9 Major Google Algorithm Updates In The History Of SEO

Each year, Google makes numerous changes in its search algorithm. Some updates are minor while others are major to an extent of affecting search results significantly. Knowing what these updates entail is crucial for search marketers to improve their ranking and website traffic and ultimately enhance search engine optimization. There are 9 Major Google Algorithm Updates which ultimately influenced the Search Engine Traffic of many Websites and Blogs.

Before looking at the major algorithm changes, have you made sure your On-Page SEO is top-notch and done to perfection?

Some people worry about links but haven’t perfected the art of On-Page SEO. To use a bit of a comparison, On-Page SEO is the car, whilst backlinks are the engine. While, both need to work together to power your SEO, even with a good engine (backlinks), your site will struggle if you haven’t done well On Page SEO. This checklist by collectiveray.com helps you to get your content 100% optimized for search engines.

Here is a detailed list of nine major Google algorithm updates in the history of SEO:

Major Google Algorithm Updates

9 Major Google Algorithm Updates In The History Of SEO

1. Panda

Date of release: The first Panda update was released on February 24, 2011. Iterations of Panda update include Panda updates number 2 to 25, Panda update 4.0, Panda update 4.1, and the last Panda Update 4.2 released on July 23, 2014.

Implications: Panda update penalized plagiarized, thin or duplicate web content. It also targeted keyword staffing and user-generated spam. It was aimed at assisting quality content to rank higher by assigning a quality score to web content.

Detecting if you have been hit requires checking your site for content duplication, keyword stuffing, and thin content. In case you’ve been hit by the Panda update, you should ensure you produce quality content without trying to cheat the system and you will be rewarded with higher rankings.

The ideal way of getting out of this algorithm, even today is to merge several short pieces of content, into one major, user-focused, detailed piece of content, while 301ing all old content to the new piece of content.

Pages which are thin and cannot be reorganized, should be unpublished and left to throw 404 errors until they get deindexed by Google.

Recommended for you: Common Issues to Examine When Google Rankings Have Dropped.

2. Penguin

Date of release: The first Google Penguin update (version 1.0) was released on April 24, 2012. Other versions of Penguin update include Penguin version 1.1, versions 1.2, version 2.0, version 2.1, version 3.0, and version 4.0 released on September 23, 2016.

Implications: The objective of Google Penguin is to penalize sites with manipulative links by demoting their ranking. It helps sites with trustworthy and relevant inbound links to rank higher.

You can detect whether you have been hit by checking with Penguin’s SEO Spyglass penalty formula, or you could perform a full link audit using such a tool as Link Detox from LRT, which gives a score of each and every link on your site. In case you have been hit, audit backlinks on your site and eliminate any dodgy links by submitting a disavow file with domains you want to no longer point to your site.

In general, always obtain natural links to avoid penalties.

3. HummingBird

Date of release: Google’s HummingBird algorithm update was released on August 22, 2013.

Implications: The main objective of HummingBird update was to eliminate irrelevant search results by making searches faster and more precise. It assists Google to interpret search queries in a better way to provide search results that match the intent of the searcher rather than individual query terms.

If your ranking might have dropped after the release of the update, then you might have been hit. You can simply adjust by expanding your keyword strategy by focusing more on concepts rather than keywords. Ensure to integrate carefully researched synonyms, related searches, and co-occurring words.

Always write naturally, and use LSI keywords to help your content rank better.

4. Mobilegeddon

Date of release: Mobilegeddon, also known as Google’s Mobile Update, is among the most influential Google Algorithm updates. It was released on April 21, 2015.

Implications: The aim of the Mobilegeddon update was to filter out pages that are not optimized for mobile users and rank them lower while helping mobile-friendly pages to rank higher on mobile searches.

If you have been hit, your ranking on mobile searches would drop significantly. Google offers a mobile-friendly test to check aspects of your page that require improvement for mobile users. You can adjust by ensuring your site pages are mobile friendly by focusing on usability and speed for mobile users.

5. RankBrain

Date of release: RankBrain was released on October 26, 2015, as part of the Hummingbird algorithm.

Implications: Basically, RankBrain is a machine learning mechanism that assists Google to better understand what a query means to give the best matching search results. It penalizes web page ranking for web pages that are irrelevant for a given query and helps web pages that are more relevant to rank higher in search results.

In case you’ve been hit, your web pages would rank lower in search results. The best way to adjust is optimizing your web content for comprehensiveness and relevant by using competitive analysis tools.

6. Possum

Date of release: Possum is among the major Google algorithm updates. It was released on September 1, 2016.

Implications: The objective of Google’s Possum update is ensuring that local results vary depending on the location of a searcher. Hence, sites whose address location is farther away from the location of a searcher rank lower while sites whose address is closer to the location of the searcher are ranked higher.

Websites that have been hit by this update would rank lower on local rankings. You can adjust by extending your keywords to match with local searches and tracking your ranking on specific locations.

However, in some instances, you cannot recover, particularly if you’ve lost traffic to locations who are physically closer to a search user than you are.

7. Fred

Date of release: Google’s Fred algorithm update was released on March 8, 2017.

Implications: Fred was launched to penalize affiliate heavy, ad-centred, and thin content. Websites that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines are penalized and the most affected sites are sites that appear to be centred mostly on ad revenue rather than quality content.

In case you have been hit, review guidelines on Google search quality and avoid publishing thin content. If you rely on ads to earn revenue, ensure they are placed on pages with quality content to avoid being penalized.

8. Chrome HTTPS Warnings

Date of release: Chrome HTTPS Warnings is an algorithm update released in October 2017 and was initially integrated into Google Chrome version 62.

Implications: The aim of this update is to make the browsing environment more secure and protect the privacy of users. The update affects any website that is not served over HTTPS. A user would see a “Not Secure” warning on Chrome in case a site which is not under HTTPS is visited. The implication is that users would fear to visit such sites, especially where they are giving personal or financial information.

While this is not an algorithmic update per se, it follows up from another Google announcement a few years before which was meant to boost sites which were served over HTTPS higher than those that did not enable HTTPS.

Worth Reading: How to setup Cloudflare flexible SSL Certificate for WordPress Blog

If your website is not under HTTPS, you would be affected and you would experience a drop in visibility, ranking, and organic traffic. You can adjust by ensuring your site is HTTPS certified and ensuring HTTP to HTTPS redirects are implemented correctly.

Recommended For You: All That You Should Know About SSL Certificates

9. Mobile First Index Roll-out

Date of release: Google’s Mobile First Index Roll-out was announced on March 26, 2018, after more than a year of testing. However, Google is yet to announce when the roll-out will be completed.

Implications: The objective of this recent update is that Google will be using the mobile version of web pages for Google indexing and ranking. Sites that will be greatly affected are those that offer different content to mobile users when compared to desktop users. The update will promote content that is identical on both mobile and desktop web pages.

In case you are hit by this update, your site will rank lower on mobile searches. Sites that will be migrated to the mobile-first indexing will be notified. You can adjust by ensuring your desktop version content is identical to that on a mobile version and using relevant markup on both mobile and desktop web page versions.


From time to time, Google releases major updates that are aimed to enhance the experience of Google searches by promoting the ranking of quality sites and demoting poor content. These updates filter and penalize low-quality content, spammy backlinks, keyword stuffing, thin content, duplicated content, ad-centred and affiliate heavy content, and more. In case one or more of these Google algorithm updates hit you, you can always adjust by ensuring your content adheres to the Google updates, policies and guidelines on publishing web content.

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