History of Google Algorithm Updates
What are Google Algorithms?
Google algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking signals to deliver webpages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).
In its early years, Google only made a handful of updates to its algorithms. Now, Google makes thousands of changes every year.
Most of these updates are so slight that they go completely unnoticed. However, on occasion, the search engine rolls out major algorithmic updates that significantly impact the SERPs such as:
Below we have compiled a full list of Google algorithm launches, updates, and refreshes that have rolled out over the years, as well as links to resources for SEO experts who want to understand each of these changes.
March 9, 2018Broad Core Algorithm Update
On March 12, Google confirmed via Twitter that a “broad core algorithm update” had rolled out the prior week. While Google was light on details, Google said the changes were meant to “benefit pages that were previously under-rewarded,” and advised everyone to “continue building great content.”
December 12, 2017Maccabees Update
Some in the search community reported their websites being hit by update between December 12 and 14. Google confirmed several minor changes to the core algorithm during the timeframe, but downplayed the significance of the period of flux.
September 8, 2017Fall Flux
Industry chatter and SEO tracking tools indicated some sort of (still unconfirmed) Google update may have occurred on this date. Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive, also detected several noteworthy Google changes impacting traffic and search visibility starting September 8. This was followed by additional volatility and fluctuations on September 18, 25, and 29, as well as October 4, 8, and 12.
August 19, 2017Quality Update
Webmasters and SEO ranking tools detected some minor volatility on August 19-20, with signs indicating this may have been another (unconfirmed) Google quality update. Among the ranking casualties: category pages, pages with aggressive advertising, lower-quality/thin content, and other negative user experience elements, according to an analysis by Glenn Gabe, president of GSQi. There was some speculation that Google began testing this algorithm on August 14 because pages that were impacted (either positively or negatively) on this date were further impacted on August 19.
July 9, 2017Quality Update
SEO ranking tools detected some minor volatility on July 9, potentially another (unconfirmed) Google quality update.
June 25, 2017June 25 Update
Various SEO tracking tools detected a significant, though unconfirmed, Google update on this date. One analysis found that this update caused the biggest fluctuations for pages ranking in Positions 6-10. While it impacted most niches, the good and beverage industry was reportedly impacted the most.
May 17, 2017Quality Update
Starting May 17 and lasting for about a week, SEO tracking tools reported lots of SERP volatility. While the impact seems limited, those sites impacted by this update tended to have issues with aggressive/deceptive advertising, UX issues, and thin/low-quality content.
March 7, 2017Fred
Google’s Gary Illyes jokingly referred to this update as “Fred” and the name ended up sticking. But this algorithm was no laughing matter for those impacted. This major algorithm update seemed to mainly target low-value content. On March 24, Illyes officially confirmed the update. But Google has refused to share any more specifics, instead choosing to say that all the answers about Fred can be found in Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines.
February 7, 2017February 7 Update
This unconfirmed major update resulted in massive rankings shifts in Google’s SERPs, which also meant major increases or decreases for some websites. Overall, it seems higher-quality and more relevant websites gained the most visibility.
February 1, 2017February 1 Update
This was a minor and unconfirmed Google update. Although all information about this update is more speculation than fact, it seemed to target private blog networks or those doing spammy link building.
January 10, 2017Intrusive Interstitials Update
On August 23, 2016, Google announced an upcoming change that would target intrusive interstitials and pop-ups that hurt the search experience on mobile devices. As promised, this update rolled out January 10, 2017. The impact of this update on rankings was minimal.
September 23, 2016Penguin Update 4.0 & Core Algorithm Integration
The final update to the Penguin algorithm saw it integrated into Google’s core algorithm, meaning Penguin was now evaluating websites and links in real-time. Another big change was Penguin devalued links, rather than downgrading the rankings of pages.
June 1, 2016Quality Update
Though unconfirmed by Google, data indicates that another content-related Quality Update to Google’s algorithm began rolling out around June 1, with additional search ranking volatility seen on June 8, 21, and 26.
May 12, 2016Mobile-Friendly Update (#2)
The second Mobile-Friendly Update (or “Mobilegeddon 2”) was an update to Google’s first mobile-friendly update, meant to “increases the effect of the ranking signal.”
January 11, 2016Panda Core Algorithm Incorporation
Google confirmed that Panda had been incorporated into the core Google algorithm, evidently as part of the slow Panda 4.2 rollout. In other words, Panda was no longer a filter applied to the Google algorithm after it does its work, but is incorporated as another of its core ranking signals. It has been clarified, however, that this doesn’t mean the Panda classifier acts in real time.
October 26, 2015RankBrain
Though it had been in testing since April 2015, Google officially introduced RankBrain on this date. RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm that filters search results to help give users a best answer to their query. Initially, RankBrain was used for about 15 percent of queries (mainly new queries Google had never seen before), but now it is involved in almost every query entered into Google. RankBrain has been called the third most important ranking signal.
July 17, 2015Panda Update 4.2 (#28)
Google announced a Panda refresh that would take months to roll out and impact 2 to 3 percent of English queries. Due to the slow nature of the rollout, it’s unclear how substantial the impact was or precisely when it occurred. It was the final confirmed Panda update.
May 3, 2015Quality Update
The Quality Update (or the Phantom Update) was a confirmed change to Google’s core ranking algorithm – specifically, how Google assesses quality signals. Websites with content quality issues, as well as too many ads, seemed to be impacted the most by this update.
April 21, 2015Mobile-Friendly Update
The Mobile-Friendly Update (or “Mobilegeddon”) was an update meant to reward mobile-friendly websites with better search rankings and provide better results to searchers on mobile devices. This update impacted all languages globally
October 17, 2014Penguin Update 3.0
Though named like a major update, this was actually another data refresh of Google’s Penguin algorithm. Penguin 3.0 allowed those impacted by previous updates to emerge and recover, while many others who had continued to utilize spammy link practices, and had escaped the radar of the previous updates, saw an impact. The update took about three days to fully rollout and impacted less than 1 percent of English search queries.
September 23, 2014Panda Update 4.1 (#27)
July 24, 2014Pigeon Update
Pigeon was a significant local search update that saw Google start using more traditional website ranking signals to influence local search results. It also improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters.
June 12, 2014Payday Loan Update 3.0
Google’s Payday Loan update 3.0, which largely was focused on targeting spammy queries, also included better protection against negative SEO attacks.
May 20, 2014Panda Update 4.0 (#26)
May 16, 2014Payday Loan Update 2.0
This was the “next generation” of Google’s Payday Loans algorithm, updated to better target spammy websites.
February 6, 2014Page Layout Refresh
Google’s Matt Cutts announced a refresh of the page layout algorithm. No changes to the algorithm were mentioned – it appeared Google simply reran the algorithm and updated its index.
October 4, 2013Penguin Update 2.1
Google’s Matt Cutts announced the first (and only) Penguin 2.0 algorithm data refresh, impacting ~1 percent of searches.
September 26, 2013Hummingbird Update
The Hummingbird update was a major overhaul to Google’s core search technology. Google needed a way to better understand and return the most relevant results to more complex queries as a result of the growth of conversational search (i.e., voice search). Google said the new algorithm affected about 90 percent of searches worldwide. Although this update was announced on this date, it actually started rolling out in August 2013.
June 11, 2013Payday Loan Update
Google Payday Loans algorithm update targeted spammy queries mostly associated with shady industries (including super high interest loans and payday loans, porn, casinos, debt consolidation, and pharmaceuticals). It took about 1-2 months to fully rollout and impacted about 0.3 percent of U.S. queries.
May 22, 2013Penguin Update 2.0
This was a “next generation” of the Penguin algorithm, as Google’s Matt Cutts explained in a blog post. This version looked deeper than the website homepage and top-level category pages for evidence of link spam being directed to the website. Penguin 2.0 impacted around 2.3 percent of English queries.
March 14, 2013Panda Update (#25)
This update was not confirmed by Google though tools suggest it occurred on roughly this day. Google’s Matt Cutts seemed to suggest that this would be the final update before Panda would be incorporated directly into the core Google algorithm. Instead, however, Panda data refreshes started rolling out monthly over a 10-day period, without any further confirmation from Google.
January 22, 2013Panda Update (#24)
December 21, 2012Panda Update (#23)
November 21, 2012Panda Update (#22)
Google confirmed a Panda data refresh impacting 0.8 percent of English queries.
November 5, 2012Panda Update (#21)
Google confirmed a Panda data refresh impacting ~0.4 percent of worldwide queries worldwide and ~1.1 percent of U.S. queries.
October 9, 2012Page Layout Update #2
Google’s Matt Cutts announced that the page layout algorithm had been updated, impacting 0.7 percent of English queries. This update gave an opportunity to websites hit by the first Google algorithm rollout to potentially recover.
October 5, 2012Penguin Update 1.2
Google’s Matt Cutts announced the second Penguin algorithm data refresh. It impacted 0.3 percent of English queries.
September 28, 2012Exact Match Domain Update
Google’s Exact Match Domain (or EMD) algorithm update focused on ridding the SERPs of spammy or low-quality exact match domains.
September 27, 2012Panda Update (#20)
This was a significant update of the Panda algorithm that took more than a week to completely rollout and impacted 2.4 percent of English search queries.
September 18, 2012Panda Update 3.9.2 (#19)
August 20, 2012Panda Update 3.9.1 (#18)
July 24, 2012Panda Update 3.9 (#17)
June 25, 2012Panda Update 3.8 (#16)
June 8, 2012Panda update 3.7 (#15)
Google confirmed a refresh of the Panda algorithm started rolling out on this date, impacting less than 1 percent of U.S. queries and ~1 percent of worldwide queries. Ranking tools suggested it was bigger than more recent Panda updates.
April 27, 2012Panda Update 3.6 (#14)
Google confirmed a refresh of the Panda algorithm occurred on this date.
April 24, 2012Penguin Update
A long-anticipated “over-optimization” penalty finally arrived on this day. Google announced the launch of a (then unnamed) algorithm change meant to downrank websites engaging in aggressive webspam (e.g., keyword stuffing, unnatural linking) that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google said this update would impact 3.1 percent of English queries. Just two days later, we learned the name of the algorithm: Penguin.
April 19, 2012Panda Update 3.5 (#13)
March 26, 2012Penguin Update 1.1
Google’s Matt Cutts announced a data refresh of the Penguin algorithm, impacting less than 0.1 percent of English searches. Websites that saw their rankings downgraded by the initial Penguin launch, and had been proactive in clearing up their link profiles, saw some recovery. Other websites that hadn’t been caught by Penguin the first time around took a hit.
March 23, 2012Panda Update 3.4 (#12)
February 27, 2012Panda Update 3.3 (#11)
February 27, 2012Venice Update
After the Venice Update, Google began including search results based either on the searcher’s physical location or IP address. Also, Google could better detect whether a query or webpage had local intent or relevance.
January 19, 2012Page Layout Update
Google’s page layout algorithm update (or Above the Fold) targeted websites with too many ads above the fold. In other words, a user would have to scroll down the page to see any actual content. Google said this algorithm impacted less than 1 percent of websites.
January 18, 2012Panda Update 3.2 (#10)
Google confirmed a data refresh of Panda took place on this date.
November 18, 2011Panda Update 3.1 (#9)
Google announced a minor Panda refresh, impacting less than 1 percent of searches.
November 3, 2011Freshness Update
With this update, Google altered its ranking algorithm to better determine when to deliver search results that are fresher (e.g., current events, hot topics, recurring events) to be more relevant to searchers. This update impacted 35 percent of searches.
October 19, 2011Panda Update 3.0 (#8)
Google added some new signals into the Panda algorithm and also recalculated how the algorithm impacted websites.
September 28, 2011Panda Update 2.5 (#7)
August 12, 2011Panda Update 2.4 (#6)
Google’s Panda algorithm update was rolled out internationally for all English-speaking countries and non-English speaking countries (except for Japan, China, and Korea).
July 23, 2011Panda Update 2.3 (#5)
Another update to the Google Panda algorithm.
June 21, 2011Panda Update 2.2 (#4)
Another update to the Google Panda algorithm.
May 9, 2011Panda Update 2.1 (#3)
The industry first called this update Panda 3.0, but Google clarified that it was just a data refresh, as would be true of the 2.x updates to come.
April 11, 2011Panda Update 2.0 (#2)
The first update to the core Panda algorithm. This update incorporated additional signals, such as sites that Google users had blocked.
February 23, 2011Panda Update
The first iteration of a then unnamed Google algorithm update was introduced (12 percent of queries were impacted), shocking the SEO industry and many big players, as well as effectively ending the “content farm” business model as it existed at the time. Initially dubbed Farmer within the industry, Google revealed soon after launch that the update’s was called Panda, named after the engineer who came up with the primary algorithm breakthrough.
April 28, 2010MayDay Update
The MayDay update was an algorithmic change to how Google assessed which sites were the best match for long-tail queries. This update rolled out between April 28 and May 3.
August 10, 2009Caffeine Update
Google’s Caffeine update was a new web indexing system that allowed Google to crawl and store data more efficiently, resulting in 50 percent fresher results. Developers were given early access starting in August 2009 before the update officially rolled out June 8, 2010.
January 18, 2009Vince Update
Google’s Vince update was a quick, noticeable change in broad-level, competitive keyword terms to favor first page rankings for big brand domains vs. previously ranking sites (typically less authoritative sites, affiliate sites, and sites that had won this coveted visibility purely through SEO efforts).
December 15, 2005Big Daddy Update
Big Daddy (or Bigdaddy) was a gradual update to Google’s infrastructure that began rolling out in December 2005 and was completed in March 2006. This update changed how Google handled technical issues such as URL canonicalization and redirects. Some websites didn’t make it into the new Big Daddy data centers, typically due to unnatural linking (e.g., excessive reciprocal linking, linking to spammy neighborhoods, paid links).
September 1, 2005Jagger Update
Jagger was an update in three phases (Jagger 1, Jagger 2, and Jagger 3) that began with a number of backlink-focused updates in early September meant to crack down on unnatural link building, paid links, and other types of spam. The second phase of Jagger had the most noticable impact in October. The final phase was completed near the end of November.
November 16, 2003Florida Update
Google’s Florida Update signaled a new era of SEO. Websites (including retailers who relied on affiliates to drive traffic) using spammy tactics of the previous decade (e.g., keyword stuffing, using multiple sites under the same brand, invisible text, and hidden links) to rank for high-commercial keywords saw their rankings wiped out right before the lucrative holiday season.