List of 9 major Google Algorithm updates for seo

List of 9 major Google Algorithm updates

Have you ever wondered why Google continues to keep updating the Algorithm?

Do you understand what the changes in Google’s algorithm are about?

No SEO or content marketing can accurately predict what any future update will be. Even some Google Executives don’t understand everything that happens with the most dominant search engine on the web.

But think about it like this: search engines are designed to serve people.

As our behaviour changes, technology evolves to match our desires and needs.

Therefore, search engines must change as well.

For example, a decade ago, we haven’t had social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest to help divert traffic to our sites.

Also, we did not think twice about mobile device traffic or best practices to reach searchers.

Marketing trends seem to change overnight. New tools and technology emerge at a moment’s notice. For this reason, Google is adjusting its approach to rankings, links and content due to these rapid changes.

But the changes in Google’s algorithm is simple: to provide the best possible user experience.

Since Google handles more than 2 trillion searches annually (i.e. about 40,000 searches per second), even the smallest changes in the algorithm can have a huge impact on any given site.

Content marketers should keep up with that when you consider the 200 ranking factors that Google has identified.

Yes, two hundred.

There are some factors that are beyond our effective control, such as the ages of our sites and our domain names.

However, many of these ranking factors are under our control. Most of them are related to unique content, on-page optimization, and link selection. Basically, we do have a hand in how Google handles our site’s search rankings.

Simply, the sites which follow Google guideline are most likely to rank. While others who try to manipulate or play with the system has to suffer a penalty in one way or another.

Fortunately, Google is somewhat transparent about how they help sites rank. On the other hand, there are some “hidden” aspects of Google algorithm updates that can hit unsuspecting sites.

Google released nine major algorithm updates, called (in chronological order) Panda, Penguin, Pirate, Hummingbird, Pigeon, Mobile, Rank brain, Possum and Fred. Among these major updates, Google engineers have also made some adjustments to the algorithm that are not widely published but may have an impact on website rankings in search results.

Below, I’ve detailed each of the major Google algorithms that change piece by piece.

Worried that you might be doing something wrong in Google’s eyes?

Want to know how to bounce back from a penalty?

You’ve come to the right place.


Launch date: February 24, 2011

Rollouts: Monthly

Goal: De-rank Sites with low-quality Content

Google Panda Algorithm was launched to remove or down-rank sites with duplicated, low-quality content, spammy or thin content and rank high-quality content in Google’s top search results. Panda was a filter instead of a part of Google’s core algorithm, but in January 2016, it was officially incorporated into Google’s ranking algorithm.


  1. Duplicate content
  2. Plagiarized or thin content
  3. User-generated spam
  4. Keyword stuffing
  5. Poor user experience

How to stay safe :   

  1. Check for duplicate content across your site
  2. Check for plagiarism
  3. Identify thin content
  4. Audit your site for keyword stuffing
  5. Fix the problems you find

Did You Know?

The name “Panda” comes from Navneet Panda the Google engineer who developed the technology that made it possible for Google to create and implement the algorithm.


Launch date: April 24, 2012

Goal: Down rank sites with Spammy, manipulative link profiles

Google Penguin aims to identify and decrease the search ranking of a website that does not follow Google’s guideline by manipulating the links and increasing the ranking of a site or using black hat SEO techniques. The penalties apply faster and recovery is also done in a short period of time as a penguin is a part of Google’s core ranking algorithm.


  1. Spammy or irrelevant links
  2. Links with over-optimized anchor text
  3. Sites created purely for SEO link building
  4. Links coming from the topically irrelevant site
  5. Paid links

How to Stay Safe:

  1. Monitor your link profile’s growth
  2. Check for Penalty risk
  3. Get rid of harmful links

Did You Know?

The name of the Panda algorithm came from one of the key engineers, and it’s more likely that the Penguin algorithm also came from the same source.


Launched: Aug 2012

Rollouts: Oct 2014

Goal: De-rank sites with copyright infringement reports

Google’s Pirate Update was designed to prevent sites that have received numerous reports of copyright infringement from ranking well in Google search. Most of the affected sites are relatively large and well-known websites that make available to visitors pirated content (such as movies, music or books) for free, particularly torrent sites. It is not yet possible for Google to continue the numerous new sites with pirated content that arise literally every day.


  1. Pirated content
  2. The high volume of copyright infringement reports

How to stay safe

1. Don’t distribute anyone’s content without the copyright owner’s permission.


Launch date: August 22, 2013

Goal: Produce more relevant search results by better understanding the meaning behind the queries

Google Hummingbird is a major algorithm that has to do with the interpretation of search queries and the supply of search results that match the searcher’s intent, rather than individual keywords within the query.

The keywords within the query are still important, but Hummingbird further enhances the meaning of the query as a whole. The use of synonyms has also been optimized with Hummingbird; Instead of listing the results with the exact match of keywords, Google shows more results related to the topic in the SERPs that do not necessarily have the keywords of the query in their content.


  1. Keyword stuffing; low-quality content
  2. Exact-Match Keyword targeting

How to stay safe:

  1. Expand your keyword research
  2. Discover the language your audience uses
  3. Focus on concepts, not keywords

Did You Know?

The name Hummingbird was derived from the speed and accuracy of the hummingbird.


Launch date: July 24, 2014 (US)

Rollouts: December 22, 2014 (UK, Canada, Australia)

Goal: Provide high quality, relevant local search results

Google Pigeon algorithm drastically filtered the results that Google returns for queries where search engine location plays an important role. According to Google, Pigeon created closer links between the local algorithm and the central algorithm, which means that the same SEO factors are now being used to classify local and non-local Google results. This update also uses location and distance as a key factor in ranking results.

Pigeon led to a significant decrease (at least 50%) in the number of queries for which local packages are returned, gave a boost to the classification of local directory sites and connected Google web search and Google Map search in a more consistent way.


  1. Poorly optimized pages
  2. Improper setup of a Google my Business page
  3. NAP inconsistency (Name Address Phone Number)
  4. Lack of citations in local directories (if relevant)

How to stay safe

  1. Optimize your pages properly
  2. Set up a Google My Business page
  3. Make sure your NAP is consistent
  4. Get featured in relevant local directories

Did You Know?

This update was named after Search Engine Land, an industry publication that received direct information from Google about Pigeon’s intention. The pigeon was designed to link Google’s local search algorithm with its web algorithm and improve classification parameters based on distance and location.


Launch date: April 21, 2015

Goal: Rank higher mobile-optimized pages in SERP in and lower the ranking of the pages which are not mobile optimized.

Google’s mobile-optimized update (also known as Mobilegeddon) is intended to ensure that pages optimized for mobile devices are located at the top of the mobile search and, later, lower-ranking pages that are not compatible with mobiles devices. Desktop Search was not affected by the update.

Compatibility with mobile devices is a page-level factor, which means that one page of your site can be considered mobile-friendly and classified, while the rest may fail the test.


  1. Lack of a mobile optimization of the page
  2. Improper viewport configuration
  3. Illegible content

How to stay safe

  1. Go mobile configured
  2. Take the mobile-friendly test
  3. Focus on speed and usability

Did You Know?

The term was coined by Chuck Price in a publication written for Search Engine Watch on March 9, 2015. The term was then adopted by webmasters and web developers.


Launch date: October 26, 2015

Goal: Deliver better search results based on relevance and machine learning

RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google better decipher the meaning behind the queries and offer the best search results in response to those queries.

While there is a query processing component in RankBrain, there is also a ranking component (when RankBrain was first announced, Google called it the third most important ranking factor). Presumably, RankBrain can somehow summarize what a page is about, evaluate the relevance of search results and learn to improve even more over time.

The common understanding is that RankBrain, in part, is based on traditional SEO factors (links, page optimization, etc.), but also analyzes other factors that are specific to the query. Then, it identifies the relevant characteristics in the index pages and organizes the results respectively in SERPs.


  1. Lack of query-specific relevance features
  2. Shallow content
  3. Poor UX or User experience

How to stay safe

  1. Maximize user experience
  2. Do competition research

Did You Know?

RankBrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm that uses machine learning (the ability of machines to learn from data entries) to determine the most relevant results for search engine queries.


Launch date: September 1, 2016

Goal: Deliver better and more diverse results depending on the location of the search engine and the address of the company.

The Possum update is the name of a series of recent changes in the Google local ranking filter. After Possum, Google returns more varied results depending on the physical location of the search engine (the closer it is physically to a certain business, the more likely it will be to see it between local results) and the formulation of the query (even nearby variations now produce different results). Paradoxically, Possum also gave a boost to businesses that are outside the physical area of the city. (Previously, if your business was not physically located in the city you were targeting, it was almost never included in the local package; now this is no longer the case). In addition, businesses that share an address with another similar kind of businesses can now be disqualified in the search results.


  1. Share a physical address with a similar business
  2. Competitors whose business address is closer to the searcher’s location

How to stay safe:

  1. Do geo-specific rank tracking
  2. Expand your list of local keywords

Did You Know?

The update has been dubbed “Possum”, because companies often filter from search results. This makes the business owner think that his listing has been removed, even though he is only leaking (or playing the possum).


Launch date: March 8, 2017

Goal: Filter low-quality search results whose sole purpose is to generate affiliate ads and revenue

Google confirmed the “Fred” update was carried out, but declined to discuss its details, simply saying that the sites Fred is targeting are those that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. However, studies of the affected sites show that the vast majority of them are content sites (mostly blogs) with low-quality articles on a wide variety of topics that seem to be created primarily for the purpose of generating ads or affiliates revenue.


  1. Thin – affiliate-heavy content and Low-value
  2. Ad-centred content

How to stay safe

  1. Review Google’s guidelines
  2. Watch out for thin content

Did You Know?

“Fred” is a catchall name for any quality-related algorithm update related to site quality that Google does not identify.

How to succeed when the Google algorithm keeps changing?


If you look at the timeline of Google algorithm changes, you will notice that there are a clear purpose and pattern. Each algorithm update improves the user experience and helps searchers find the information they need as soon as possible. The updates focus on getting rid of bad content and promoting content that meets the users need.

Google’s algorithm changes suggest a clear purpose and pattern. Each algorithm update improves the user experience and helps searchers find the information they need as soon as possible. These updates focus on removing bad content and promoting content that meets user needs.

When developing the content of your site, you need to:

  1. Think less about the search engine and more about your end-user
  2. Create content that will engage readers at every stage
  3. Develop easy to navigate site for user
  4. Use a variety of types of content, including images, videos, Infographic and text
  5. Monitor your site so that you can identify any changes in traffic rates and correct any drops as quickly as possible.

Google’s algorithms are constantly changing to provide with the best information as quickly as possible to the user. To maintain a high SERP rating regardless of algorithm changes, create high-quality user-friendly content.

Looking forward to your comments and questions below. Did any of these updates affect your ranking? If so, what tactics have helped you recover? Share your experience in the comments!

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