries in payday loans, casino, mortgage and other shady industries. It affected about 0.3% of U.S queries. 

Penguin Update 2.0 (May 22, 2013)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

This was a significant update to Penguin’s algorithm that looked deeper into a website for evidence of link spam. It impacted around 2.3 percent of English searches.

Panda Update (#25) (March 14, 2013)

Unconfirmed

Search engine ranking tools detected an update roughly around this date. 

Pirate (August 2012)

Confirmed by Google 

The purpose of Google Pirate was to decrease visibility and derank sites with copyright infringement issues. The main victims of this update were well-known torrent sites with pirated movies, music and other content. 

Panda Update (#24) (January 22, 2013)

Confirmed by Google 

A Panda data refresh occurred on this date, impacting roughly 1.2 percent of English queries.

Panda Update (#23) (December 21, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Google announced a Panda data refresh impacting around 1.3% of English queries.

Panda Update (#22) (November 21, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

A Panda data refresh impacting 0.8 percent of English queries occurred on this date. 

Panda Update (#21) (November 5, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Google confirmed a Panda data refresh impacting around 0.4 percent of worldwide queries worldwide and  around 1.1 percent of U.S. searches.

Page Layout Update #2 (October 9, 2012)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts.

This Page Layout algorithm update impacted 0.7 percent of English queries and gave an opportunity for websites hit by the first Page Layout algorithm to recover.

Penguin Update 1.2 (October 5, 2012)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

On this date, the second Penguin algorithm data refresh occurred. It affected 0.3 percent of English queries.

Exact Match Domain Update (September 28, 2012)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

This algorithm update targeted low-quality and spammy exact match domains appearing at the top of SERPs. The purpose of the update was to devalue exact match domains with thin or duplicate content. Exact match domains (EMD) are domain names that match a user’s exact query (ex. If someone searches for “vancouver dentist” the EMD would be “vancouverdentist.com”) 

Panda Update (#20) (September 27, 2012)

Unconfirmed

A large update to the Panda algorithm took place on this date that affected around 2.4 percent of English queries. A new naming convention for Panda refreshes was also established. 

Panda Update 3.9.2 (#19) (September 18, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

A Panda data refresh occurred on this date affecting less than 0.7 percent of search queries. Google also mentioned to “expect some flux over the next few days.”

Panda Update 3.9.1 (#18) (August 20, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Another Panda data refresh impacting  around 1 percent of search queries occurred on this date. A new naming system was also assigned to Panda updates. 

Panda Update 3.9 (#17) (July 24, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Panda data refresh affecting around 1 percent of queries.

Panda Update 3.8 (#16) (June 25, 2012)

Confirmed by Google 

Google announced a Panda data refresh impacting around 1 percent of queries worldwide.

Panda Update 3.7 (#15) (June 8, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Google confirmed a data refresh of the Panda algorithm occured on this date, affecting around 1 percent of queries but ranking tools indicate it was larger than other Panda updates. 

Penguin Update 1.1 (May 26, 2012)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

Cutts announced a data refresh of the Penguin algorithm, affecting less than 0.1 percent of English searches. Websites that hadn’t been caught by Penguin the first time around took a hit. Websites who suffered from the first Penguin update and made efforts to improve their sites saw their rankings improve this time around. 

Panda Update 3.6 (#14) (April 27, 2012)

Confirmed by Google 

Another data refresh of the Panda algorithm occurred on this date.

Penguin (Originally “webspam algorithm update”) — Major Update (April 24, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Initially referred to as the “webspam algorithm update,” Penguin was a large-scale algorithm change targeting websites that were engaging in aggressive, spammy SEO practices such as keyword stuffing, unnatural linking and other black hat techniques. The Penguin update worked towards having authoritative and relevant links reward the websites they pointed to and devaluing low-quality and manipulative links. 

Panda Update 3.5 (#13) (April 19, 2012)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

A data refresh happened on this date, according to Matt Cutts.

Panda Update 3.4 (#12) (March 23, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Another Panda refresh occurred on this date impacting  around 1.6 percent of search queries.

Panda Update 3.3 (#11) (February 27, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

A data refresh of Panda occurred on this date that made it more “accurate and sensitive” to recent changes on the web.

Venice Update (February 27, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

The Venice update included search results that took into account the searcher’s IP address and location and helped Google detect local intent. 

Page Layout Update (January 19, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

The Page Layout update targeted websites with too many ads above the fold, excluding pop up or slide in ads. Websites that forced users to scroll down to see actual content, had to redesign for better UX. 

Panda Update 3.2 (#10) (January 18, 2012)

Confirmed by Google

Another Panda data refresh occurred on this date.

Panda Update 3.1 (#9) (November 18, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

Another Panda data refresh occurred on this date.

Freshness (November 3, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

Google updated their ranking algorithm so SERPs would show more “fresh content” (newer, recent, recurring events) This ranking algorithm change compounded off of Caffeine in reaction to much, much more data and content being produced online. This update impacted 35% of searches.

Panda Update 3.0 (#8) (October 19, 2011)

Unconfirmed

Google added some new signals into the Panda algorithm on this date.

Panda Update 2.5 (#7) (September 28, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

Another update to the Google Panda algorithm occured on this date. 

Panda Update 2.4 (#6) (August 12, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

Google’s Panda algorithm update was rolled out internationally on this date, excluding Japan, China, and Korea.

Panda Update 2.3 (#5) (July 23, 2011)

Unconfirmed

An update to the Panda algorithm occurred on this date.

Panda Update 2.2 (#4) (June 21, 2011)

Unconfirmed

An update to the Panda algorithm occurred on this date.

Panda Update 2.1 (#3) (May 9, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

A data refresh to the Panda algorithm occured on this date. 

Panda Update 2.0 (#2) (April 11, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

The first iteration to Panda’s algorithm occured on this date. Google added additional signals to the algorithm.

Panda Update — Major Update (February 23, 2011)

Confirmed by Google

Panda was a major algorithmic update that affected 12 percent of queries. It rewarded high quality content from websites and penalized thin content. It essentially brought down the content farm business model. In 2011, Google’s Michael Wyszomierski described low quality sites as “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful” and high quality sites as “sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Mayday Update (April 28 – May 3, 2010)

Unconfirmed

The Mayday Update looked at deeper page content and which results matched long tail SEO keywords. Internal linking became more important as a result of this update to create hierarchy in a website. 

Caffeine — Major Update (August 10, 2009)

Confirmed by Google

Caffeine was a revolutionary new indexing system that let Googlebots crawl and index faster and more efficiently across the web. The new index system resulted in 50 percent fresher results. Google updated their index system to accommodate the influx of new content and data being produced on the web. 

Vince (January 18, 2009)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

Vince was an update that improved first page rankings for big brand domains and other well-known, authoritative sites for competitive keyword terms. Smaller, less authoritative websites or affiliate sites that had high rankings purely through SEO saw their rankings drop during Vince. 

Big Daddy  (December 15, 2005)

Confirmed by Google’s Matt Cutts

Big Daddy was a slow update to Google infrastructure that took on technical issues like URL canonicalization, redirects and improving the overall quality of SERPs. 

Jagger: (Jagger 1, Jagger 2, and Jagger 3)  (September, 1 2005)

Confirmed by Google

The Jagger update rolled out between September and November 2005 and updated Google’s algorithm in a number of ways. It targeted thin and duplicate content, backlink spam, unnatural/paid links and cloaking. There were numerous factors Jagger addressed and many in the SEO community credit Jagger as laying the foundation for future SEO best practices.

Google Florida (November 16, 2003)

Confirmed by Google

Florida was the first major algorithm change in Google history. It downgraded sites with spammy, affiliate links, and keyword stuffing which were common SEO tactics for online retailers at the time.