google algorithm updates
8 min read

With the help of Moz, we explore the most game-changing Google algorithm updates that shook the SEO world.


Google Toolbar — December 1, 2000

On the 11th December 2000 Google announced the launch of the Google Toolbar. This launch meant that users could conduct searches from any web page and within any browser, thus ensuring a competition between webmasters to ensure their websites would appear on top.


Boston — February 1, 2003

The Boston update, named after the city where it was announced, combined algorithm changes and index refreshes each month and signalled the beginning of the “Google Dance”.


Fritz — July 1, 2003

With Fritz, Google started updating the index on a daily basis creating a state of what Matt Cutts has referred to as “everflux”.


Florida — November 1, 2003

Referred to as the first major algorithm update, Florida saw Google clamp down on ‘spammy’ tactics such as keyword stuffing, and put more influence on other signals. This is one of Google’s algorithm updates that made SEO much more interesting!


Brandy — February 1, 2004

It is thought that the main impact of the Brandy update was Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI). Ultimately, this meant that Google was able to understand more semantic language and contextualise content. As part of this update, Google also increased its awareness of anchor text relevance and also link farms.


Nofollow — January 1, 2005

The nofollow attribute was announced in 2005 and was a cooperative move between major search engines although the idea originated from Google. Essentially, it was a way to give site owners more control over links that may have been placed by an external contributor, i.e. in the comments section. For more information about what NoFollow means, check out this article.


Personalized Search — June 1, 2005

In June 2005, Google updated its personalised search functionality. Using data collected from My Search History, the search engine giant was able to, over time, produce search results based on your previous browsing habits. Although this is a useful function for users, it presented challenges for those in the SEO industry. For more information, view this informative article from Search Engine Watch.


Jagger — October 1, 2005

2005 was a busy year for Google with many unconfirmed updates being reported, including Allegra & Gilligan. However, between September & November 2005, Google rolled out the Jagger update with many websites being hit. It is thought that the primary focus of the Jagger update was low quality backlinks, i.e. paid links, reciprocal links, and link farms.


Google Local/Maps — October 1, 2005

In October 2005 Google merged Maps data into the Local Business Centre. This would be the change that would spark the evolution of local SEO. In a press release about the announcement, Google said, “Google Local offers users access to relevant information such as integrated local search results and detailed driving directions, and includes features such as draggable maps, satellite imagery, keyboard shortcuts, and more.”


Big Daddy — December 1, 2005

Big Daddy was rolled out between December 2005 and March 2006. Big Daddy changed the way that Google handled URL canonicalization, redirects (301/302) and other technical issues.


Universal Search — May 1, 2007

In May 2007, Google drastically changed the way that it displayed search results. The search engine now integrated new, video, local, and other verticals into SERPs.


Google Suggest — August 1, 2008

In a long-awaited move, Google launched Google Suggest in August 2008. This feature meant that as you typed your search query into Google, suggestions would automatically appear under where you were typing. This later became Google Instant.


Real-time Search – December 1, 2009

In late 2009, Google launched real-time updates. Essentially, real-time updates from the likes of Twitter, Google News, etc. started to show on a real-time feed in the SERPs. At the time, Danny Sullivan wrote, “In other words, if Google thinks something has some real-time component to it, then it will show the section. In particular, if Google sees a spike in information on a certain topic, along with queries on a particular topic, then it assumes there’s a real time situation happening — very simplified!”


Google Places — April 1, 2010

Put simply, Google Places was a rebrand of the Local Business Centre, which was launched the previous year. As part of this rebrand, Google added a number of features, including new local advertising options.


May Day — May 1, 2010

Matt Cutts announced the May Day algorithm change in May 2010 with the target being websites with large-scale thin content. The May Day update foreshadowed the renowned Panda update and meant that webmasters had to shift their focus onto quality long-tail content, cue the cry of “content is king!”


Caffeine (Rollout) — June 1, 2010

Caffeine was an internal change to Google’s index which boosted Google’s raw speed and also integrated crawling and indexation much more tightly, resulting in (according to Google) a 50% fresher index. Find out more here.


Social Signals – December 1, 2010

In December 2010, Google and Bing announced that social signals would be a ranking factor. Some believe that there is a correlation between the amount of people you follow, the amount of followers you have, and also the amount of engagement you receive and rankings.


Attribution Update – January 28, 2011

In a move that is considered to be a precursor to the Panda updates that would follow, Google announced an update that was aimed to stop scrapers.


Panda — February 23, 2011      

The Panda algorithm reportedly affected up to 12% of search results. Panda targeted websites with thin content, content farms, and a number of other quality issues. A large-scale rollout followed lasting until April 2011. — June 2, 2011

Another collaborative effort between Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft saw the search engines giants announce support for a consolidated approach to structured data. New “schemas” were also introduced and many believed this to be a move towards even richer search results. For webmasters, the benefits of structured data include putting focus on key information for search engines to display.


Freshness Update – November 3rd, 2011

The Freshness Update truly lived up to its name. The update affected time-sensitive results and signalled a much stronger focus on recent content.


Venice — February 27, 2012

The Venice Update localised organic results on broad search queries. This meant that users were presented with results that Google deemed to be in the vicinity of the search and provided more opportunities for Local SEO.


Penguin — April 24, 2012

In April 2012, Google rolled out the “Webspam Update” which has since become known as “Penguin”. The Penguin update focussed on over-optimisation, penalising tactics including keyword stuffing and low quality backlink profiles.


Knowledge Graph — May 16, 2012

The introduction of the Knowledge Graph signalled a step towards semantic search. Following the addition of the Knowledge Graph to SERPS, Google said, “With the Knowledge Graph, Google can better understand your query, so we can summarize relevant content around that topic, including key facts you’re likely to need for that particular thing.”


“Payday Loan” Update — June 11, 2013

In June 2013, it was announced that Google would rollout a targeted algorithm update that would tackle niches with notoriously spammy websites including payday loans and porn. Google’s focus on quality content and links continued.


Hummingbird — August 20, 2013

Google’s Hummingbird Update signalled a significant change in how Google processes information on websites. Hummingbird was able to understand colloquial, semantic content and provide more relevant results to users accordingly.


Panda 4.0 (#26) — May 19, 2014

Although there had been many Panda updates since it first launched, Panda 4.0 was a major new update that included an algorithm update and a data refresh.


Pigeon — July 24, 2014

Rolled out in July 2014, Google’s Pigeon update aimed to provide more useful and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional search ranking signals.


HTTPS/SSL Update — August 6, 2014

August 2014 saw Google announce that they would be giving preference to secure sites, even going so far as stating that website with encryption enabled would see a slight ranking boost.


Penguin Everflux — December 10, 2014

In December 2014 it was announced that the Penguin update would begin continuous updates rather than infrequent, major updates. This provided more opportunity for webmasters and SEOs to see immediate improvements and, dare we say it, the chance to recover from manual penalties more quickly.


Mobile Update AKA “Mobilegeddon” — April 22, 2015

Google pre-announced an algorithm update in 2014, with April 2015 set to signal the start of “Mobilegeddon”. The update meant that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly websites. It seemed that as user behaviour changed, Google needed to change to reflect it.


RankBrain — October 26, 2015

At some point in 2015, Google announced that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months. In fact, it had been reported to be the 3rd most important ranking factor. Find out more about RankBrain here.


AdWords Shake-up — February 23, 2016

In February 2016, Google removed the old right-hand column for ads and instead started to display four ads about the organic search results. Inevitably this had significant implications on the click-through rates of both the paid search results and organic search results.


“Possum” — September 1, 2016 (unconfirmed)

Although unconfirmed, it is thought that the Possum update of 2016 significantly impacted local search packs. It has been reported that the main purpose of this update was to diversify the local results and also prevent spam from ranking as well.


Penguin 4.0 Announcement — September 23, 2016

SEOs had become suspicious, and in 2016 Google finally announced that Penguin had been updating in real-time and was very much a part of the “core” algorithm. This means that any rankings fluctuate much more frequently.


“Fred” (Unconfirmed) — March 8, 2017

Fred is another unconfirmed update, and largely detected by those in the black-hat community. It is thought that the aim of this update was to further clamp down on low-value content sites that focus on revenue over users.


Maccabees Update – December 20, 2017

Although unconfirmed at the time of writing, it is thought that the Maccabees update was aimed at low-quality affiliate sites, and possibly some ecommerce sites. It has not been a widespread update but had a significant impact on a certain type of website with specific ranking tactics.


To be continued…

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