Google updates its search algorithm thousands of times a year.
Some of Google’s algorithms are quite well known – some have almost taken on legendary status (e.g., Florida, Panda, Penguin, RankBrain) and have had a major impact on the history of SEO and the rankings (and revenue) of websites.
But most changes are much smaller. Some updates even go completely unnoticed.
In just the past two years, we’ve seen roughly a dozen significant updates – many of which were “quality updates,” as well as:
Some of these recent updates have been confirmed or announced by Google.
However, other periods of volatility in the SERPs (believed to be due to an algorithm update) have been observed and reported by algorithm watchers and tracking tools, but Google has never officially confirmed an update.
Why You Should Track Google Updates
You’re in the profession of optimizing websites and content for search engines.
So it makes sense to keep track of big and important changes that could impact your SEO strategy and tactics.
An algorithm change or update can either help or hurt your:
- Search ranking and visibility.
- Organic search traffic.
- Return on investment (ROI).
Most people tend to think of an algorithm as a way Google punishes websites.
But really, algorithms are a way to reward websites for providing a good user experience and relevant content.
Search is a zero-sum game. For every winner, there must be a loser.
Google wants to provide the best possible answer for the user’s search query.
All that said, it would be kind of insane (and impossible) to try to keep track of every little Google search update.
Think about it like this:
If Google is updating it’s search algorithm thousands of times per year, that means Google is changing its algorithm around three times per day, on average.
To paraphrase Roger Montti: If you pick any day of the week and declare a Google update happened, you’d probably be correct!
So track those big updates. Just don’t obsess over them or you’ll make yourself crazy.
So how do you track Google algorithm updates?
Places to Track Google Algorithm Updates
There are many great SEO blogs that cover all types of search updates.
But here are a few resources you can use to specifically to keep track of Google algorithm updates.
Search Engine Journal: History of Google Algorithm Updates
Want to know the names, dates, and impact of any major algorithm changes or updates?
Search Engine Journal has you covered – from 2003 to today.
We have an entire page dedicated to Google algorithm updates that includes the following information:
- Algorithm name.
- The rollout date(s).
- A brief overview of the impact.
- Whether it is confirmed or unconfirmed.
- Links to official announcements (blog posts and tweets), as well as news stories and analysis (from SEJ and other credible external sources) so you can deeper dive and understand the changes.
Google Webmaster Central Blog
Though not so much recently, the Google Webmaster Central Blog used to be the place to find out about major algorithm changes as they happened, whether it was the rollout of Panda, Penguin, or the Page Layout algorithm.
However, Google still uses the blog to announce upcoming big changes, sometimes weeks or even months in advance (such was the case with the mobile-friendly update).
Definitely keep an eye on this resource to stay up on the latest changes, straight from Google.
A few years ago, Matt Cutts was the best person at Google to follow as he regularly kept the SEO community informed about changes to search.
Nobody has completely filled this role, which means Google is no longer very good about confirming algorithm updates.
However, there are a couple of Googlers who might announce or confirm updates, and possibly even share a few salient details:
Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) is always on the lookout for news about algorithm changes. He regularly reports on Google updates at Search Engine Roundtable; however, there is a fair bit of rampant speculation based on industry chatter that sometimes doesn’t amount to anything significant (seen in headlines ending with a question mark).
Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) is another avid algorithm watcher. In addition to sharing info and insights about algorithm updates via Twitter, she also has published interesting blog posts and case studies on her blog.
8 Tools to Track Google Algorithm Updates
Google isn’t particularly fond of any third-party tools that monitor changes to Google’s algorithms.
Officially, some Google spokespeople have warned SEO professionals that such tools are inaccurate most of the time.
This is true – some of these tools pick up on “changes” to Google’s search results that aren’t really algorithm updates at all.
Fluctuation? Sure. But volatility in the SERP results isn’t always due to a Google algorithm change.
All that said, these tools can provide an early warning that an update might be brewing and you should check your analytics.
Here are a few tools you can use to track Google algorithm updates.
MozCast, in the style of a weather report, provides a “temperature” that represents how turbulent Google’s algorithm has been every 24 hours over the past 30 days. Hotter and stormier means Google’s rankings are very much in flux.
SEMrush Sensor is one of the more impressive algorithm tracking tools. You can see ranking changes (desktop and mobile) broken down into more than 20 categories, as well as by device, SERP feature, and location. Plus you can check out overall SERP volatility (and domain winners and losers) for the last 30 days.
RankRanger monitors more than 10,000 domains and keywords daily to identify ranking patterns and track volatility in Google’s desktop and mobile search results.
Is Google Chilled, Grumpy, or Furious? Find out Google’s “mood” with Accuranker’s ‘Grump’ Rating, which highlights fluctuations in Google’s algorithm. You can also track by country and device and sign up for alerts via email.
This Google algorithm tracking tool monitors fluctuations for about 17,000 keywords (desktop and mobile) using a flux metric called a “roo”. A higher roo value means high volatility, while a low roo value indicates it’s a fairly ordinary day. Algoroo also highlights weekly winners and losers.
AWR’s Google Algorithm Changes tool monitors 11,000 keywords and 500,000 URLs across various industries to highlight fluctuations and show changes in position.
This free SEO tool will help you figure out whether a Google algorithm update has impacted your organic sessions. Panguin uses various filters to overlay known algorithm updates on top of your Google Analytics data to make analysis a breeze.
This tool monitors more than 100,000 keywords daily to track ranking fluctuations in desktop, mobile, and local search results. You can sign up to be notified when Google is particularly volatile.
What to Do After an Algorithm Update
There are five things you should always remember after an algorithm update (whether confirmed or unconfirmed):
- Don’t panic.
- Make sure you were actually impacted by the algorithm change and not something else (e.g., a website change, technical SEO issue, or manual action).
- Don’t rush to react – be patient and collect data.
- Read credible sources (like Search Engine Journal) to gain insights and see what the SEO experts are saying.
- Make adjustments to your SEO strategy and tactics as necessary.
It’s also important to remember that Google’s algorithms are constantly changing.
What impacts your rankings today could change in a few days, a week, or in a month.
Chasing Google’s algorithm can be dangerous, as shown in this classic illustration:
If you come through a big Google change unscathed, celebrate!
If, on the other hand, your traffic and rankings plummet, look at it as a blessing in disguise. Google has detected some flaw in your website. So get working to fix it.
You can minimize your chances of avoiding a huge impact by always focusing on the SEO fundamentals. Avoid any shortcuts or spammy tactics that may have short-term gains but could create disaster in the long term.
You can use many tools to monitor Google’s constantly changing search algorithm. Most of these tools make it fairly easy to understand the relationship between the update and your organic traffic.
While it isn’t necessary to monitor every update that Google launches (especially since there are thousands of changes every year), it is important to understand the big changes and adjust your strategy accordingly as they happen.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author, June 2018