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17 Google algorithm updates everyone should know

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Every year, Google updates its algorithms hundreds and even thousands of times. Most changes are so small that they go unnoticed, however, a few times a year there’s an update so huge it makes the news and forces SEOs to adjust. In this article, you can read about the biggest Google algorithm updates over the years, learn how they work and what they meant for the internet and find out what to do if your site was penalized by Google.


Date: February 24, 2011

Hazards: Sites with thin, low-quality or plagiarized content and articles that use keyword stuffing.

How it works: Panda was the first major Google algorithm update since Caffeine and its goal was to prevent pages with spammy, plagiarized or otherwise low-quality content from ranking highly in search results. After the update, Google started evaluating all the pages for quality, just like a real person would do in their brain, and assigning a quality score. This score factors in heavily when the algorithm determines what the page’s ranking should be in search results.

What to do if you were hit: The only thing you can do if your website has been penalized under Panda is to remove all the low-quality and non-original content from your site and fill it with original, high-quality articles.


Page Layout Algorithm

Date: January 19, 2012

Hazards: Websites with too many ads above the fold.

How it works: This algorithm update targets websites that have too many ads above the fold, forcing site visitors to scroll down the page before they could see any content.

What to do if you were hit: Redesign the website to have fewer ads above the fold.



Date: February 27, 2012

How it works: With this algorithm change, Google started taking location into consideration for organic search results.

How to adjust: To increase the likelihood of your website ranking highly on Google, create local landing pages on your site, add location keywords to page titles and meta description data, include other localized content on website pages and create unique content for each location instead of using one template and changing the location.



Date: April 24, 2012

Hazards: Spammy or bad backlinks.

How it works: This algorithm update targets websites that have a bad backlink profile, for instance, sites that have lots of irrelevant backlinks or links with over-optimized anchor text. Penguin put an end to a lot of blackhat link building techniques.

What to do if you were hit: If you suspect that your website has been affected by the Penguin update, you should conduct an audit of your site’s backlink profile and remove all the unnatural, spammy links from the list using Google’s Disavow Tool.



Date: August 10, 2012

Hazards: Websites that contain pirated content.

How it works: This algo update had only one goal – exclude websites that infringe on copyrights and violate the DMCA from the SERPs. If Google receives a copyright removal notice from the owner of the content, the website that provides that content illegally is removed from search engine results. This filter goes through regular updates that may penalize sites that were safe before.

What to do if you were hit: If your website received a penalty under the Pirate update, you should remove all the pirated and illegally copied content from your site to get a chance at recovery.


EMD (Exact Match Domain)

Date: September 18, 2012

Hazards: Low-quality exact match domain websites.

How it works: This Google algorithm update aimed to target websites with exact match domains that didn’t provide much value to the user because of their thin content and poor website quality.

What to do if you were hit: Google stated that the best way to adjust to this update if your website was affected by it is to improve the quality of the website and its content, increase the amount of content on the site regularly and remove spammy links.


Payday loan

Date: June 11, 2013

Hazards: Spammy search queries and spammy websites.

How it works: This Google algorithm update aimed to clean up search results for websites and queries in traditionally spammy fields, such as gambling, emergency loans, porn, insurance, mortgages, etc. This created some peculiar search results, for instance, when people searched “online casino”, a Wikipedia page about online casinos appeared in the #1 spot.

What to do if you were hit: Avoid using grey and blackhat SEO tactics and instead focus on creating a high-quality website on your topic.



Date: September 26, 2013

Hazards: Websites that focused heavily on keywords instead of trying to understand and capture search intent.

How it works: This algorithm update completely revolutionized SEO, as, after Hummingbird, Google started to show results that match what the user meant to say with the query instead of simply showing results that matched the keywords in the query.

What to do if you were hit: To improve your site’s rankings in the post-hummingbird world, try tailoring your site’s pages to better suit the users’ needs by using long-tail keywords and phrases and conversational queries.



Date: July 24, 2014

Hazards: None.

How it works: This update aimed to help local brick-and-mortar businesses show up higher in search results instead of being outranked by more popular or larger brands. After this update, Google started placing more emphasis on the distance from the searcher to the business.

What to do if you were hit: This update doesn’t penalize websites, but if you want your site to rank higher in local searches, consider adding geo-specific keywords to your pages.



Date: August 6, 2014

Hazards: HTTP websites that don’t have an SSL 2048-bit key certificate.

How it works: Under this update, Google has started ranking HTTPS websites higher than unencrypted HTTP sites.

What to do if you were hit: Getting your website encrypted and adding an SSL 2048-bit key certificate to your site can help recover from this penalty.



Date: April 21, 2015

Hazards: Websites that don’t have a mobile version.

How it works: This update was very straightforward – websites that didn’t have a mobile-friendly version were impacted negatively in searches that were done from mobile devices, which caused them to lose positions in search rankings.

What to do if you were hit: Google places a huge emphasis on mobile friendly website versions, which is why it’s important to create one for your site and make sure that it works quickly and smoothly.



Date: Rolled out in spring 2015, announced on October 26, 2015

How it works: The aim of this algorithm update was to build on Hummingbird and use machine learning to help Google better understand what the searcher is trying to find when he enters the search phrase. Initially, the new algorithm was applied only to queries that Google has never seen before, which made up about 15% of all searches but then its use was expanded to all searches on Google.

How to optimize your site for Rankbrain: There’re no specific things you can do to optimize your site for this algorithm. Instead, you should optimize it for the user, which, in turn, will result in better performance with Rankbrain.



Date: September 1, 2016

Hazards: Businesses that have duplicate listings, similar businesses located at the same address.

How it works: Possum algorithm update was the first significant Google algo change for local listings in years. Among other things, this update started to include businesses located slightly outside of city limits in search results for that city. Plus, it began excluding similar businesses located at the same address from search results, as well as businesses owned by the same company.

What to do if you were hit: There aren’t many things you can do to improve your website’s SERPs under the Possum algo, but double-checking information about your business for accuracy, creating new citations, getting more reviews for your business on Google and making sure there are no duplicate listings can help.


Intrusive Interstitials Update

Date: January 10, 2017

Hazards: Websites that use intrusive interstitials, especially in mobile versions.

How it works: This update penalizes websites that use intrusive interstitials (such as pop-up ads) which diminish user experience. This includes ads that appear when the page is opened or when the user scrolls down and ads that prevent the user from viewing the content of the page until they close the ad.

What to do if you were hit: If you were penalized by this algorithm, you should remove all intrusive interstitials and stick to non-intrusive ads on your site.



Date: March 8, 2017

Hazards: Websites that focus on revenue and don’t provide much value.

How it works: Unconfirmed by Google, this update has been a source of a lot of controversy in the SEO world. Specialists theorize that this update targets websites that exist only to bring in revenue to their owners and don’t provide much quality content to the users. This includes sites that are filled with affiliate links and ads and pages with content that’s created only to promote a product, service or company instead of providing fresh, useful and unique information.

What to do if you were hit: If you suspect that your website is being penalized by Fred, you should reorganize your ad strategy, remove excessive ads from your site, add original and informative content, optimize your site pages for mobile users and completely revamp the worst performing pages on your website.



Date: July 9, 2018

Hazards: Slow mobile websites.

How it works: After this algorithm update, speed became a ranking factor for mobile websites, although Google claims that only the slowest websites are penalized.

What to do if you were hit: Optimizing your website to increase its speed is the best way to avoid a penalty from Google or recover after you’ve been affected.



Date: October 22, 2019

Hazards: Low-quality text that lacks context, focus and detail.

How it works: The BERT update uses natural language processing to help the algorithm understand human speech better. This latest update has resulted in a significant improvement in search result quality. Today, Google understands what the searcher is actually looking for better than ever and can find pages that perfectly match the search intent.

What to do if you were hit: Google algorithms have become smarter than ever. This is why the only way to avoid penalties is to write original, high-quality content for your site, tailoring it to your reader’s needs and exceeding those needs.


Frequently asked questions about Google algorithm updates

How does the Google search algorithm work?

Ever since its launch, Google’s core mechanism has remained the same: when you enter a keyword or phrase into the search bar, Google finds websites that contain these keywords and evaluates them based on hundreds of factors. As a result, these pages are assigned a quality score and ranked accordingly.

What is a Google algorithm update?

A Google broad core algorithm update is a search algorithm change that affects SERP rankings of a significant number of websites.

How often does Google SEO update?

In recent years, the number of updates Google goes through every year has been growing. As of 2020, there are multiple minor Google updates every day and about 3 major updates every year.

Why does Google change their algorithm?

Google’s mission is to organize all the content on the internet, make it easy for people to find what they are looking for and deliver the best answers to its users. This is why Google has been changing its algorithm continuously throughout its history: it improves search results for users and pushes webmasters to create better websites and content.

Who wrote the Google search algorithm?

Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote the initial Google algorithm and it was later significantly rewritten by Amit Singhal.

How many types of Google algorithms are there?

There are five main types of Google algorithms (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, and Fred), although there are many other significant Google algo updates that you can read about in this article.

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