The Constant Change: 15 Best Search Algorithm Changes from Google in the Past Few Years

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When Google does an algorithm update, it often turns the search engine optimization world on its head. The updates are rarely publicized ahead of time and SEO experts don’t realize it until rankings suddenly drop or improve.

Google isn’t trying to mess with SEO experts or businesses trying to improve their site rankings. They do these updates to better serve their customers and to provide the best results as possible. There have been many updates through the years, but we’ll examine the best search algorithm updates and how they impacted websites.

Google has the best interest of searchers at heart with every update they do.

1. Hummingbird Update

Google understood that the way people searched was changing. It was becoming more conversational as people used smartphones and voice technology to make searches.

They needed a way to understand this new method of searches because it was more complex than what people did before. When Hummingbird went live, it impacted 90 percent of searches across the planet.

This was one of the biggest updates in the history of Google. It fundamentally helped pave the way for future updates and helped Google solidify its dominance in the search engine community.

The update was officially confirmed on September 16, 2013, but it started to roll out in August.

2. Payday Loan Update

Google likes to consider itself a family-friendly search engine and in June of 2014 and an updates in 2014, knocked websites associated with less than stellar reputations wit the Payday Loan Update. It’s technically demoting spammy content, but it happened to hit industries such as payday loans, casinos, pornography and other similar sites.

These types of sites took a huge hit to their rankings and never really recovered. Updates in 2014 better targeted the sites and even provided some protections from negative SEO tactics. Those are tactics to reduce the ranking of competitors manipulating their SEO such as creating backlinks from negative websites.

3. Pigeon Update

Local search is a major part of the marketing plan for businesses that serve an area or have a brick and mortar store. If you have a storefront and sell to a specific town, it doesn’t make sense for your store to show up to someone who lives 200 miles away.

You want people to see you that are within your service area. This is the basis of local search.

Prior to Pigeon, there were some minor local search parameters in place, but this update was the cornerstone for Google’s local search efforts.

It not only used traditional ranking signals to help with search results but also improved its location and distance ranking procedures. This was a major step forward for location-based businesses and websites.

4. Mobilegedden: Best Search Algorithm Update for Mobile

When it came to ranking websites, Google always used the desktop interface. When mobile websites began popping up and smartphone search began to increase, they saw the writing on the wall.

Mobile search grew exponentially, and many websites weren’t easily seen and usable in the mobile and tablet interface. This was a problem for Google since many of their searchers were using mobile devices.

In April of 2015, Google introduced the Mobile-Friendly Update, also known as Mobilegedden. Mobilegedden was its way of evening the playing field for mobile. For the first time, mobile-friendliness and accessibility became ranking factors. Your website could have the best desktop interface, but if it didn’t have a mobile website, then it could get a lower rank for mobile searches.

Unlike many other updates, Mobilegeddon was announced months ahead of time so websites had the time to build their mobile or mobile responsive websites.

5. The RankBrain Update

The use of artificial intelligence in many areas is a growing and burgeoning field, but in October of 2015, it was still a new concept to many people. Artificial intelligence uses queues and clues to learn from your behavior, so it can better predict an outcome.

In Google’s case, it was RankBrain. They officially rolled it out in October of 2015. It’s machine learning system that uses patterns, global behavior, and trends to predict the proper meaning of your search query.

At the time, it was only used in about 15 percent of searches, but it’s currently expanded to almost all searches and is considered an important ranking signal. This update was unique in that it introduced the world to one of the first large scale artificial intelligence systems.

6. Panda Core Algorithm Inclusion

Panda has long been an important part of the Google search, but it was a filter placed on the results after the algorithm did its job. Its goal was to lower the number of sites that had lo quality or thin content.

Google wants search results to have authority and trustworthiness and low-quality content doesn’t help inform or answer anyone’s questions. Panda helped weed out those websites in favor of better websites.

In January of 2016, Panda was officially moved from a filter to a part of the core algorithm update. It’s a lot like the update version of being promoted.

7. Penguin Algorithm Inclusion

Google hates it when people try to fool their algorithm by buying backlinks and joining link networks. Penguin was their attempt to filter out those results and has been around since 2012. Much like Panda, Penguin was a filter used after the core algorithm refined the search results.

In September of 2016, Penguin was officially added to the main core algorithm. This means it no longer waited to make changes after the core algorithm update refined its results, but instead did it in real-time.

Penguin was a major issue for many websites when first introduced. Sites that had low valued backlinks saw their rankings drop overnight. Once the ranking dropped, it took considerable work to remove the backlinks and recover. Many websites could never recover after the update and the ones that followed.

8. Intrusive Interstitials Update

Pop-ups and other annoying ads were widely used by websites for years. This was fine on desktop computers because there was plenty of room to click off it and you could still see parts of the webpage. When mobile search outpaced desktop and everyone used their small cellphone screen for surfing the net, those pop-ups became a major nuisance.

Google announced the update in August of 2016 to let websites change their methods of advertising and officially rolled out in January 2017. Since they gave ample warning to websites, the update didn’t have a tremendous impact on rankings.

You’ll still see pop-ups on desktop computers, but it nearly killed off pop-ups and other annoying advertising on mobile sites.

9. February 7, 2017 Update

While this update did cause a major upheaval in search rankings, its real impact was the lack of information from Google. You may notice before how major updates had names either created by Google or picked by SEO experts once confirmed.

This began the era where Google made updates regularly to their algorithm without notifying anyone that it was done and not confirming an update. SEO experts would suddenly see rankings plummet or skyrocket and try to piece things together.

This update was geared to promoting high quality and relevant websites. Today, Google engineers routinely make several updates to the algorithm each month and then roll a few of them back without informing anyone in the SEO community.

They still inform people of major updates, usually, but it’s up to SEO experts to determine the others and how best to recover from them.

10. Fred Update

Officially rolled out in March of 2017, Fred wasn’t confirmed by Google until March 24. I mentioned before how updates were usually named by Google or the SEO community. A Google employee jokingly called this the Fred update and the name stuck.

Google confirmed the update and SEO experts discovered it impacted low-quality content. Google refused to provide any other information other than the update confirmation. Instead, telling people to focus on the Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines.

This would be the answer for many other updates from here on out. Instead of providing information on how websites could specifically recover from the update, they refer to the quality guidelines and tell people to have great content.

11. June 25, 2017 Update

Updates either were geared to specific traits such as content and impacted everyone, but on unconfirmed update on June 25, 2017, seemed to impact the food and beverage industry specifically. There were significant fluctuations in search rankings 6-10.

While it impacted many websites, it significantly impacted food and beverage sites. Whether this was intentional, or happenstance of the update is unknown.

Once Google stopped confirming updates and telling SEO experts about them, companies developed tracking tools that noticed not only individual ranking changes but system-wide. It became a vital way for SEO experts to determine if an update occurred.

12. August 19, 2017, Quality Update

One of the many unconfirmed updates that impacted the user interface with websites and how good their experience is. It knocked down websites that had aggressive advertising tactics, low-quality content, and other negative user experience issues.

What makes this update important is it clearly indicated Google looks at the user experience of websites and uses that to impact ranking. It was no longer good enough to have a website that had lots of great authoritative information, but it had to be easily viewed and pleasant to use for searchers.

Google doesn’t want searchers getting a website that doesn’t show up well or is difficult to navigate. It shows that the algorithm continues to become more complex.

13. Broad Core Algorithm Update March 9, 2018

Google as long said they want websites that have the expertise, authority and trustworthiness for their searchers. How do websites get that? They develop great content that people want to read.

While many updates impact parts of the main algorithm, the rarer core update impacts all facets of the algorithm. This would be the first of several core updates in 2018. Google said the goal was o improve the ranks of high-quality content websites and not necessarily lower the rankings of websites.

Google mentioned on Twitter that the key to ranking is creating great content.

14. The Medic Update

While Google never said the update specifically targeted medical sites, many websites related to the medical field, especially e-commerce sites, saw significant ranking drops for high-value keywords. It was called a general ranking update, but it seems to put official medical websites higher than e-commerce sites that sold the products.

For example, an e-commerce site selling medical equipment might see a drop for a keyword and be replaced with a hospital or other official organization. Once again, Google’s answer was to create great content.

The update impacted high authority sites by raising them above the e-commerce sites. Some websites dropped from top 3 to past 100 for their respective niche keywords.

15. BERT Update

One of the biggest problems Google has is interpreting the search queries created by searchers. They may use awkward working, misspellings, etc. Their word choice is also important. Search results for a vacation in Cabo may be different than Cabo vacation.

BERT helped eliminate that. On October 25, 2019.  BERT stands for bidirectional encoder representations from transformers. Sadly, it has nothing to do with Optimize Prime and instead how Google reads the search results. Instead of simply going from right to left in reading the search results, they take the entire search query as a whole.

The goal was to allow Google to better understand the meaning behind the search queries and provide more accurate results.

Changes Will Keep Happening

Google is the powerhouse of search engines and that’s not going to change. As they continue to expand the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, searches will only become more accurate in the future.

Websites that want to survive must develop high-quality content to appease the Google gods. Who knows what the best search algorithm of the future will be, but one thing is for sure, it’s coming.

If you want to learn more about search engine optimization and Google’s algorithm, then please explore our site.