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Google Updates & Algorithm Change History

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Google updates

For any SEO, it’s critical to keep up with Google’s new updates to understand traffic patterns in your website as well as best practices. In this list of Google Algorithm Updates, we’ll not only document the seo updates, but the full story of what’s REALLY going on in the trenches including best practices, strategies, and case studies from the community.

2019 Updates

Broad Core Algorithm “March 2019 Core Update” Announced March 13, 2019

The marketing community previously referred to the update as the “Florida 2” update because it happened close to the time of the popular Pubcon conference in Florida. Analysis of website traffic data appears to suggest that this update is independent of the previous “Medic” update and is intended to reward sites that focus on providing a good user experience.

News:
March 2019 Core Update: What It Is and Action Steps to Take (HOTH Blog)
Google SearchLiason Announces Core Algorithm Update (Twitter)
Google SearchLiason Officially Names it the “March 2019 Core Update” (Twitter)
Performance Changes Observed by SEOs from this Update (Search Engine Journal)

2018 Updates

Broad Core Algorithm “Medic” Update Announced August 1, 2018

Periodic broad core updates are part of Google’s continual refinement of their algorithm to produce the best quality search results. Websites saw changes in their rankings from the August 2018 Broad Core Algorithm update, but no specific factors were targeted. The update affected many prominent sites in the health and medical niche, and was named the Medic update by Barry Schwartz as a result.

News:
Google’s Medic Update: How to Fix Your Website If You Were Impacted (HOTH Blog)
What You Need to Know About Google’s August 2018 Broad Core Algorithm Update (HOTH Blog)
Google SearchLiason Announces Core Algorithm Update (Twitter)
Performance Changes Observed by SEOs from this Update (Search Engine Roundtable)

Algorithm Quality Update Mid-May 2018

Google continued to make tweaks to their algorithm in May to reward quality content as they did the previous two months. Websites that wasted Google’s crawl rates primarily through thin and duplicate pages as well as bad loading times, high bounce rates and ad-heavy content saw the biggest rankings drop.

News:
Google Core Algorithm Updates Explained (Charles Floate)

Broad Core Algorithm Quality Update Announced April 16, 2018

This update to the rankings algorithm was done to benefit pages with quality content that were previously “under-rewarded.” Websites with content markedly better than their competitors saw improvement, while sites with thin content were bumped down.

News:
Google Confirms Core Algorithm Update (Twitter)
Google Confirms Algorithm Update Released on April 16th

A Change to the Core Algorithm Mid-March 2018

This change to the rankings algorithm was implemented to not punish anyone, but to simply reward websites that are doing things right.

News:
Google Confirmed Weekend Algorithm Ranking Shift As “Core Update”

2017 Updates

“Maccabees” Update — December 14, 2017

Named “Maccabees” by SEO expert Barry Schwartz, there was no formal announcement of this update by Google other than confirmation of several small updates occurring around this time. This update caused a stir when some prominent digital marketer’s websites along with e-commerce website rankings took a hit during the busy season of the holidays.

News:
Google Maccabees Update: The Top Analyses and Theories on the Latest Google Update (HOTH Blog)
Google Search Ranking Algorithm Update: The Maccabees Update (Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Roundtable)
Google confirms mid-December search ranking algorithm updates (Search Engine Land)

Google Fred is Announced Mid-March 2017

The Google Fred Update’s main target was low-value content. This was done in an attempt to rank higher without putting in a quality effort.

News:
Google Rolling Out its New Fred Update (HOTH Blog)
Google’s Fred Update Taking on Sites Focused on Revenue, Not Users
Google Fred Update (ManagedSEO.com.au)

Google Doing Some Housekeeping Early February 2017

Google released 2 unnamed but major updates in early February, in just a week. With no official release announcements, there have been many experts conducting research to quantify what these updates are doing.

News:
Google Update May be Better at Discounting Links and Spam (SEL)
The Impact of Google’s Update on Core Rankings (GSQi)

Intrusive Interstitial Penalty (The Popup Penalty) Jan 10, 2017

Google’s penalty to publish sites with intrusive popups went into effect.

News:
Google Mobile Popup Update (HOTH Blog)
Google Rolling Out Mobile Penalty (SER)

2016 Updates

Google Penguin 4.0 Announced Friday September 23 2016

Google Penguin 4 was announced and includes a few pieces. First, it is now a part of the core algorithm and will update in real time. Second, it will be more “granular” or page specific as opposed to affecting the entire domain.

News:
Google Penguin 4.0, Possum, And Craziness Update September 2016 (HOTH Blog)
Penguin 4 Official Announcement (Google Webmaster Central)

Google Went Crazy September Early to Mid September 2016

Around Sept 1-2 many tools reported high SERP fluctuations, especially in local search. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of data to support what exactly changed. Google’s results started changing again around the 15th, so we are waiting for things to calm down.

News:
Is a big Google search update happening? (SEL)
Google downplays the algorithm ranking update this week as “normal fluctuations” (SEL)

Mobile Friendly Boost Update May 12, 2016

This was another update that gave a slight boost to sites that are mobile friendly within mobile search results. As with the AMP Project, Google seems to be really focused on mobile, but with good reason.

News:
Continuing to make the web more mobile friendly (Google)

Adwords Change Feb 23, 2016

Google removes sidebar ads in the search results and adds a 4th ad to the top block.

News:
The Winners and Losers of The Adwords Shakeup (HOTH)
Google AdWords Switching to 4 Ads on Top, None on Sidebar

Ghost Update Jan 8, 2016

Lots of tools reported changes / SERP fluctuations around these dates in early January. Most SEOs expected this to be the new Penguin update, but Google denies this. Google said later on that this was a core algorithm update. There were no reports of huge losses.

News:
Google Core Ranking Update (SER)

2015 Updates

Rank Brain Algo Change Announced Oct 26 2015, Went Live Months Before

Google announced a change to it’s algorithm called Rank Brain Basically Artificial Intelligence learning. There are no new glaring differences in ranking factors however.

News:
RankBrand & Artificial Intelligence? (Bloomberg)

Google Zombie Update Oct 14th / Oct 15th 2015

This wasn’t an official update however many webmasters reported big fluctuations around this time. There was a huge thread at webmaster world about it.

News:
Google Zombie Update? (SER)

Google Snack Pack / Local 3 Pack August, 2015

Not an algorithm change but an important update Google rolled out a new design for local, getting rid of the normal 7 pack (map) and changing it to a 3 pack. This raised a few different points of discussion as we noted in our article on the 3 pack change here.

News:
Google Local Snack Pack Shakeup (Moz)

Panda 4.2 July 17, 2015

Google announced a Panda update, but not much happened. They said it would take months to roll out.

News:
Everything We Know About Panda 4.2 (SEM Post)

Google Quality Update May 3, 2015

This was called a “Phantom 2” update and obviously something happened, but it wasn’t confirmed until after the fact. Google didn’t specify anything except “quality signals” change.

News:
The Quality Update (SEL)

Google Mobilegeddon Mobile Update April 22, 2015

Google updated its algorithm to change the way results are ranked on mobile devices. It gave preference to sites who were mobile friendly and demoted sites who are not mobile friendly/responsive.

News:
How To Prepare For Mobilegeddon (The HOTH)
Google: Mobile Friendly Update (SEL)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Google released this update and the impact was less than expected. We created an article with all the information on how to check if your site is affected here: Google Mobile Update

No Name Update February 4, 2015

There was no official update but many serp tracking tools reported movement.

News:
Google Update Feb 2015 (SER)

2014 Updates

Penguin 3 Oct 18, 2014

After a year since the last major Penguin update, Penguin 3 started rolling out this past weekend. What was expected to be a brutal release seems to be relatively light in comparison to other updates. According to Google, it affected 1% of US English Queries and this is a multi-week rollout. To give some comparison, the original Penguin update affected >3% (3x) the queries. There are many reports of recoveries for those who had previous penalties, did link remediation / disavow.

News:
Google Releases Penguin 3.0 (SEL)
Google Confirms Penguin 3.0 Update (SEJ)
Penguin Update Official (Google)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Seems like this update was lighter than expected. Across the sites we track, we haven’t seen much out of the ordinary. Keep in mind that Penguin is traditionally keyword specific and not a site-wide penalty, so take a look at any specific keywords that dropped or pages that dropped and adjust accordingly.

We’ve seen a lot of reports of recovery. Usually, if you were hit by a Penguin penalty in the past, you would need to fix/remove/disavow over optimized links and wait for an update. Many webmasters have been waiting all year for an update and it finally arrived.

Take a look at our Penguin recovery guide here.

Panda 4.1 Sep 26, 2014

Panda 4.1 started earlier this week and will continue into next week, affecting 3-5% of queries (which is substantial). According to Google “Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice.”

News:
Panda 4.1 — Google’s 27th Panda Update — Is Rolling Out (SEL)

Google Starts De-Inexing Private Blog Networks In Mass Sep 18, 2014

Although Google has been de-indexing public blog networks publicly for years, we started hearing first reports of de-indexing of private / semi-private networks. Notable articles from NoHat, ViperChill, NichePursuits, and others came out with varying opinions on the matter.

Special Note To HOTH Users: This update doesn’t affect HOTH users, as we point exactly 0 PBN links to your sites. See our link building strategy here.

News:
No Hat Digital: PBN Sites De-Indexed, How Bad Were We Hit?
ViperChill: Why I’ll Keep Growing My Private Link Network After Google’s “Crackdown”
Niche Pursuits: Alright Google, You WinI’ll Never Use Private Blog Networks Again!
Source Wave: The Death of PBNS

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Some amount of de-indexing is normal, and anyone who has ever run a network of any substantial size knows this. What is not normal is having 50% of your network taken out in one fell swoop.

There isn’t a lot of data about what “footprint” has been caught, but common footprints include using SEO hosting, not changing whois info, not using co-citations, and more.

Even if you do things “correctly”, there may not have been a single footprint that makes a site get caught and it could be a combination of factors, including a low website Quality Score.

PBNs are not dead. And if you did things right, or at least pretty close, you shouldn’t see a big change in de-indexing. With that said, times do evolve, SEOs get smarter and we diversify strategies. In the meantime, High PR links still work (Google usually goes after what is currently working).

The best “keep my PBN safe” info that has come out has been from Veteran SEO Stephen Floyd (SEOFloyd) in his Bullet Proof SEO Course.

Google Drops Authorship From Search Results Completely Aug 28, 2014

After dropping authorship photos from search results, Google completely removed authorship from it’s search results.

News:
It’s Over: The Rise & Fall Of Google Authorship For Search Results (SEL)
Official Announcement

SSL Becomes Ranking Factor Aug 7, 2014

Google says it will give sites using SSL a minor boost in rankings. No one cares because this is going to be such a minor minor minor factor we even feel bad including this as an update here.

News:
Google Starts Giving A Ranking Boost To Secure HTTPS/SSL Sites

Google Pigeon July 24, 2014

Google updated its local search algorithm to include more signals from traditional search like knowledge graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more. The language used is vague, but early evidence just shows a significant drop in the amount of “local packs” being used. Search Engine Land just made up the name for this update, not to be confused with one of Google’s previous April fools day jokes. The other feature of this update is that Google is now blending 7 pack rankings with organic factors, meaning that domain authority of the organic site linked to the Google Local page will help 7 pack rankings.

News:
Google Makes Significant Changes to Local Search

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Big decline in 7 packs
Local Directories Got A Boost You should make sure you are in all the relevant local directories since they are getting a boost now. (P.S. You can do that with HOTH Local!)

No Photos on Authorship June 28, 2014

Photos from the author no longer appear in the SERPs for results with authorship markup. Now they just display the author’s name in text format.

News:
Google Announces End of Author Photos (Moz)

Panda 4.0 May 19, 2014

The latest addition to the panda update family. Sources say this was a softer update and some sites got a boost that were previously hit by this update. We noticed some sites are getting dinged for having on-site over-optimization. There has been some discussion that now rankings are taking longer than normal Up to 6 weeks for links to be recognized and re-calculated.

News:
Official Announcement
Google Begins Rolling Panda 4.0 Out Now (SEL)
Panda 4 (Moz)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Panda (HOTH)
The Answers to Google’s 2014 First Algorithm Update (Search Highway) Relevant
Press releases took a big hit in visibility
4 Week Factor / Slow Rankings

Payday Loan / High-Spam Searches Update 2.0 — May 16, 2014

Right before Panda 4.0, Google rolled out an update that targets queries that are traditionally spammed (seo-wise). Google claims the update happened around 5/20 and it makes it hard to tell as Panda 4 came out around almost the same time.

News:
Official Announcement

No Name Update — March 24, 2014

Lots of rank trackers and data reported heavy fluctuations, but no update was confirmed by Google.

News:
Did Google Do An Algorithm Update Yesterday? (SERT)

Page Layout #3 — February 6, 2014

A refresh to the page layout algorithm, originally from Jan 2012 which targets sites that have tons of ads, especially above the fold (in the top section of the website).

News:
Official Announcement

Unnamed Update January 8th, 2014

An unnamed/unofficial update came out around this time. This was not an official update.

News:
Is Google Search Updating? January 8th & 9th (SER)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
The Answers to Google’s 2014 First Algorithm Update (Search Highway)

2013 Updates

Authorship Change — December 19, 2013

Matt Cutts leaked that authorship markup was going to play less of a part going forward and around Dec 19, we saw a drop off of about 15% over a period of a month.

News:
Authorshipocalypse! The Great Google Authorship Purge Has Begun (Virante)

No Name Update — December 17, 2013

Almost all algorithm change trackers showed high activity around Dec 17th, although Google did not confirm an update.

News:
Google Denies A Major Update On December 17th (SEL)

No Name Update — November 14, 2013

Reports went out of unusual activity, which appeared alongside reports of widespread DNS errors in Google Webmaster Tools. This was not official and Google did not confirm any updates.

News:
Was There a November 14th Google Update? (Moz)

Penguin 2.1 (#5) — October 4, 2013

This does not appear to be a major change to the Penguin algorithm, just an update.

News:
Penguin 5, With The Penguin 2.1 Spam-Filtering Algorithm, Is Now Live (SEL)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Penguin (HOTH)
You’ll want to just continue to maintain diverse contextual link building strategies.

Hummingbird — August 20, 2013

Google announced the new update on Sep 26 and suggested that “Hummingbird” actually rolled out about a month before around August 20th. Hummingbird is an update that better interprets the way text and queries are typed into Google. There were no widespread reports of penalties like Penguin or Panda.

News:
Google Reveals “Hummingbird” Search Algorithm (SEL)

More About Hummingbird:
Learn more about Google Hummingbird (HOTH)

In-depth Article Update — August 6, 2013

Google is now featuring a new type of content in their search results called “In-depth articles” that is meant for long articles that cover a topic from a-z.

News:
How To Appear in Google’s In Depth Articles Feature

No Name Update — July 26, 2013

Another non-confirmed Google update, however, there were large spikes in search engine tracking activity.

News:
Was There A Weekend Google Update? (SER)

Expansion of Knowledge Graph — July 19, 2013

Significantly more amounts of Knowledge Graph data started appearing in search results, increasing the appearance to nearly 25% of all searches.

News:
The Day the Knowledge Graph Exploded (Moz)

Panda Update (Fine Tuning) — July 18, 2013

A new Panda update that sources reported as being “softer” than others possibly loosening up the rungs of previous updates. This one rolled out over a 10 day period.

News:
Confirmed: Google Panda Update: The “Softer” Panda Algorithm (SER)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Panda (HOTH)

Multi-Week Update — June 27, 2013

Screaming frog tweeted that someone was spamming for “Car Insurance” and it ranked them #2, Cutts tweets with a reply saying “Multi-week rollout going on now, from next week all all the way to the week after July 4th.”

News:
Twitter Thread
Multi-Week Update Rolling Out (SER)

Panda Dance — June 11, 2013

Matt Cutts clarified that Google rolls out Panda updates constantly over a period of about 10 days, almost every month. They also said they are unlikely to announce future Panda updates since they are on-going.

News:
Google’s Panda Dance: Matt Cutts Confirms Panda Rolls Out Monthly Over 10 Of 30 Days (SEL)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Panda (HOTH)

Payday Loan / Spam Query Update — June 11, 2013

Google Announced an update to the algorithm that specifically targets queries that are regularly spammed for SEO including payday loans, porn, and others.

News:
Google Payday Loan Algorithm: Google Search Algorithm Update To Target Spammy Queries (SEL)

Penguin 2.0 (#4) — May 22, 2013

Google rolled out Penguin 2.0, the 4th iteration of Penguin affecting 2.3% of English queries. This was an update to the algorithm, not just a data refresh. This was long awaited since it was ~6 months from the last one.

News:
Penguin 4 Live (SERT)
Official Announcement

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Penguin (HOTH)

Domain Crowding / Diversity — May 21, 2013

An update to help increase the amount of diversity in the SERPs. Previously there were problems where one domain would take up too many spots on the page.

News:
Google’s Matt Cutts: Domain Clustering To Change Again; Fewer Results From Same Domain

No Name Update — May 9, 2013

Reports of algorithm activity, but nothing official from Google.

News:
Large Google Update Happening Now (SER)

Panda Update 25 — March 13-14, 2013

No exact confirmation, but data suggests that an update to panda hit around Mar 13-14.

News:
Google Panda Update 25 Seems To Have Hit (SEL)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Panda (HOTH)

Panda Update 24 — January 22, 2013

Google announced 24th update to panda affecting 1.2 of search queries.

News:
Google Panda Update Version #24; 1.2% Of Search Queries Impacted (SEL)

What Really Happened & How to Beat This Update:
Learn more about Google Panda (HOTH)

2012 Updates

Panda #23 — December 21, 2012

Panda hits right before the holidays. After this Google says they will try to avoid updates around the holidays.

News:
Official: It’s Google Panda Update 23, Impacting ~1.3% Of Queries

Knowledge Graph Expansion — December 4, 2012

Knowledge graph becomes available on foreign language queries in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, and Italian.

News:
Official Announcement

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