A Timeline of Google Algorithms and Their Impact

April 18, 2020


Google Search started with an aim to display relevant results to a user’s query, to help a user find what they want on the ever-expanding Internet. 

PageRank was the first Google Search algorithm that measured the importance of website pages. 

According to Google:

“PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.”

Another important factor that determined a webpage’s importance was the frequency and location of keywords. The more people knew the inner workings of the Google Search algorithm, the easier it became to try to manipulate it using unethical methods (also called “black-hat SEO” techniques). Some black-hat methods included the use of keyword stuffing (“stuffing” a page with keywords unnaturally, not to help the reader but simply to manipulate Search rankings), invisible text (keywords disguised by coloring them the same as the background of the page) etc.

Since 2002, Google has been updating its Algorithm to combat black-hat SEO techniques and better help users find what they are searching for.

Florida, 2003

The first major algorithm update took place in November that penalized websites using spammy tactics like keyword stuffing, PBN, invisible text, hidden links. The timing compounded its impact as many websites lost their rankings just weeks before the lucrative holiday season. 

Jagger, 2005

Targeting low-quality links, paid links, websites with duplicate content across multiple domains. It rolled out in three stages, from September to November, with the most impact occurring in October.

Big Daddy, 2005

Google began rolling out its Big Daddy update gradually from December 2005 all the way to March 2006 targeting technical SEO issues like URL canonicalization & site redirects (301/302).

Vince, 2009

To provide quality and relevant results, Vince made a change in competitive keywords to favor first-page ranking for brands as opposed to affiliate marketers, spammers. A brand is typically built over time, mentioned by name in news and media, and has a clean inbound link profile.

Caffeine, 2009

To increase fresher results. Google’s new web indexing system sped up crawling and storing data, thereby integrating indexation and ranking in near real-time. Caffeine update was made live in June 2010.

MayDay, 2010

This was done to assess the best match for long-tail queries, and websites with large amounts of thin content were the hardest hit.

Panda, 2011

The Panda update basically ended the content farm business model. Panda assigns a quality score to web pages, which is then used for ranking purposes. Thus, webpage with duplicate, plagiarized or thin content and keyword stuffing will eventually be buried. Launched initially as a filter, it underwent many iterative updates until it was finally incorporated into the official Google algorithm in 2016.

Freshness, 2011

Impacting 35% of searches, Google’s algorithm update delivered fresher search results (current topics, recent events).

Page Layout, 2012

Google targeted websites with too much ad-space “above the fold”, where a user had to scroll down the page to see the actual content. This is good for user interface.

Venice, 2012

Google began including localized organic search results, based on searcher’s location or IP address.

Penguin, 2012

The Penguin update down-ranked websites with keyword stuffing, unnatural over-optimised anchor text. Google informed that this update would impact an estimated 3.1% of English queries.

Pirate, 2012

Google announced that it would penalize websites with repeat, copyright infringements, possibly via DMCA takedown requests.

Exact Match Domain, 2012

Update to remove low-quality exact-match domains from top results.

PayDay Loan, 2013

PayDay Loan update targeted spammy results associated with industries such as loans, casinos, porn and pharmaceuticals.

Hummingbird, 2013

Hummingbird was a major update to display the most relevant results for complex queries. Google could now provide in-depth answers based on user intent.

Pigeon, 2014

Increase accurate local listings in search results. This was quite beneficial for users and local businesses.

Mobile-Friendly, 2015

Good, mobile-friendly websites rank better in search results. Google Search Console provides a mobile-friendly test, where you enter your URL and it shows you which aspects of your page’s mobile version can be improved further.

Phantom, 2015

The Phantom update targeted low quality, clickbait articles and pages with too many ads. 

RankBrain, 2015

Part of Google’s overall search algorithm, Rankbrain uses machine learning-based intelligence to process results that will give the best results to the users. This is most useful for new search queries which are 15% of all searches.

Possum, 2016

The Possum update started ranking businesses closer to your physical location higher in local search results.

Intrusive Interstitials, 2017

Google provided a 5-month warning in advance that its upcoming update would start targeting pages with aggressive pop-up ads as they are “intrusive” and hurt user experience on mobile devices.

Fred, 2017

Once again Google’s update targeted low-value content which is thin or ad-heavy. Pages with high-quality information and relevant content were safe.

Maccabees, 2017

Google’s update to improve relevance as it pertains to on-page and off-page signals. Normal e-commerce sites did not lose a lot of ranking but affiliate sites were the most hit.

BERT, 2019

BERT algorithm uses artificial intelligence techniques to better understand nuances in search context and user intent. Rolled out in 70 international languages, it impacts Search rankings & featured snippets. Google said this will be used in 10% of English searches.

Wrap Up

Although there is always a possibility of your website losing rank after a Google update, the main purpose of these updates has been to halt black-hat tactics, allow searchers access to more relevant results and to keep up with technological changes like mobile usage, voice search etc. The best way for businesses is to play by the rules and have a long term strategy in place to build their digital presence. Your number one goal should be to provide value to users with your content and then optimise it for search engines.

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