Google Updates: A Timeline of Recent Major Google Algorithm Changes

Did Google change their algorithm again?

  1. Google Panda Update - 2011
  2. Google Penguin Update - 2012
  3. Google Hummingbird Update - 2013
  4. Google Mobile Update - 2015
  5. Google Quality Update - 2015
  6. Google RankBrain Update - 2015
  7. Google AdWords SERP Update - 2016
  8. Interstitial Penalty - 2017
  9. Google "Fred" - 2017
  10. "Medic" Core Update - 2018

How have the major algorithm updates 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 SERP and website owners do not even notice. However, there have been a few significant times 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.

Google updates google Panda algorithm updateThe Panda Update - First launched in 2011

This update was first launched in 2011, but it has had several updates over the years. In the beginning of 2016, Panda was 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 are 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. It rewarded those with quality, organic backlinks and penalized those with artificial backlink profiles.

Google updates google Hummingbird updateThe 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. It also encouraged marketers to develop pieces based more on user intent and needs rather than 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, every site needs to have a mobile version of their website.

The Quality Update - First Launched in 2015

This update, also known as Phantom II, was noticed a few weeks after the mobile update went live. This update rewarded sites that focused on the user experience and high-quality content while penalizing those with too many ads and certain types of user-generated content. Once again, thin content was hit hard. This is likely one of the reasons that user-generated sites, like HubPages, were penalized while user-generated sites, like Quora, 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. They removed the traditional 4-pack placement in the righthand column (where the Knowledge Graph element now appears) and integrated them into the top of the main listings. The integration trend would continue, with the icons labelling listings as paid advertisements gradually being deemphasized over time.

Mobile Interstitial Penalty - First Launched in 2017

This SEO penalty applied to sites running interstitial ads that blocked the user's view of the content on the page. This was not a blanket penalty on all interstitials. Instead, it focused on intrusive interstitials on mobile and interstitials 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.

"Medic" Core Update - First Launched in 2018

The "Medic" Core Update was a broad core algorithm update, one of the updates that Google does several times a year. While Google did not confirm the specific purpose of this update, it had a large impact on health, finance, and your money your life pages. SEO experts speculated that this Google update boosted the rank of high-quality articles that offer advice on major life issues, such as finances and health.

Google updates BrightEdgeHow do I succeed when the Google algorithm keeps changing?

If you look at the timeline of Google algorithm changes, you will notice that there is a clear purpose and pattern. Each algorithm update is geared towards improving 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:

  1. Think less about the search engine and more about your end-user
  2. Create content that will engage readers at every stage of the buyer’s journey
  3. Develop a site that is easy to navigate
  4. Use a variety of types of content, including images, videos, infographics and text
  5. 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 because it is trying to provide the best information as quickly as possible to its users. To keep a high SERP rating no matter how the algorithm changes, create high-quality, user-friendly content.

Related materials

<< Back to the SEO Glossary main page

Related Resources