What is the Google Algorithm?
Google’s search algorithm is a complicated system, which they use to rank domains on their search engine based on the user’s query. Along with this algorithm, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors to rank a domain to its SERPs. SEO experts in the industries claim that each year, Google releases thousands of algorithm updates to refine their search results in order to address to user’s queries. If you are a website owner or an SEO person with a curiosity about everything search marketing, this post about Google’s biggest, most impactful & latest search algorithm updates over the years is worth your time. Sit back and read through our timeline of Google algorithm updates
Major Google Algorithm Updates:
December 2020 Core Update
Launch Date: 3 Dec 2020
On 3 Dec 2020, Google officially announced the release of December 2020 broad core algorithm update. This is the third update in 2020. The previous updates were May 2020 and January 2020 update.
Read more about Google December 2020 core update
May 2020 Core Update
Launch Date: 4 May 2020
On 4 May 2020, Google officially announced the release of May broad core algorithm update. The May 2020 core update anticipates that it will bring out the most relevant, latest, and local content while searching for information.
Read more about Google May 2020 core update
January 2020 Core Update
Launch Date: 13 January 2020
On 13 January 2020, Google officially announced the release of a January broad core algorithm update. Google announced the January 2020 Core Update after a lot of rumours and chatters surfaced with regards to fluctuations in ranking signals.
January Core Update confused in content. It states that more frequent and fresh content would stand a better chance of ranking higher on SERPs as compared to old content.
Read more about Google January 2020 core update
November 2019 Update
Launch Date: 7 November 2019
On 7 November 2019, Google released the November 2019 update which majorly affected domains like Health and maintenance, Food, Travel, Lifestyle and YMYL domains. Post Google’s November update, many webmasters noticed a 40% drop in ranking for their websites. Google claimed that this update is not niche or industry-specific.
SEO experts stated that the search algorithm update that caused it was an aggressive one and comparisons were made with the Penguin Update of 2012. But as usual, Google says you don’t have to fix anything.
Read more about Google November 2019 update
Launch Date: 25 October 2019
On 25 October 2019, Google released one of the most important updates in recent times. This update is called BERT Update. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
BERT identifies sentences or phrases within web page content, which, although missing individual search keywords, are more relevant to the search query. BERT utilizes Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand search terms better. NLP understands and analyzes how we interact as humans in terms of terminology. This way, BERT gets a better grasp of content searched by the user. It is important to note that BERT analyses search queries and not web pages.
Read more about Google BERT Update
Read – How to Optimize for BERT
September 2019 Update
Launch Date: 24 Septmber 2019
On 24 September 2019, Google’s Liaison Danny Sullivan tweeted that Google would be releasing a new broad core algorithm update which is called as September Broad Core Update. Google did not provide many details about this broad core update
Read more about Google September 2019 Broad Core update
June 2019 Core Update
Launch Date: 3-8 June 2019
On June 2, Google’s Liaison Danny Sullivan tweeted that Google would be releasing a new broad core algorithm update on June 3 which is called as June Core Update. June Core update focused on E.A.T SEO. EAT SEO Stands for Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness SEO.
Google said that there wouldn’t be any specific ‘fix’ as such once the June 2019 core update runs. One would need to prepare to die (close down the website) if they tried to manipulate the user, link sentiments or the quality of the site to gain good search rankings.
Read more about June 2019 Core Update
Launch Date: 8 March 2017
Google’s Fred was brought out in March 2017 to target sites that featured sub-par and obviously-thin content for the only purpose of generating ad or affiliate revenue. The name was the idea of Google Webmaster and Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, who joked that any unnamed Google algorithm update would from then on be known as ‘Fred’. The search engine is usually quiet about its algorithm changes and Fred was no different. A study of the after-effects of Fred’s launch showed that low-quality blogs were its number one target.
Google’s aim here was to highlight how serious they were about content quality and relevancy. With Fred, the message was clear – if a site’s content was mediocre in the slightest, its rankings would be hurt. Google makes two to three changes to its algorithm every single day and the name Fred was used as a way to identify any updates centered around content and thus search quality.
Google Fred recovery steps include going through Google Webmaster Guidelines to improve your site’s chances of being crawled and indexed by the search engine. Carrying ads is not a crime as long as you are not trying to fool Google into thinking a page is about something else when it actually is just an ads page. Instead, provide good-quality, relevant and useful information on such ad pages, making ad revenue generation only a secondary goal. Having more content and fewer ads is also a great idea to navigate this update.
Launch Date: 1 September 2016
September 2016 saw the release of the Possum Google algorithm update in which local businesses were given priority over others. However, if you shared an address with competitors or businesses that have similar offerings, your rankings or chances of being featured in SERPs could suffer. The closer a user is to your location, the higher the probability that they will know you operate in that area. The most interesting part about Possum is that search phrases which are very similar will generate different results and what one user sees will be different from others.
For Google Possum recovery, you must track your search rankings from specific, relevant geo-locations. Also try and include close variations of the same search query and diversify your keyword coverage strategy by doing a deep-dive into locally relevant search terms. Make sure that the same, consistent address is specified across all business directories and places on the web.
Launch Date: 26 October 2015
RankBrain was rolled out in October 2015 and is nothing but the extension of the Hummingbird. However, it has been hailed as a prominent Google algorithm update as it is the only AI (Artificial Intelligence) add-on that the search engine actually uses to better answer user’s search queries. There are so many different ways a person can ask Google a question and much of it may never have been searched for in that specific way before. Add to this users’ inclination to use voice search and it is crucial that Google learns how to better interpret queries formulated in a conversational and sometimes, colloquial way.
Although Google’s RankBrain was initially used to process around 15% of all the queries that the search engine encountered, it is now used for almost all of them. RankBrain especially helps Google pinpoint what a query means when there is a degree of ambiguity attached to it; it works across all geographical locations. The more never-encountered-before and unique the query, the more this update comes into play. For e.g., if you were to search for ‘MAC’ on Google, you would see a mix of search results that showed information about both the cosmetics giant as well the electronics manufacturer.
Google RankBrain recovery involves taking a look at what your competitors are up to. A deeper understanding of all relevant keywords will help you keep your on-page content all-inclusive, relevant and diverse. Additionally, audit your content to check if it sounds natural and not as though it were authored by a machine. Also, include popular phrases that people would use in conversational language to be on the safer side.
Read more about Google Rankbrain update
Mobile Speed Update
Launch Date: 21 April 2015
The Mobile Speed Google algorithm update or Mobilegeddon was introduced in April 2015. It aimed to place pages that were optimized for mobile devices and loaded quickly on them above those that did not meet these criteria. This was Google’s answer to the fast increasing number of mobile internet users across the globe. Google’s revenue is largely due to paid ads atop organic results and they intended for people to keep clicking on them courtesy an improved mobile user experience.
The Mobilegeddon was the only update about which Google gave out details so that people had time to understand it and take precautionary measures. Those pages/sites that were not mobile-responsive or took too long to load on mobile devices were bumped down to lower positions on SERPs or excluded altogether.
Google Mobile Speed Update recovery is straightforward – you must pay attention to how your website performs on mobile devices. Using the Google PageSpeed Insights tool will help you test this in a few easy steps. Make sure to have the same version of content on both the desktop and mobile versions of your site.
Launch Date: 24 July 2014
Local search is fast gaining prominence and the Pigeon update, introduced in July 2014, plays a major role in determining website ranking in this regard. It, in fact, helps local and core search algorithms work together to throw locally appropriate search results. While local businesses with a great online presence benefited immensely from it, still others were hit badly, with reports of a 50% fall in rankings in some cases. It also impacted search in Google Maps and deprioritized large, geographically spread out business ventures or chains.
Users experienced better local search results based on nearness or distance factors. Any initial glitches that were seen at the time of launch of the Google algorithm update were corrected in subsequent versions. At first, local, spammy websites tried using exact-match keyword targeting to fool Google but this was soon tracked and tackled successfully, as was visible with the increasing quality of local search results. Now, both Google SERPs and Google Maps have a similar look and feel courtesy of the Pigeon update.
Google Pigeon recovery techniques are simple and would serve any business well. Make sure you are registered in local business directories and are giving out the right contact information online, including your name, phone number and address. Also, check out the Google My Business site to create or clean out your business profile and control what users see when they look for you. Finally, make sure your business/office location is optimised and correct on Google Maps by marking what areas you are operational in, the categories you serve, etc.
Launch Date: 22 August 2013
With the iconic Hummingbird update, Google hoped to read query intent better and provide even more relevant search results. Before the launch of this update, Google would return exactly what you queried without any in-depth information or other helpful resources. This meant that there was a chance that the user would have to visit many sites before finding exactly what they were looking for. Sometimes, they would also have to make more queries to find what they were searching for. For e.g., if you look for ‘Brazil’, Google can now successfully tell if you are searching for the country, the movie or something else.
Introduced in August 2013, the Google algorithm update relied on the user’s search history, synonyms and LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords, and natural or conversational language processing to get a better grip on user needs. It was all about understanding how users think and what they expect from Google. One of the major breakthroughs of the Hummingbird was that pages that carried highly relevant information for a particular search phrase/query could still hope to rank well for keywords that they were not an exact match for.
Google Hummingbird recovery steps include broadening your horizons regarding keyword research and targeting not just obvious search terms but also synonyms, LSI keywords and long-tail queries that include who-what-where-how-why questions. The Google Keyword Planner is of huge help in this department. Also, explain a topic as best as you can while including all relevant information that you can think of in a structured way.
Read more about Google Hummingbird update
Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update
Launch Date: 28 September 2012
In September 2012, the EMD or Exact Match Domain Google update was released. As the name suggests, it was built to target those sites that had an exact-match keyword in their domain name. However, this was not the only criterion for a site’s ranking to take a hit – it also had to be of low authority, engaging in questionable link-building tactics and have thin content that was not a value-add to users.
What is interesting to note here is that high-quality, useful EMD sites, if hit by the EMD update, recovered due to the nature of the content they carried. The EMD update was launched in retaliation to grey-hat SEO techniques that saw webmasters buy domains with exact-match keywords in their domain names, throw in some poor-quality links and content and rank well on Google’s SERPs. The EMD update was run at regular intervals to distinguish between spammy EMD sites and EMD sites that were genuine and helpful.
The first and foremost Google EMD recovery measure includes making sure that your site content is something users would actually want to read and feel satisfied after reading. If you are yet to buy a domain name, try avoiding the ones with exact-match keywords in them. Another easy solution is to add filler words prior to or following your exact-match keyword inside the domain name.
Launch Date: 24 April 2012
The landmark Penguin update is believed to have had origins similar to its predecessor, the Panda, having been named after one of its principal architects. It was introduced in April 2012 by the initial name ‘webspam algorithm update’. It was aimed at reducing the instances of spammy backlinks that were of low-quality and manipulative. Many even consider it to be an extension of the Panda update as it attempted to categorise the various links that websites were garnering.
Penguin helped the search engine prioritise websites which were linked to by high-authority, trusted sites based solely on merit. When the Google algorithm update first came out, it was estimated that around 3% of websites that featured on Google were affected. Although many versions of it have been rolled out over the years, webmasters who had resorted to spammy backlinking techniques saw either a partial or full dip in rankings and site traffic.
For Google Penguin recovery, webmasters and publishers must stop buying or getting links from sites that have been created for this purpose alone. The same applies for links from sites that are not within your domain or relevant to you. Your focus must be the quality of the links and not how many of them you get. Additionally, always be aware of what sites are linking to you and use the Google Disavow Tool to get rid of suspicious, unnatural links to your site. Keeping a mixed bag of branded, keyword-based and naked anchor text is also important.
Read more about Google Penguin Update
Launch Date: 23 February 2011
Panda was said to have been named after a key Google engineer, Biswanath Panda, who helped develop it. It was another Google algorithm update that rocked the world of internet search when it was introduced in February 2011. It, however, did not officially become part of the search engine’s algorithm until 2016. It was created to address the issue of content farms and the prevalence of sub-par content on various sites. This meant that the search results populated by Google were not very useful either, leading to user outcry. The Panda aimed to single out thin, duplicated, spun content and promote original and impactful content like in-depth analysis, research, etc.
It has been reported that during the initial development phase of this algorithm, participating human raters of quality were presented with various test documents and told to grade them based on certain parameters. They were asked many questions, including if a site was authoritative, would they trust it with their bank details, etc. They then combined the machine ranking signals with inputs provided by these human volunteers to find a middle ground/wholesome ranking system and improve the quality of their search rankings.
Google Panda recovery methods include deleting duplicate pages, avoiding targeting the same set of keywords with more than one page, making sure all your pages have optimum-quantity, genuine content which speaks about the page without stuffing keywords in it. Staying away from readymade content manufacturers and making extra sure that your content is not plagiarised are crucial to your site’s success too.
Read more about Google Panda update
Launch Date: 16 November 2003
Florida was one of the earliest Google updates to dramatically change the way SEO professionals worked. It was introduced in November 2003, allowing Google to come down hard on commercial sites that used questionable and spammy methods to get ahead on Google’s SERPs. This included techniques like keyword stuffing in on-page content, the presence of more than one site under the same brand name, text that was invisible and concealed links. Commercial sites suffered the most, while keywords like ‘jewellery’, ‘hotels’, ‘clothing’, etc. seemed to have been hit the worst. But what one must always remember is that Google does not simply pick on specific industries and works towards tackling fraudulent optimisation techniques instead.
While some sites’ search rankings dipped due to the Florida update, many others saw a surprising boost in SERP spots. This confirmed that SEO or online search for that matter is a zero-sum game where there are both winners and losers, i.e. where one website loses a top spot in Google’s SERPs, another will take its place. Although nobody knows for sure, many were of the opinion that this update was named so as it targeted Florida-based commercial establishments and their affiliate network.
Florida was the planned end to late-90s grey and black hat SEO techniques, heralding a new age of cleaner methods instead. Although it felt like a hurricane had destroyed everything in its wake, Google Florida recovery measures were far simpler than originally imagined. Most webmasters shifted focus to creating great-quality sites and amazing user experience. They also took control and stopped depending on affiliate networks to draw in most of their revenue.
So far, Google has been a 100% successful in reinventing search while both predicting and catering to user behaviour. SEO is not a one-time exercise – it requires you to think on your feet while staying well-informed of the newest Google algorithm updates and other search marketing trends. If you like this post and want us to cover even more useful digital marketing topics, leave us a comment and come back for more!
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