Google has long been the leader of search engines and its influence is far-reaching. Ranking on Google means being visible on the Internet; conversely, not ranking makes you invisible. Over the years, Google has perfected its search algorithms to provide better searches for its users. On multiple occasions, its major updates have required marketers to completely shake up their strategies. Below is a timeline of major changes from 2011 to 2017, followed by a description of these updates.

Google Algorithm Timeline

Google algorithm timeline

Major Updates


Initially launched in 2012, Penguin was created to catch sites spamming its search results, particularly by buying links or obtaining links from networks created primarily to boost Google rankings.

Launched: April 2012
Most recent: October 2016

4.0: Phase 2, Phase 1

3.0: Everflux, 3.0

2.0: 2.1, 2.0

1.0: #3, 1.1 (#2), Penguin


The overall goal of these updates was to boost mobile-friendly sites on mobile search. It consisted of Mobile Friendly 2 and Mobile Friendly/Mobilegeddon.

Launched: April 2015
Most recent: May 2016


Panda prevents poor-quality sites from reaching the top of Google’s search results.

Launched: February 2011
Most recent: July 2015

4.0: 4.2 (#28), 4.1 (#27), 4.0 (#26)

Panda #20-25: Recovery, Dance, #25, #24, #23, #22, #21, #20

3.0: 3.9.2 (#19), 3.9.1 (#18), 3.9 (#17), 3.8 (#16), 3.7 (#15), 3.6 (#14), 3.5 (#13), 3.4 (#12), 3.3 (#11), 3.2 (#10), 3.1 (#9)

2.0: Flux (#8), 2.5 (#7), 2.4 (#6), 2.3 (#5), 2.2 (#4), 2.1 (#3), 2.0 (#2)

1.0: Panda/Farmer


The Pirate updates are meant to prevent sites with multiple copyright complaints from ranking high on Google’s listings. This includes the original DMCA penalty and the later update Pirate 2.

Launched: August 2012
Most recent: October 2014

Payday Loan

Payday cleaned up search results for traditionally spammy search queries, like that of payday loans, pornography, and other heavily spammed queries. Includes: Payday Loan 3.0, Payday Loan 2.0, and Payday Loan.

Launched: June 2013
Most recent: June 2014

Other Updates (Chronological Order)


January: Penalty

Google publicly penalized for shady SEO practices. JCPenney received a similar penalty. This penalty ultimately inspired the Panda updates.

January 28: Attribution Update

A Panda precursor, the update was meant to sort out content attribution.

October 18: Query Encryption

Google started encrypting search queries.


September 27: Exact Match Domain (EMD)

EMD affects how Google treats its exact-match domains, which led to large-scale devaluation.


May 9: Phantom

Many sites reported significant traffic loss, but the nature of the update is unknown.

August 20: Hummingbird

Hummingbird is meant to improve search results by taking the whole phrase or sentence of a search query into account.


February 6: Top Heavy

Google begins penalizing sites with too many ads above-the-fold.

July 24: Pigeon

Pigeon modified how the search engine handled and interpreted location cues. It dramatically changed local results.

August 6: HTTPS/SSL Update

Google started giving preference to secure sites. Added encryption also provide small rankings boosts.

October: “In the News” Box

This update involved a display change to News-box results and resulted in traffic changes for major news sites.


May 3: The Quality Update

Although Google never revealed the specific signals, Google did acknowledge that the update impacted “quality signals.”

October 26: RankBrain

Although this update may have been rolled out as early as spring 2015, the official announcement took place in October. Google used machine-learning in its algorithms.


February 23: AdWords Shake-Up

Google decided to remove the right sidebar ads in their entirety and added 4-ad top blocks on many searches. It had a significant impact on click-through rates for both paid and organic searches, especially competitive keywords.

September 1: Possum

This update affected the local pack. Previously, businesses located just outside of cities would rank lower than those in the city searched. This update gave those businesses just outside of city limits a chance to rank if they were relevant.


January 10: Intrusive Interstitial Penalty

Back in 2016, Google warned it would penalize sites with intrusive interstitials. When the time came in January, impact seemed relatively low.

March 8: Fred 

In March, there were reports of widespread impact in the SEO community. It is believed that the update affects low-value content, which focuses on revenue-generation, rather than consumers.

More Updates to Come

Google will also seek to improve the consumer experience; accordingly, the updates listed will not be the last. Only time will tell which algorithms come next, but one thing is for certain: marketers need to watch Google carefully.