Demystifying the google updates & algorithm: a historical view

There is no doubt Google Search is the most used search engine on the planet. It is estimated Google handles nearly 63,0000 search queries each second, translating to 5.6 billion searches per day or 2 trillion searches annually. Today, Google holds over 94% market share in Australia, followed by Bing at a distant 3.92% and DuckDuckGo at a paltry 0.86%.

Ideally, Google updates its algorithm several times each year to improve the user experience. While a large number of these updates are largely unnoticeable, some are so impactful to change the way websites rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). This blog compiles a comprehensive list of the most important of all time updates and the goal of each change.


What Is the Google Algorithm Update?

Google algorithm update refers to changes in the techniques that Google uses to rank websites in search results. Google’s search algorithm is a complex computer program that provides insights into what a searcher is looking for so the search engine can provide the suitable results that answer their search. Google typically updates and improves its algorithms regularly to provide the best and most accurate results for searchers. This process is what is commonly referred to as Google algorithm updates.


The Most Important Google Algorithm Updates of All Time

As mentioned earlier, Google runs thousands of algorithm updates each year. However, not all updates are significant enough to be immediately noticeable to users. A few Google algorithm updates have significantly changed SEO and how sites rank on search results even to date. These include:

Florida Update of November 16, 2003

Google released its first noticeable algorithm update in 2003, dubbed the Florida update. The Florida update was intended to prevent spammy tactics used by marketers to achieve higher rankings. Specifically, the update penalized sites that used invisible texts, hidden links, and keyword stuffing. Since it was released at the onset of the holiday season, the Florida update impacted retail sites the most, including hotels, clothing, jewellery, and other brands ranking for commercial terms with massive search volumes.


Jagger Update of September 2005

Google initiated the second biggest algorithm update in September 2005, named the Jagger update. Jagger updates tackled sites with irrelevant backlinks or spammy-looking pages and those with sudden peaks in backlink profiles. The update penalized sites buying a considerable number of backlinks, including those with duplicate content and sites with links from known link farms.


Big Daddy Update of March 29, 2006

The Big Daddy update came as an extension of the previous Jagger update. It also aimed at tackling spam links by penalizing sites with low-quality incoming and outbound links. The goal of the Big Daddy update was to improve the quality of Google’s search results. It impacted sites with new domains and unnatural link building the most.


Vince Update of January 18, 2009

The Vince update benefited big brands with offline businesses the most. The update expanded competitive keyword terms favouring first page rankings for big brand domains vs. previously ranking sites. These were typically fewer authority sites as well as affiliate sites.


Mayday update of April 2010

The Mayday update targeted long-tail keywords, meaning it impacted the big brands the most. It aimed to improve the quality of search results for long-tail keywords by penalizing the pages using duplicate and poor-quality content.


Caffeine Update of June 8, 2010

The Caffeine update drastically changed how Google indexed websites. This update provided Google with new capabilities to find and rank new content in seconds. In essence, this update changed how Google found and stored data from sites to enable it to provide the most up-to-date information.


Panda Update of August 12, 2011

Unfortunately, the Caffeine update brought some negative impacts, including rising poor quality content and content farms primarily due to the speed at which Google was discovering and ranking new content. Google released the Panda update in August 2011 to tackle these issues. It targeted sites with bad or low-quality backlink profiles and those with duplicate and thin content. It also penalized sites with high bounce rates and those with onsite ads.


Penguin Update of April 24, 2012

The Penguin update was also an extension of the Panda update. The Penguin targeted webspam by penalising sites manipulating rankings through black hat link building techniques. It also targeted sites with low-quality links pointing at them.


Hummingbird Update of September 2013

The Hummingbird update changed the way Google understood search queries by helping the search engine understand search intent. The goal of this update was to give the user more relevant and up-to-date results. Hummingbird impacts over 90% of searches worldwide to date.


Mobilegeddon update of April 21, 2015

The Mobilegeddon update was largely a response to an increase in mobile searches. Google at the time was seriously considering focusing on mobile-friendliness to improve user experience. The update penalized sites using content that couldn’t adapt to different screen sizes. It also targeted sites using flash, small texts, and clickable elements placed in close proximity. The update rewarded responsive and mobile-friendly sites by giving them priority in search results.


RankBrain Update of October 26, 2015

RankBrain update optimised the machine learning system leveraged by Hummingbird to decipher search intent. It added personalisation to search results by analysing a user’s search history, implied words, and content to achieve more relevant results.


Medic Update of August 1, 2018

The Medic update impacted millions of sites, including health, medical, and other crucial decision-based sites commonly referred to as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL). It introduced new ranking factors sourced from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines document. The update penalised sites making medical claims or giving medical consultation services without substantiating them. In essence, a website that lacked Expertise, Authority, or Trust signals (E-A-T) was immediately dropped to the bottom of ranking results.


BERT Update of October 22, 2019

Just like Hummingbird and RankBrain updates, BERT aimed at enhancing Google’s natural language processing technology to enable the search engine to decipher users’ search engines better. It enables Google to comprehend the variation in words commonly used on-page and in search queries. The update also sought to reward well-constructed content.


Google January 2020 Core Update Released on January 13, 2020

Google January 2020 Core caught many users by surprise as it was pronounced on January 13 and rolled out the same day. It affected sites in the health and finance industry the most. This update penalised sites with minimal trust and credibility in their backlink profile. In a nutshell, this update was primarily aimed at improving domain-level trust.


Google May 2020 Core Update Released on January May 4, 2020

Google’s May 2020 Core update altered ranking factors by focusing more on content, brand factors, and user data. It affected sites in YMYL categories, including medical and finance sites, especially those with untrustworthy or unverified information.


Google December 2020 Core Update Released in December 2020

The December 2020 Core Update was the third and final update of 2020. This update is still ambiguous to date, but it largely targeted content interpretation and SERP features. It mainly focused on references and news sites.

Page Experience Update of 2021

The page experience update of 2021 sought to make the ranking metrics fairer and more accurate. It focused on four categories, namely, core web vitals, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS, no intrusive interstitials. The update introduces a new ranking signal with metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability.


MUM (Multi-Task United Model) Update coming soon

Google announced the MUM update at I/O 2021. The new algorithm boasts many powerful features, including the ability to multi-task simultaneously. In essence, MUM can read, understand and learn in over 75 languages via multiple sources such as video and audio. The goal of MUM is to provide multi-layered answers to complex search queries.


The Future of Search & My Business

Google is undeniably a crucial tool helping businesses and organizations increase their visibility online. It helps your clients and customers find your business while advancing the interaction between your brand and customers.


Woman typing on laptop


From the above analysis, it is obvious Google will continue with its algorithm updates. Even as Google rolls out various updates to improve search experience, you can take steps to improve your search engine optimization and watch your website rise in the ranks in search results. Some of the quick tips to implement and achieve a higher ranking, so you gain a competitive edge over your peers include publishing relevant and authoritative content, updating your content regularly, using metadata, using alt tags, and more. If you have further questions or need help to prepare for the next Google algorithm update, contact Marketing Your Brand today.

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