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7 Most Influential Google Algorithm Updates in the History

Google, launched in 1998, is presently the most widely used search engine.  On the day it was launched, it started to rapidly expand. By 2004, it went public and expanded to become one of the leading media corporations worldwide.  

Multiple services, including Google Maps, Gmail, and Chrome, have been introduced and are widely used. Google did not achieve its status as the most widely used search engine through luck or coincidence; rather, its growth has been continuous since its inception.  

The company focuses on their users and strives to improve the user experience, resulting in frequent google algorithm updates. These usually involve a wide range of elements, going from small changes to changing the standards for ranking pages in search results. 

Let’s review the main improvements and how they affect internet performance. 

1: The Panda Update – February 24th, 2011 

It was the initial one from Google that introduced significant alterations to the search engine. The Panda update was implemented due to a large quantity of websites containing subpar content.  

The owners of those websites engaged in unethical tactics to rise in search rankings and appear at the top of results, such as stealing and duplicating content.  

Not only did they incorrectly utilize search engine optimization, but it is also very likely that the quality of their services and products was below standard, impacting Google. 

Online journalists wrote articles criticizing Google’s poor user experience, prompting Google to make changes and release an update. This update aimed to improve user experience by lowering the rankings of low-quality sites and boosting the rankings of high-quality ones. 

2: The Penguin Update – April 24th, 2012 

This Google algorithm update aimed to reduce the ranking of low-quality websites, just like the Panda update. Following the Panda update, questionable websites began implementing fresh strategies to manipulate the algorithm and improve their rankings, prompting Google to release the Penguin update.  

Today, these methods are referred to as ‘black hat SEO’ and may lead to banning of websites. 

Panda aimed at sites with poor content, while Penguin addressed questionable linking strategies. 

As you are likely aware, the SEO of a website is significantly impacted by the quantity of links that direct towards it, meaning that the higher number of websites that include your links, the more improved your search engine page ranking will be. 

To accomplish this goal, websites used to manipulate links, a practice that was halted by the Penguin update. The Penguin update also included a set of rules that, if broken, would lead to an instant punishment and decrease in search engine rankings. 

3: The Hummingbird Update – August 22nd, 2013 

The Hummingbird Google algorithm focused on search and user interactions.  

Before this update, searches were quite literal, prompting Google to improve the algorithm’s understanding of user intent to provide more accurate results. 

Hummingbird enhanced the algorithm’s comprehension of context, natural language, and the significance of various words when combined. It added depth to semantic search and long-tail keywords, impacting approximately 90% of global searches. 

Hummingbird also prompts website owners to adjust their content for a more natural tone, in hopes of boosting their ranking. 

4: The Mobile Update – April 21st, 2015 

During 2015, there was a rise in mobile web usage, leading Google to upgrade their service for better user satisfaction. 

Thus, the aim of this update was to enhance the mobile browsing experience for users, enabling them to have a smoother and more pleasant time while utilizing Google for searching. 

Put simply, not having a mobile-friendly website led to a decline in your ranking on mobile devices, giving an edge to competitors with mobile-friendly sites. 

Google gave users two months’ notice before releasing Hummingbird, resulting in a smaller impact than the three previous updates. This gave people the opportunity to make modifications to their websites and pages before the update was launched. 

5: The Quality Update – Sometime in 2015 

The Phantom update, another name for this Google algorithm update, was released in May 2015. The goal was to enhance the algorithm’s evaluation of website quality, ensuring search page results are more useful to users. 

Like the initial two Google algorithm updates we discussed earlier in this post; this update gave preference to high-quality websites rather than low-quality ones.  

Websites that had articles lacking useful information and were too short were impacted, along with websites featuring excessive ads and content created to make money through advertising. 

This update had a significant impact on websites, unlike the Hummingbird update. HubPages, a platform with many mostly brief articles, experienced a decline in traffic by 22%. 

WikiHow, Answers.com, and eHow all experienced declines too.  

The link between these websites is clear – the majority of articles showcased on them don’t offer any meaningful benefit to the user. They contain catchy headlines and thousands of very brief articles that offer no valuable information at all. 

6: The RankBrain Update – October 26th, 2015 

Here is another Google algorithm update that aimed to improve search results for users. 

The reason for its name is RankBrain, the artificial intelligence used by Google. Google created RankBrain to deliver more relevant search results to its users, and its significance is such that Google has placed it as the third most crucial ranking factor, alongside links and content. 

RankBrain artificial intelligence has improved its ability to comprehend user intent, ensuring users receive the most relevant search results. Every time a user searches on Google, RankBrain sifts through numerous pages and selects only the most suitable ones to show. 

RankBrain uses machine learning to analyze a vast amount of content and information in order to understand how to present accurate results. Quite fascinating, wouldn’t you agree? 

7: The Fred Update – March 7th, 2017 

In March 2017, Google launched a set of algorithm updates playfully named Fred by a Google analyst. It’s a recent Google algorithm update that placed a strong emphasis on website quality. But it wasn’t formally announced, leading to panic among website owners upon its deployment. 

The purpose of these updates was to discover additional websites utilizing black hat SEO methods and aggressive advertising, both of which result in very negative user experiences. 

We are all aware of Google’s emphasis on user experience, which is why websites with more ads than valuable content were negatively impacted by another one of their updates. 

Shortly after the update was released, Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land examined 100 websites impacted by it. Every website he reviewed shared two key characteristics: they were all focused on content and contained numerous advertisements. 

Schwartz determined that most of these websites were primarily created to generate ad revenue, and the information provided on them was typically not beneficial to the user.  

Following the Fred update, these websites saw significant decreases in organic traffic ranging from 50% to 90%.