For any SEO, it’s critical to keep up with Google’s new updates to understand traffic patterns in your website as well as best practices. In this list of Google Algorithm Updates, we’ll not only document the seo updates, but the full story of what’s REALLY going on in the trenches including best practices, strategies, and case studies from the community.
Google has a long history of famous algorithm updates, search index changes and refreshes.
Below are links to some of the most important resources for search marketers:
Google Fred is Announced – Mid-March 2017
The Google Fred Update’s main targe was low value content. This was done in an attempt to rank higher without putting in a quality effort.
Google Doing Some Housekeeping – Early February 2017
Google released 2 unnamed but major updates in early February, in just a short span of a week. With no official release announcements, there have been many experts conducting research to quantify what these updates are doing.
Google Penguin 4.0 Announced – Friday September 23 2016
Google Penguin 4 was announced and includes a few pieces. First, it is now a part of the core algorithm and will update in real time. Second, it will be more “granular” or page specific as opposed to affecting the entire domain.
Google Went Crazy September – Early to Mid September 2016
Around Sept 1-2 many tools reported high serp fluctuations, especially in local search. Unfortunately there hasn’t been a lot of data to support what exactly changed. Google’s results started changing again around the 15th, so we are waiting for things to calm down.
Mobile Friendly Boost Update – May 12, 2016
This was another update that gave a slight boost to sites that are mobile friendly within mobile search results. As with the AMP Project, Google seems to be really focused on mobile, but with good reason.
Adwords Change – Feb 23, 2016
Google removes sidebar ads in the search results and adds a 4th ad to the top block.
Ghost Update – Jan 8, 2016
Lots of tools reported changes / serp fluctuations around these dates in early January. Most SEOs expected this to be the new Penguin update, but Google denies this. Google said later on that this was a core algorithm update. There were no reports of huge losses.
Rank Brain Algorithm Change – Announced Oct 26 2015, Went Live Months Before
Google announced a change to it’s algorithm called Rank Brain – Basically Artificial Intelligence learning. There are no new glaring differences in ranking factors however.
Google Zombie Update – Oct 14th / Oct 15th 2015
This wasn’t an official update however many webmasters reported big fluctuations around this time. There was a huge thread at webmaster world about it.
Google Snack Pack / Local 3 Pack – August, 2015
Not an Algorithm change but an important update – Google rolled out a new design for local, getting rid of the normal 7 pack (map) and changing it to a 3 pack. This raised a few different points of discussion as we noted in our article on the 3 pack change here.
Panda 4.2 – July 17, 2015
Google announced a Panda update, not much happened. They said it would take months to roll out.
Google Quality Update – May 3, 2015
This was called a “Phantom 2” update and obviously something happened, but it wasn’t confirmed until after the fact. Google didn’t specify anything except “quality signals” change.
Google Mobilegeddon Mobile Update – April 22, 2015
Google updated it’s algorithm to change the way results are ranked on mobile devices. It gave preference to sites who were mobile friendly and demoted sites who are not mobile friendly / responsive.
Google: Mobile Friendly Update (SEL)
What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Google released this update the impact was less than expected. We created an article with all the information on how to check if your site is affected here: Google Mobile Update
No Name Update – February 4, 2015
There was no official update but many serp tracking tools reported movement.
Penguin 3 – Oct 18, 2014
After a year since the last major penguin update, Penguin 3 started rolling out this past weekend. What was expected to be a brutal release seems to be relatively light in comparison to other updates. According to Google, it affected 1% of US English Queries and this is a multi-week roll out. To give some comparison, the original Penguin update affected >3% (3x) the queries. There are many reports of recoveries for those who had previous penalties, did link remediation / disavow.
Penguin Update Official (Google)
Seems like this update was lighter than expected. Across the sites we track, we haven’t seen much out of the ordinary. Keep in mind that Penguin is traditionally keyword specific and not a site-wide penalty, so take a look at any specific keywords that dropped or pages that dropped and adjust accordingly.
We’ve seen a lot of reports of recovery. Usually if you were hit by a Penguin penalty in the past, you would need to fix / remove / disavow over optimized links and wait for an update. Many webmasters have been waiting this whole year for an update and it finally arrived.
Panda 4.1 – Sep 26, 2014
Panda 4.1 started earlier this week and will continue into next week, affecting 3-5% of queries (which is substantial). According to Google “Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.”
Google Starts De-Inexing Private Blog Networks In Mass – Sep 18, 2014
Although Google has been de-indexing public blog networks publicly for years, we started hearing first reports of de-indexing of private / semi-private networks. Notable articles from NoHat, ViperChill, NichePursuits and others came out with varying opinions on the matter.
What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Some amount of de-indexing is normal, and anyone who has ever run a network of any substantial size knows this. What is not normal is having 50% of your network taken out in one fell swoop.
There isn’t a lot of data about what “footprint” has been caught, but common footprints include using seo hosting, not changing whois info, not using co-citations, and more.
Even if you do things “correctly”, there may not have been a single footprint that makes a site get caught and it could be a combination of factors, including a low website Quality Score.
PBNs are not dead. And if you did things right, or at least pretty close, you shouldn’t see a big change in de-indexing. With that said, times do evolve, SEOs get smarter and we diversify strategies. In the meantime, High PR links still work (Google usually goes after what is currently working).
Google Drops Authorship From Search Results Completely – Aug 28, 2014
After dropping authorship photos from search results, Google completely removed authorship from it’s search results.
SSL Becomes Ranking Factor – Aug 7, 2014
Google says it will give sites using SSL a minor boost in rankings. No one cares because this is going to be such a minor minor minor factor we even feel bad including this as an update here.
Google Pigeon – July 24, 2014
Google updated its local search Algorithm to include more signals from traditional search like knowledge graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more. The language used is vague, but early evidence just shows a significant drop in the amount of “local packs” being used. Search Engine Land just made up the name for this update, not to be confused with one of Google’s previous April fools day jokes. The other feature of this update is that Google is now blending 7 pack rankings with organic factors, meaning that domain authority of the organic site linked to the Google Local page will help 7 pack rankings.
No Photos on Authorship – June 28, 2014
Photos from the author no longer appear in the SERPs for results with authorship markup. Now they just display the author’s name in text format.
Panda 4.0 – May 19, 2014
Latest addition to the panda update family. Sources say this was a softer update and some sites got a boost that were previously hit by this update. We noticed some sites are getting dinged for having on-site over optimization. There has been some discussion that now rankings are taking longer than normal
Payday Loan / High-Spam Searches Update 2.0 — May 16, 2014
Right before Panda 4.0, Google rolled out an update that targets queries that are traditionally spammed (seo-wise). Google claims the update happened around 5/20 and it makes it hard to tell as Panda 4 came out around almost the same time.
No Name Update — March 24, 2014
Lots of rank trackers and data reported heavy fluctuations, but no update was confirmed by Google.
Page Layout #3 — February 6, 2014
A refresh to the page layout Algorithm , originally from Jan 2012 which targets sites that have tons of ads, especially above the fold .
Unnamed Update – January 8th, 2014
An unnamed / unofficial update came out around this time. This was not an official update.
Authorship Change — December 19, 2013
Matt Cutts leaked that authorship markup was going to play less of a part going forward and around Dec 19, we saw a drop off of about 15% over a period of a month.
No Name Update — December 17, 2013
Almost all algo change trackers showed high activity around Dec 17th, although Google did not confirm an update.
No Name Update — November 14, 2013
Reports went out of unusual activity, which appeared along side of reports of widespread DNS errors in Google Webmaster Tools. This was not official and Google did not confirm any updates.
Penguin 2.1 (#5) — October 4, 2013
This does not appear to be a major change to the Penguin Algorithm , just an update.
Hummingbird — August 20, 2013
Google announced the new update on Sep 26 and suggested that “Hummingbird” actually rolled out about a month before around August 20th. Hummingbird is an update that better interprets the way text and queries are typed into Google. There were no widespread reports of penalties like Penguin or Panda.
In-depth Article Update — August 6, 2013
Google is now featuring a new type of content in their search results called “In-depth articles” that is meant for long articles that cover a topic from a-z.
No Name Update — July 26, 2013
Another non-confirmed google update, however there were large spikes in search engine tracking activity.
Expansion of Knowledge Graph — July 19, 2013
Significantly more amounts of Knowledge Graph data started appearing in search results, increasing the appearance to nearly 25% of all searches.
Panda Update (Fine Tuning) — July 18, 2013
A new Panda update that sources reported as being “softer” than others – possibly loosening up the rungs of previous updates. This one rolled out over a 10 day period.
Panda Dance — June 11, 2013
Matt Cutts clarified that Google rolls out Panda updates constantly over a period of about 10 days, almost every month. They also said they are unlikely to announce future Panda updates since they are
Payday Loan / Spam Query Update — June 11, 2013
Google Announced an update to the Algorithm that specifically targets queries that are regularly spammed for seo including payday loans, porn and others.
Penguin 2.0 (#4) — May 22, 2013
Google rolled out Penguin 2.0, the 4th iteration of Penguin affecting 2.3% of English queries. This was an update to the Algorithm , not just a data refresh. This was long awaited since it was ~6 months from the last one.
Domain Crowding / Diversity — May 21, 2013
An update to help increase the amount of diversity in the serps. Previously there were problems where one domain would take up too many spots on the page.
Panda Update 24 — January 22, 2013
Google announced 24th update to panda affecting 1.2 of search queries.
Panda #23 — December 21, 2012
Panda hits right before the holidays. After this Google says they will try to avoid updates around the holidays.
Knowledge Graph Expansion — December 4, 2012
Knowledge graph becomes available on foreign language queries in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, and Italian.
Panda #22 — November 21, 2012
Google confirms Panda refresh 22, affecting 0.8% of queries.
Panda #21 — November 5, 2012
Another Google Panda update about a month and a half after the last update. Reported to have affected 1.1% of English queries.
Page Layout Update #2 — October 9, 2012
An update to the page layout update which affected sites that had too many ads above the fold.
Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update — September 27, 2012
Before this update, it seemed as EMDs were getting a boost. So for instance, if you wanted to rank for “dallasdentist” having dallasdentist.com would be a huge boost. This technique caught on and was pretty widespread in the SEO community, so Google updated it’s Algorithm to reduce the boost that these got. This also plays into the over optimization penalties. Now it’s recommended that you just get brandable / non-keyword rich domains to help avoid over optimization of URLs.
Panda #20 — September 27, 2012
This update came out right along side the EMD update and was pretty big – Affecting 2.4% of queries.
7-Result SERPs — August 14, 2012
Google started displaying only 7 results on the front page for approx 18% of queries.
The Pirate / DMCA Penalty — August 10-13, 2012
Google says they will start penalizing sites that get repeatedly accused of copyright infringement.
Webmaster Tool Link Warnings — July 19, 2012
Another batch of WMT unnatural link warnings went out. The insane thing is that in June, Google said you needed to pay attention to these warnings and your site would probably drop if you ignored them. But now in July, Google says you may be able to ignore them — basically saying the exact opposite. Best thing to do is to just watch your traffic / rankings.
Knowledge Graph — May 16, 2012
Google released some additions to search results – Knowledge graph is intended to do a few things. One is to be able to tell the difference between people, places, and things. The second is bringing answers and summaries directly into the search results so you can quickly get facts or information without actually visiting any sites.
Google Penguin — April 24, 2012
The update that shook the SEO world. Known for aggressively punishing sites using too many exact match anchors, Penguin impacted 3.1% of English queries (big update). Google claimed this affects keyword stuffing, but is mostly associated with off-site factors.
Parked Domain Bug — April 16, 2012
While webmasters reported drops in rankings, Google claimed that there was a bug in the way they classify parked domains.
Venice — February 27, 2012
Big update to the way Old G displays results – Basically now local sites are going to start showing up when you type in queries even without a geo-modifier. For instance, if you type in “attorney” you may get localized results based on your IP. Great News: for Local SEOs and usability in general. Even benign terms like “coffee” bring up local relevant results!
Search + Your World — January 10, 2012
Now if you use Google plus, google will attempt to put in more relevant content into your searches. Things that you’ve shared in the past, pictures from your g+ profile, things your friends have shared will start appearing in your search results in an effort to find the most relevant information. Mostly, Google just loves Google+ and wants to force it on everyone.
Fresher Results Update — November 3, 2011
A change to the Algorithm where Google wants to display fresher results, especially on queries that are time sensitive.
Query Encryption — October 18, 2011
SEOs hated this update because this was the begin of the (not provided) showing up in Analytics. Basically, google started encrypting data when users are signed in for privacy reasons. This makes it much harder to understand where you organic traffic is coming from. Good alternatives include SEMrush and using Webmaster tools (GWMT will tell you some terms you’re ranking for).
Panda “Flux” (Update #8) — October 5, 2011
Matt Cutts tweeted: “expect some Panda-related flux in the next few weeks” and gave a figure of “~2%”. Lots of updates recently on this.
Expanded Sitelinks — August 16, 2011
Google expands the display of sitelinks, making navigating to specific content right from search easier.
Google+ — June 28, 2011
Google launches Google+, a type of Facebook competitor that promises to integrate multiple Google services for a more personalized experience. They differentiate by creating “circles” so you can share differently with different groups of people. They gain lots of users quickly, but it’s launched with negative criticism.
Schema.org — June 2, 2011
A collaboration between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to create structured data. With a home base at http://schema.org, webmasters can now use a standardized markup for all kinds of data
The Google +1 Button — March 30, 2011
Basically a button that’s like a Facebook “like” button – Influences results for people in your circles to help bring trusted content to the top.
Panda Update (Also called Farmer) — February 23, 2011
Big update, the first of it’s kind. This affected up to 12% of search results. Panda targeted “content farms” – huge sites with low quality content, thin affiliate sites without much content, sites with large ad-to-content ratios and on-site over optimization.
Start Using Social Signals — December 2010
Google & Bing confirm they use social signals to influence rankings including Twitter & Facebook
Negative Reviews — December 2010
After a big story broke about how a brand was being pushed up the search results as users complained (and left links to the website), Google updated it’s algo to fix the problem.
Instant Visual Previews — November 2010
Google released an update that allowed you to see a visual preview of a website within the search results. Didn’t last too long.
Google Instant — September 2010
This is an addition to Google suggest where google will display actual results before the query is finished.
Brand Update — August 2010
Google changed to allow some brands / domains to appear multiple times (up to 8+ times) on page one on certain searches.
Google Places — April 2010
The Local Business Center became Google Places. This included all the same features from previous Google Places, but then added in a few additional features like advertising, service area, and more.
Real-time Search — December 2009
Real-time became the real deal. Google News:, new indexed content, twitter feeds, and other sources were pushed together on some SERPs in a real-time feed format. Social media, as well as other sources kept on growing.
Rel-canonical Tag — February 2009
Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft announced their Canonical Tag support campaigns. This allowed canonicalization signals to be sent by webmasters without any effect on human visitors.
Vince — February 2009
This was the major update that many SEOs claim started to support big brands. Even though it was called a “minor change” by Matt Cutts, this update had immense and long lasting repercussions.
Google Suggest — August 2008
Google introduces “Suggest” and makes large changes to the logo/box style homepage. “Suggest” displays suggested searches in a new menu below where the visitor is typing. Later, this would continue to power Google Instant.
Dewey — April 2008
In what seemed like a bigger move in late March/early April, it was suspected that the internal properties of Google were being pressed down. This included Google Books, but actual evidence of this happening is not easily accessible.
Universal Search — May 2007
This algorithm update integrated old school search results with Video, Local, Images, News:, as well as other vertical results. After this, the 10-listing SERP was done for.
False Alarm — December 2006
While Google didn’t actually report any changes, there was quite a fuss in the SEO community about
Supplemental Update — November 2006
2006 was the year of supplemental index changes. This completely changed how the filtering of pages was handled. Even if it seemed like penalization, Google said that supplemental was not intended to be a penalty.
Big Daddy — December 2005
Just like the “Caffeine” update, Big Daddy was intended to update infrastructure. This update came out over the course of 3 months and finished in March. Canonicalization and redirects (301/302) were changed by Big Daddy.
Jagger — October 2005
Aimed at targeting low-quality links, Google unleashed the Jagger series of updates in October. These low-quality links included reciprocal links, paid links, and link farms. This update came out from September-November.
Google Local/Maps — October 2005
Following the launch of the Local Business Center, Google put all of its Maps data into the LBC. Requesting that businesses update their information, this would eventually lead to quite a few changes regarding SEO on the local level.
Gilligan — September 2005
This was originally described as a false update. Google claimed that they had made no big update to the algorithm, but webmasters were seeing changes all over the board. (Matt) Cutts posted a blog saying that the index data updated by Google was done daily, but the Toolbar PR and different metrics were only changed on a quarterly basis.
Personalized Search — June 2005
Personalized search “truly” rolled out with this update. Unlike previous versions where users had to create custom settings on their profiles, the Personalized Search update streamlined it completely. While this started out small, Google would use this along with search history for many applications to come.
XML Sitemaps — June 2005
This update gave webmasters the ability to submit XML sitemaps with Webmaster Tools. This bypassed the old HTML sitemaps and gave SEOs a small influence over the indexation and crawling.
Bourbon — May 2005
Someone under the name “GoogleGuy” posted that Google would be coming out with “something like 3.5 changes in search quality.” What was a 0.5 change going to be?! Webmaster World members thought that Bourbon influenced how duplicate content as well as non-canonical URLs were treated.
Allegra — February 2005
Many webmasters saw ranking changes across the board, but what this update really did wasn’t exactly crystal clear. It was considered that Allegra had some effect on the “sandbox”, but others thought the LSI had been changed. This is about the time when people began feeling like Google was penalizing suspicions looking links.
Nofollow — January 2005
The “nofollow” attribute was enacted to combat spam and control the outbound link quality. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all introduce this at the same time. This update really helped clean up spammy blog comments and unvouched for links without being a traditional algorithm update. This was a significant update when it comes to link graph impact.
Google IPO — August 2004
This definitely was not an algorithm update, but it was a huge event when it comes to Google. 19M shares of Google were sold, it raised $1.67 billion, and the market value was set at just over $20 billion. 4 months later, Google’s share prices would be double that.
Brandy — February 2004
In February, there were quite a few changes that came out. Increased attention to anchor text relevance, Latent Semantic Indexing, and link “neighborhoods” all came into existence. LSI gave Google the increased ability to find synonyms for search terms and boosted keyword analysis.
Austin — January 2004
Austin fixed the problems leftover by Florida. The continued crack-down on tricky on-page tactics, Google included invisible text and META-tag stuffing. There was serious speculation that Google took the “Hilltop” algorithm and used it again, beginning to take page relevance extremely serious.
Florida — November 2003
Here it is. The update that put “SEO” into real play. Numerous sites lost all ranking and there were even more unhappy business owners. Low-value SEO tactics from the late 90s were finally dead. Keyword stuffing was a thing of the past, and the game was getting serious.
Supplemental Index — September 2003
The “Supplemental Index” was introduced so that Google could index more documents without having to hurt performance. This became a hot issue until the index became integrated again.
Fritz — July 2003
The monthly “Google Dance” finally came to an end with the “Fritz” update. Instead of completely overhauling the index on a roughly monthly basis, Google switched to an incremental approach. The index was now changing daily.
With this update, Google changed to an incremental or “bit by bit” approach instead of overhauling everything monthly. The index changed every single day.
Esmerelda — June 2003
This was the last scheduled monthly update from Google. After this, a continuous update process was started. “Google Dance” was replaced with something called “Everflux”. This update definitely had some huge structure changes regarding Google.
Dominic — May 2003
This was one of many of the changes that happened in May, but not necessarily the easiest to describe. “Freshbot” and “Deepcrawler” were crawling the internet and bouncing sites left and right. Also, backlinks began to be counted and reported changed considerably.
Cassandra — April 2003
Witch Cassandra, Google got down to business on basic link-quality issues. Massive linking from co-domains was one of the main focuses for this update as well as hidden text and links.
Boston — February 2003
The first “named” Google update, Boston became the first major monthly update. The first few of these updates combined algorithm changes with index refreshes (Google Dance). The monthly idea expired when frequent updates became a requirement.
Before the first named update (Boston), there was another in Fall 2002. While there aren’t very many details about this update, it seemed to include more than the usual Google Dance and PageRank updates.
Google Toolbar — December 2000
This is the one that started all the SEO arguments. Google launches the toolbar for browsers as well as the Toolbar PageRank (TBPR). When everyone started paying attention to TBPR, that’s when Google began dancing!