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
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
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
Launched: August 2012
Most recent: October 2014
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: Overstock.com Penalty
Google publicly penalized Overstock.com 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.