A Timeline of Recent Major Google Updates
What are major Google updates?
- Google Panda Update - 2011
- Google Penguin Update - 2012
- Google Hummingbird Update - 2013
- Google Mobile Update - 2015
- Google Quality Update - 2015
- Google RankBrain Update - 2015
- Google AdWords SERP Update - 2016
- Interstitial Penalty - 2017
- Google "Fred" - 2017
What have been the major Google updates and how have they impacted me?
Every year, Google updates or adjusts its algorithm hundreds of times. The vast majority of the time, the updates do not noticeably impact the results and website owners do not even notice. There have been a few significant times, however, when Google has made updates that cause obvious changes in rankings and traffic rates.
This is a basic overview of some of these major changes so you can understand how the algorithm has developed over the past few years.
The Panda Update - First launched in 2011
This update was first launched in 2011, but it had several updates over the years. In the beginning of 2016, it was announced that it had been added to Google’s core ranking algorithm.
Panda targets spam and weak content that did not help the end-user. Thin content, duplicate content and content with too many ads were all penalized.
The Penguin Update - First Launched in 2012
About a year after the Panda update, the Penguin update was released, creating another push towards quality content. This update targeted spam by looking at backlinks and rewarding those with quality, organic backlinks and penalizing those with artificial backlink profiles.
The Hummingbird Update - First Launched in 2013
The Hummingbird update was a change to Google’s algorithm to make it smarter at interpreting semantic search. It was designed to help Google better understand intent and context. This forced marketers to shift towards longtail keywords and developing pieces based more on user intent and needs rather than just a single keyword.
The Mobile Update - First Launched in 2015
The mobile update forced all sites to become mobile-friendly or risk being penalized in the SERPs. Rather than mobile-optimization being reserved for the brands at the forefront of the industry, now every site needs to have a mobile version of their website that is ready for the reader who is on-the-go.
The Quality Update - First Launched in 2015
This update, also known as Phantom II, was noticed just a few weeks after the mobile update went live. This update rewarded the sites that were focusing more on the user experience and high-quality content while penalizing those with too many ads and certain types of user-generated content. Thin content was again hit hard, and likely one of the reasons that user-generated sites, like HubPages were penalized, while user-generated sites like Quora actually saw a boost.
The RankBrain Update - First Launched in 2015
When RankBrain went live, it introduced artificial intelligence to the Google algorithm. This part of the algorithm has the power to monitor user behavior and response to queries to ‘learn’ more about intent and the value of certain pages. It is now Google’s 3rd most important ranking signal.
The AdWords Update - First Launched in 2016
In Q1 2016 Google fundamentally changed the way that paid search listings appeared on the SERP, doing away with the traditional 4-pack placement in the righthand column (where the Knowledge Graph element now appears) and integrating them into the top of the main listings. The integration trend would continue, with the icons labeling listings as paid advertisements gradually being deemphasized over time.
Mobile Interstitial Penalty - First Launched in 2017
This was an SEO penalty applied to sites running interstitial ads that block the user's view of the content of the page they click through to from the SERP. This was not a blanket penalty on all interstitials -- focusing on intrusive interstitials on mobile and only those that require the user to dismiss them manually.
The Google "Fred" Update - First Launched in 2017
An unconfirmed algo update, Fred had an outsized impact on organic listings, with a number of sites experiencing traffic declines from 50 to 90%. The exact parameters of Fred have never been confirmed by Google, but seem to crack down on sites that emphasize display ads and/or traffic monetization widgets over content as well as making said elements difficult to differentiate from actual on-page content.
How do I succeed when the Google algorithm keeps changing?
Although it sounds like the Google algorithm keeps changing - there were at least three major updates in 2015 alone - if you look at the timeline, you will notice that there is actually a clear purpose and pattern. The changes are not random-- they are all geared towards improving the user experience and helping searchers find the information they need as quickly as possible. The updates all focus on weeding out poor content and boosting the content that fills this need.
When developing content for your site, you need to:
- Think less about the search engine and more about your end-user
- Create content that will engage readers at every stage of the buyer’s journey
- Develop a site that is easy to navigate
- Use a variety of types of content, including images, videos, infographics and text
- Perpetually monitor your site so that you can identify any changes in traffic rates and correct any drops as quickly as possible.
Google’s algorithm is always changing, trying to improve its ability to serve their customers by providing the right information as quickly as possible. Understanding the common key that binds the many algorithm updates is the cornerstone of developing content that is prepared to handle any new changes.