The term “Google Update” is used today to denote structural changes to the Google algorithm. For a long time, PageRank updates were also called Google updates. The consequences of algorithm adjustments are often severe and quickly uncover weaknesses in optimization of a website. Most Google updates were introduced to combat web spam on SERPs.
Two years after the establishment of Google, the developers of the company established PageRank, short PR, to approximately assess the quality of websites. At the same time, the Google Toolbar was introduced to show whether a website was trustworthy or of high quality based on PageRank. One could argue that this measure was the first major update carried out by Google with the purpose of increasing the quality within the SERPs.
The SEO sector which is supposed to help its customers achieve good positions in search results was born as a result of the success of the search engine and the increasing dependence of the webmaster on good Google rankings. The methods used for optimization were limited to the use of bugs and loopholes in the Google search algorithm to selectively optimize. Keyword stuffing was a widespread practice in order to achieve good search engine rankings at the beginning of the new millennium.
Until the Panda update, links from link networks that used the relevant keyword as link text, were an effective means for off page optimization. But the Google webspam team headed by Matt Cutts had been working successfully to continuously improve the search algorithms. The results of these efforts can be observed with the Google updates which were released at ever shorter intervals.
As a consequence of the many algorithm changes the following can be concluded today:
The individual changes of the Google algorithm were gradually given specific names and confirmed Google’s inclination to find and present diverse names for its products. Whereas updates of Google’s smartphone operating system are primarily named based on desserts and sweets, significant Google updates bear the names of cities, animals or alcoholic beverages. But there is no consistent use of certain categories.
* 2000: With the introduction of the Google Toolbar and PageRank, Google made it clear that it was interested in the quality of websites listed on the SERPs. PageRank has survived to this day as an indicator of the quality of a website. Great variations of PageRank are, for example, an indication of the devaluation of a page through Google’s algorithms. The introduction of the toolbar was followed by great changes to the SERPs.
* 2002: The first documented genuine Google update was conducted in September 2002. While the Google search results had big ranking changes, Google did not provide any details about this “1st documented update” to the public.
* 2003: On the occasion of “Search Engine Strategies,” a conference that took place in Boston in 2003, Google presented a new update to its search algorithms. The eponym was the city where the conference was organized. Consequently, it was named the “Boston update.” Components of these innovative changes to the algorithm were henceforth implemented in small intervals. At the same time the search engine updated or expanded its index. A direct consequence of the so-called Boston updates was the Google Dance, i.e. sizeable ranking shifts which occurred every time another change was rolled out. The Boston update was the starting signal for a rapid succession of changes.
* April 2003: With the so-called Cassandra update Google’s anti-webspam team took action against hidden content. Websites that contained links and texts stored within the source code for bots but which were not visible to users were affected by massive ranking losses. Keyword stuffing in hidden elements were no longer an effective means of optimizing websites. Moreover, websites with massive link exchanges with other pages belonging to that website operator were penalized with the Cassandra update. A series of updates followed which were given male and female first names.
* MAY 2003: Just one month later Google adjusted the way it counted and assessed backlinks with the Dominic update. Massive link building through link farms were made difficult for the first time.
* June 2003: The mistress of the bell-ringer of Notre Dame lent her name to the Esmeralda update. This was less a direct change of the search algorithm, but rather an adjustment of the entire Google search infrastructure. Esmeralda ensured that all Google updates are no longer being made in monthly individual steps, but with greater continuity. This was also referred to as Google "Everflux".
* July 2003: The Fritz update finally ended the violent effects of algorithm adjustments that were visible in the Google dance, because the search index was not being updated just once a month, but on a daily basis in small steps.
* September 2003: Google greatly changed the indexing of websites with the “supplemental index update.” Not only was the content in the source code of the website indexed but additional documents or information could also be stored in its own index and output on the SERPs. However, you might consider the supplemental index update as a kind of experiment by Google Inc.
* November 2003: The Florida update was a significant step against webspam. To date, it is considered as one of the Google updates with the greatest impact. Since this adjustment of the algorithm, black hat methods such as keyword spam or stuffing are now definitively utterly useless for search engine optimization.
2004 saw only two Google updates. A direct consequence of the Fritz update.
* January 2004: Two months after the Florida update, Google readjusted with the Austin update. More spam techniques were penalized, such as abuse of meta data or inserting of invisible text (font size 0, white text on a white background, etc.).
* February 2004: Google created a new method of indexing with the Brandy update, called latent semantic indexing (LSI). This set the course for future indexing methods based on the thematic relevance of websites rather than the simple relevance of the existing keyword density. Another advantage of LSI was the analysis of link neighborhoods and the rating of the relevance of anchor texts. The Brandy update eventually became the collective term for a number of different updates that Google rolled out in February.
The year 2005 continued the tendency fighting webspam. The focus was even more on the improvement of identifying spam links. In this context it is worth mentioning the introduction of the nofollow attribute, which was initiated jointly by Google, Bing, and Yahoo to improve the quality of backlinks and also fight webspam. Another important new feature of that year was the introduction of personalized search, which was based on the terms entered by users and had the purpose of conforming the search results accordingly.
Using the sitemaps submitted via the Google Search Console, website operators were now able to influence and control the indexing of web content through Google directly. And yet another level was optimized by Google. The Local Business Center was combined with the data from Google Maps.
* February 2005: With the Allegra update, Google changed its algorithm and for the first time began to penalize websites with spam-suspicious inbound links. This is when the term penalty arose.
* May 2005: Just three months later, the web search was modified again. The Bourbon update had the purpose of debunking duplicate content. That included internal duplicate content. For example, for websites that could be reached via www. and without www.
* October 2005: With the Jagger update, Google targeted again unnatural links. The search algorithm got adjusted within three months. As a result, sites lost their good rankings if their backlink structure consisted of poor quality links, in other words, backlinks from link farms, reciprocal link exchange or demonstrably paid links.
* December 2005: Rankings and search results were not directly affected by the Big Daddy update. Instead, this new software included major changes in the way of indexing and crawling. The software update lasted until March of 2006.
* November 2006: The supplemental index update initially introduced in 2003 underwent some innovation in 2006. It included the establishment of new guidelines for handling websites that fell victim to Google’s filters.
In 2007, the appearance of the SERPs was fundamentally renewed. By mid-2007 you were able to use the vertical search functions in the familiar search view.
* May 2007: The universal search update shows how extensively the Google search has been expanded. Google integrated its vertical search functions into its homepage. With one click, you could now search for images or news instead of the complete index.
* June 2007: The Buffy update made small changes to the search algorithm. The name of the update was chosen in honor of a former Google employee, Vanessa Fox. She is apparently an expert on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
* March 2008: There was never any consensus in the SEO scene on what the Dewey update entailed. An interesting result of this Google update was that results were different, depending on the Google server that output them.
* September 2009: The Vince update is also referred to as the brand update. After this algorithm, brand changes were preferred in the SERPs. Its purpose was to show the most relevant websites when you are looking specifically for a brand.
The year 2010 brought a paradigm shift in the web search through a rather extensive modification of the infrastructure. You now receive results that are much more current than they previously were.
* May 2010: Between the end of March and beginning of May, Google implemented the May-Day update. Specifically, long-tail keywords were affected by the resulting changes to the Google search.
* June 2010: Google finally created a new infrastructure of its search function with the introduction of the Caffeine update. Web content could be indexed faster and users received results on searches that were more current than before by more than 50 percent.
The year 2011 has been a landmark turning point in terms of Google search updates for SEOs because it is all about an animal, the panda, who gave his name to one of the most influential updates in the history of the Google.
* February 2011: The Panda update was first applied to English-language search results in the United States. With the introduction of this algorithm adjustment, Google assesses website quality in a new way. Poor quality could lead to significant visibility losses in the SERPs. The Panda update was adjusted a total of nine times in 2011.
* August 2011: With the expanded sitelinks update, the search results may be extended to subpages of a domain via a deep-link. These sitelinks are displayed mainly in “brand queries,” for example, if you search for “Ryte”
* November 2011: With the Freshness update, the most current and new results were shown in the search results.
2012 brought another decisive Google update. The Panda was joined by the Penguin. The Panda update was updated that year a whole 13 times and always caused significant changes in the SERPs.
* January 2012: As a result of the page layout algorithm update you have to ensure that there is a good ratio between advertising and content on the website. Attention was especially on the area “above the fold,” which is what you see without scrolling down.
* February 2012: After the introduction of Venice Update, entries from Google Places were integrated into the SERPs for the first time. Local search was thus upgraded.
* March 2012: Google introduced a number of different minor adjustments to the algorithm in March. These are known as the “March 50-pack update.” The purpose of these modifications were better identification of quality content and improved analysis of link text, amongst others.
* April 2012: The introduction of the Penguin update was a drastic moment for many webmasters. Google once again heavily attacked webspam. It primarily affected websites that used techniques for improving rankings to a great extent which were not compliant with the Google Webmaster Guidelines. The Penguin update was modified three times in 2012.
* August 2012: The DMCA penalty update (also: pirate update) was directed primarily against websites that violated copyrights. Operators may receive corresponding messages via the Google Webmaster Tools.
* September 2012: Whereas it was a long time practice to get good rankings with keyword domains even if their content was meager, this is passé since the exact match domain update.
Google continued to revise its distinctive Panda and Penguin updates in 2013. Panda received its 26th modification.
* May 2013: With the Google Penguin Update 2.0 was a significant algorithm improvement in terms of quality. Webspam was pursued with even more restrictions and many websites had significant traffic loss due to lower visibility.
* November 2013: In particular, websites that were using black-hat methods to manipulate the search results were affected by the impact of the payday loan update. This includes the insertion of malicious software and malware on other websites to generate backlinks. Notably, searches which are often associated with spam, such as keywords including “credit,” “casino,” etc., were affected by the payday loan update.
* November 2013: The Hummingbird update signaled a fundamental reorientation of Google Search. Google expanded its semantic search possibilities considerably and could display comparisons or correlations on the SERPs. This also becomes clear in the revision of the Knowledge Graph.
In 2014, the previous successfully launched Panda, Penguin, and Payday Loan updates were further expanded.
* May 2014: The Payday Loan Update 2.0 stepped up the changes for spam-prone searches.
* May 2014: The Panda update was revised several times since 2011. The Panda Update 4.0 targeted especially websites with moderate content. The Google search algorithms were modified for these modifications.
* June 2014: Google next targeted mainly spam suspicious searches with the payday loan update 3.0.
* July 2014: The Pigeon update mainly influenced local search results in the US. According to Google’s statements, the locally used algorithm was adapted to the central search algorithm and connected to it. In December of 2014, it was rolled-out in Australia, Great Britain, and Canada.
* August 2014: The update known as the “https or SSL update” modification of the algorithm goes back to Google’s announcement that SSL encryption of websites would be included as a ranking factor.
* September 2014: An adaptation of the Panda update (Panda 4.1) was announced by Google in September 2014. The roll-out took place very slowly. 3-5 percent of all searches worldwide were affected.
* October 2014: Precisely a year after its last revision, the Penguin 3.0 update got launched. According to various statements, this was not a central change in the algorithm, but rather a data refresh. The Pirate 2.0 update was launched in October 2014 as well and resulted in great ranking losses especially for websites that infringed on copyrights, such as torrent websites.
* Oct. 2014: At the end of 2014, Google announced that the Penguin update would not undergo any major modifications any more, but that it would be adjusted continuously. One speaks therefore also of Penguin Everflux. Web pages that were affected by the Penguin update would have the opportunity to more quickly recover from penalties through the continuous updates.
* April 2015: The Mobilegeddon update was launched on April 21, 2015. Since then mobile friendliness is a ranking factor and mobile-optimized websites have a better chance to rank well in the Google mobile search.
* May 2015: In the beginning of May 2015, Google launched a fundamental adaptation of the algorithm. Exactly which elements were modified was not made known by Google. It was later spoken of quality signals that needed to be better taken into account. The core algorithm update, called Google Phantom Update, partly had massive impact on the visibility of many websites around the world.
* July 2015: Panda 4.2 was likely a data refresh.
* October 2015: A member of the Google staff explained “Google Rank Brain” in an interview with the news channel Bloomberg. It was a search algorithm, which was based solely on artificial intelligence. This update was intended to interpret search queries that had not previously been executed and thus deliver better search results.
The development of the Google updates clearly shows that the search engine is able to uncover substandard content and a “suspicious” link structure now more than ever. The updates are occurring more and more frequently, and therefore are ever finer adjustment of the algorithm. According to Google, the Penguin update will no longer be modified in large steps, but in the future will be done as a “live update.” This has two consequences, for one, users receive better results and secondly it is more demanding for search engine optimizers to achieve good rankings. Anyone who still optimizes around “bugs” on Google search today has opted for a gamble with serious consequences, i.e. massive visibility losses.
Google has clearly shown the direction where the web search trend is going with the latest Hummingbird update. Google is no longer a keyword-based question-answering machine, but an answer machine that can respond appropriately to complex queries, cross-device, and with voice control. Panda and Penguin give Google two adjustment knobs with which the quality can be gradually improved.