A Brief History of Google’s Major Algorithm Updates

For SEO experts out there, nothing can cast a shadow over their efforts more than a pending Google search algorithm update. In the past, some of Google’s major updates have served to erase years of efforts at winning the SEO game. But Google’s updates have been based in improving the search experience by following news and the natural evolution of technology. If you’re doing everything right – that is to say not buying links and trying to trick the algorithm – there is nothing to worry about. And as consumers, Google keeps getting better and better.

google algorithm SEO

So, to better understand how Google’s algorithm works, and to gain a fundamental understanding of the evolution of SEO, here is a brief history of Google’s major algorithm updates.

Pre-2009: In the beginning, Google’s platform sent robots around the web to crawl across websites in search of pertinent information. The robots indexed pages based on the content that was found. This indexing was already a monumental task a decade ago. The basic robots could only index a certain amount of sites per day, and the robots could not visit credible pages once a day to see if new content was present.

August 2009: Google went Starbucks and released Caffeine which updated Google’s crawling and indexing systems so that they could operate in real time. This followed the trend of content production from online magazines and blogs which were publishing fresh content all the time. Caffeine enabled Google to deliver up-to-the-minute results for people searching for news.

February 2011: After Caffeine, sites around the world started to produce huge amounts of keyword-loaded content in order to appear to be authorities of their domains. Yet in an effort to appear to have the most content, sites would publish short, empty posts that were nothing more than keyword fluffer. This was not the type of content that people were searching for. So along came Panda, Google’s first major attempt at understanding not just the content of the page, but what the content means. Panda excluded sites that it deemed poor-quality in favor of more credible content.

April 2012: The cuddly Panda that rewarded high-quality content was followed by Penguin, which can be best thought of as a sort of police officer. Penguin went after sites that used link farms to generate credibility. Sites that had spent time cultivating bogus links had to spend time denying those links in order to climb back up the search results.

August 2013: Following in the steps of Panda, Google wanted to expand the powers of its Knowledge Graph, or how concepts connect to each other. Think of a mind map with lines connecting words to terms. In order to exploit the knowledge gap, SEO experts need to identify the terms that support a concept, which gives those concepts weight. Hummingbird was the next major expansion of the practical use of the Knowledge Graph. Sites that incorporate the connected terms ranked higher for given subjects because Google assumes that those sites provide the most complete picture of that subject.

July 2014: Just like Panda and Hummingbird followed the trends of technology towards semantic searching, Pigeon flew onto the scene as a way for Google to use location information to produce more relevant search results. Considering how location-based services are on the rise, and for many products and restaurants that are dependent on where we are, Pigeon made Google more practical for a wider range of searches.

April 2015: 2015 marked the first year when Google reported more searches on mobile than on desktop. Just like the previous updates that followed the trends of technology, Google announced AKA, a major update that would rank mobile sites more highly, and as a result would penalize sites that did not have a mobile version. Marketers dubbed the even “mobilegeddon” since all sites that were not optimized for mobile risked losing a large portion of their traffic.

2016 and beyond: Knowing exactly what Google will do next is impossible outside of the realm of Mountain View, but we can have a good idea as long as we follow the trends of technology. Perhaps the next algorithms will do more with video content. Maybe Google will be able to differentiate branded content from regular content. In any event, delivering high-quality content will continue to be the key to winning SEO.

Click here for a comprehensive list of all the major Google algorithm updates by MOZ.

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