Google Algorithm Changes

Did you know that Google changes its search engine algorithms about 600 times per year? A bulk of these are minor, but Google really knows how to stir up the world of search when it releases major updates.

This is especially true for the two big ones – Panda, which focused on quality content, and Penguin, which focus on keyword stuffing and bad link habits, among others.

The Algorithm shakeup began back in 2000 when Google launched the browser toolbar, Toolbar PageRank (TBPR). With the advent of the TBPR, the great SEO shuffle began. Early practitioners began raking in the fruits of Google’s search ranking list, but others began loosing serious traffic.

Things have been under a constant change since the “Google Dance” began in 2000. Nothing would ever be the same – from the first-named “Boston” update in 2002, which provided some major algorithm changes and refreshing of major indexes, to the Real-time Search in December 2009, which incorporated Google News, Twitter and new indexed content into a real-time feed on SERPS.

From 2010’s May Day update to the recent change in AdWords placement, the Google Algorithm updates continue, demanding 1000s of business to rely on serious SEO services.

Following is rundown of the major changes from 2010 and up:


In 2010, Google began to rollout more updates, such as May Day, which aimed at fixing low-quality pages with long-tail keyword searches.  Google also released its Caffeine update in June, which sought to  increase its indexing and raw speed. This resulted in a 50% fresher index. Google also allowed domains unrestricted listings in a SERP in its Brand Update, which before then, limited domain listings to 1-2 listings per SERP.


Following the heels of May Day, Google released its famous Panda update in 2011, which cracked down on thin content frames with a high ad-to-content ratio.  This affected a total of 12% of search results, according to Google.

This was foreshadowed by the public penalties Google lunched against and JCPenny for its suspicious SEO practices. Google also teamed up with Microsoft and Yahoo in a bid to create richer search results by consolidating data through a structured data approach.

At the end of 2011, Google released an update that would encrypt search queries; this had an impact on organic keyword referral data for some organic traffic. One of its most famous updates came from the Freshness Update, which began rewarding recent content, impacting an estimated 35% of search queries (a much higher impact than the Panda update).


With the rollout of Google + in 2011, it released its Search + Your World update, which would include Google + user profiles in search results.  The Venice update more aggressively incorporated local organic results into broad searches.  In April of 2012, Google announced its Penguin update, which cracked down on keyword-stuffing, link schemes, and rewarded those in compliance with Google’s publisher guidelines.

Google also rolled out its Knowledge Graph at the end of this year to include facts and images alongside traditional search results.  Finally, Google cracked down on EMD (Exact Match Domains) that included search terms in their domain names, reducing the presence of EMDs by close to 10% according to the MozCast data set.


In August of 2013, Google released an algorithm update that would reward in-depth articles with longer form content. Hummingbird was also released this year and mirrored the Caffeine update, which improved raw speed performance across Google. Under this update, Google recognized full question searches and provided a better emphasis on high quality content.


Google lead with another step in the “Google Dance” with its Pigeon update. In a claim to strengthen ties between its core engine and local organic searches, this update modified how the search engine interpreted local cues and managed local search results.

The HTTP/SSL update began rewarding companies with more secure websites; encrypting your website would give you a rise in rankings.  Finally, in August of this year, after removing authorship photos Google announced it would remove authorship markup altogether.


In late 2015, Google announced it had integrated machine learning as a ranking factor in its search queries for the past few months. Google also announced in early 2015 that it would rank mobile rankings differently for mobile friendly sites, providing a minimal impact


The most recent Google update comes from its AdWords shakeup, which removed right column ads across a number of SERPs and would replace these with four top page ads. This update is theorized to affect CTR for organic and paid searches.