This was a means to prevent sites that were “top-heavy” with ads from ranking well in Google’s search results. Top Heavy is periodically updated. When a fresh Top Heavy Update happens, sites that have removed excessive ads may regain lost rankings. New sites deemed too “top-heavy” may get caught.
Google Algorithm Updates
Google has a long history of famous algorithm updates, search index changes, and refreshes. Below is a history of the major Google search algorithm updates.
Want to read our latest coverage of algorithm updates and changes? Go to the latest algorithm update news and guides.
How many times does Google update its search algorithms?
Google search is changing all the time. In 2020, Google made 4,500 changes to search. This number includes changes to its ranking system, user interface and more. Plus, Google ran more than 600,000 experiments. That means Google search is changing, on average, 12 times per day.
The history of Google algorithm updates: 2003-today
Here is a complete history of Google algorithm updates that you need to know about, in reverse chronological order.
2021 Google Algorithm Updates
December 2021 Product Reviews Update (Dec. 1)
The goal of the Google product reviews update, like the April Product Reviews Update, was to reward outstanding product reviews in search results. Google wanted to show users content with insightful analysis and original search, written by topical experts or enthusiasts. It took about three weeks for this update to fully roll out.
Google’s new advice for this update: provide more multimedia “evidence” around your product reviews and include links to multiple sellers.
November 2021 Local Search Update (November 30)
Google said this global update was a “rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results.” It ran between Nov. 30 and Dec. 8, overlapping with the December 2021 Core Update and December 2021 Product Reviews Update. However, Google didn’t confirm this update happened until Dec. 16.
November 2021 Core Update (Nov. 17)
This was the third and final Core Update of 2022. Like all of Google’s core updates, the November 2021 core update was wide-reaching, impacting websites and SEO across all languages and took about two weeks to fully roll out.
Learn more about Core updates in our guide, Google Broad Core Algorithm Updates: Everything you need to know.
Link Spam Update (July 26)
Google said the purpose of this update was to “nullify” spammy links across the web and multiple languages. Websites with spammy links were more likely to see an impact on their rankings. Google’s advice: follow best practices for all incoming and outgoing links.
July 2021 Core Update (July 1)
This was the second of two back-to-back Core Updates that Google rolled out. As is typical of Core updates, the July 2021 core update was a comprehensive update that changed the whole algorithm slightly, but not any single function specifically. This update rolled out over 12 days, from July 1 to 12.
Spam Update (June 28)
The promised sequel of its Spam Update. We learned that both parts of the Spam Update were “global” updates that targeted both web results and image results
Spam Update (June 23)
Google announced the release of a Spam Update to their systems and said a second was coming the following week. There was no additional guidance or details. As part of the Twitter announcement, Google referred to its Webmaster Guidelines.
Page Experience Update (June 15)
Google began using a new set of metrics – Core Web Vitals – to understand how users perceive the experience of a specific web page. The three Core Web Vitals metrics are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) (measures loading performance); First Input Delay (FID) (measures interactivity); Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): (measures visual stability).
Part of the Page Experience Update includes existing ranking signals, such as page load speed, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS and lack of intrusive ads. This new ranking algorithm was announced in May 2020. The rollout began slowly, finishing at the end of August.
Multitask Unified Model (MUM) Update (June 2021)
Previewed at Google I/O in May 2021, Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) is built on a transformer architecture, like BERT, but 1,000 times more powerful and capable of multitasking to connect information for users in new ways. In our first glimpse of MUM, it helped the search engine identify more than 800 variations of vaccine names in over 50 languages in a matter of seconds. In September, Google announced additional applications of MUM technology.
June 2021 Core Update (June 2)
This was the first of two back-to-back Core Updates that Google rolled out. Google decided to release these updates separately because some of the core updates they planned to roll out weren’t ready in June.
Like other Google core updates, the June 2021 update was comprehensive and wide-reaching. It’s likely many sites felt the impact of this update.
The Product Reviews Update is meant to better reward product reviews that go above and beyond (e.g., by including in-depth and original research, insightful analysis). Google said it will promote these types of product reviews in its search results rankings.
Google provided a list of nine questions to ask about your product reviews to make sure they are insightful, include original research and are written by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well.
Passage Ranking (February 10)
Google began rolling out a change to how it ranks specific passages from a web page in search results. This update was meant to help searchers find specific “needle-in-a-haystack” information. Google said this update would impact 7% of search queries across all languages.
Because this update was more about how Google understands your content, there was no specific advice on things to address or change, according to Google.
2020 Google Algorithm Updates
The 2020 Core Update was the last major update of 2020 and the first major update since May of that year. Like all of Google’s core updates, the December 2020 core update was wide-reaching, impacting websites and SEO across all languages.
BERT Expands (October)
While this update didn’t directly impact SEO, it remains an important moment in the history of Google and its search algorithm. In October of 2020, Google announced to the public that BERT now processed nearly all the search results in English on the site at that time.
This was a big jump, as when BERT was first announced in October of the year prior, the system only powered ten percent of all search results on the site.
BERT now powering almost all English language search results and search results in nearly 70 other languages is a big jump for machine learning and Google’s ever-improving accuracy.
BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, can process language more naturally, understanding better how humans encode information in a passage. Read our deep dive on BERT here.
Google rolled out its relatively strong May 2020 broad core algorithm update over a few weeks in early May of 2020.
This update was broad and comprehensive. Like other core updates, it was not targeted at any specific aspect of the algorithm.
A relatively weak core update, the January 2020 Core Update wasn’t felt very strongly by SEO experts. It was followed up just four months later by the much more robust May 2020 core update.
2019 Google Algorithm Updates
BERT Natural Language Processing Update (Oct. 25)
Google released BERT, which at the time only covered 1 in 10 searches. BERT was a significant change to how Google interacted with web pages, using a neural network to read webpages and learn as humans do.
In practical application, BERT can better understand natural language on web pages and relate this information to search queries.
September 2019 Core Update (Sept. 24)
The September 2019 Core Update was another broad core algorithm update of the kind that Google rolls out every few months.
June 2019 Core Update (June 3)
The June 2019 core update covered broad aspects of Google’s algorithm and was intended to improve user experience in multiple areas.
March 2019 Core Update (March 15)
The March 2019 Core Update was somewhat confusing, briefly disrupting the usual equilibrium of the SEO world. The March 2019 Core Update was released without a name, giving users all across Twitter to speculate about the update and why it wasn’t named.
Google, catching wind of the confusion, quickly jumped on social media to right the wrong. On Twitter, they wrote, “Our name of this update is March 2019 Core Update.”
2018 Google Algorithm Updates
The August 2018 broad core algorithm update was a core update that shook up the SEO world. In this update, Google made major fixes to their algorithm that rewarded previously under-rewarded pages on the web.
Google said there was “no fix” to any observed drop in the rankings. The ranking drops were simply due to other under-rewarded sites finally making gains.
Google’s advice to webmasters with a ranking drop? Keep making excellent content, and you may very well see your site rise back in the rankings.
April 2018 Core Update (April 20)
The April 2018 core update, like other updates, was aimed at improving the end-user experience by delivering the most relevant content for search queries.
Google didn’t announce this update and only came out with its announcement after speculation that there may have been a core update.
March 2018 Core Update (March 12)
The March 2018 Core Update, quickly followed by 2018’s April Core Update, was a broad and far-reaching core update meant to improve Google’s query results.
The March 2018 Core Update had a significant impact on some sites, and webmasters who witnessed a drop in rankings were advised to continue to develop excellent content and not to try to game the system. As always, only through excellent content are durable ratings attained.
January 2018 Core Update (Jan. 18)
The January 2018 Update was a comprehensive core update aimed at all aspects of the site’s SERPs. It was followed by the March and April core updates of that year.
2017 Google Algorithm Updates
Mid-December Updates (~Dec. 14-19)
Google confirmed releasing several minor changes that were meant to improve relevancy. It seemed to negatively affect sites that were targeting huge numbers of keyword variants.
Local Update (Aug. 22)
This update made corrections to the Possum update, which had inadvertently unfairly impacted local rankings.
The Possum Update of 2016, which we’ll get into a little more detail further down, was intended to improve SERP relevancy by eliminating redundant search results from the SERPs. To summarize, some local business owners were being eliminated by Google’s filters because their businesses were too close to other similar businesses that already ranked on Google’s SERPs.
The Hawk Update slightly corrected the Possum update, making local businesses that competed with others that already ranked on the SERPs more likely to be seen in a relevant search query.
Fred Update (March 9, unconfirmed)
In March of 2017, Google seems to have released an update that members of the SEO community christened “Fred.” This was the result of a joke by Google CSH (Chief of Sunshine and Happiness) Gary Illyes, who suggested that all future Google updates be called “Fred.”
The Google Fred Update seemed to be an update attacking link accuracy across the web. Many in the “black hat SEO” corner of the internet saw their rankings dip, in some cases significantly.
Spammy links and practices like keyword stuffing are not the way to attain search engine results. Check out our SEO penalty reminders here.
2016 Google Algorithm Updates
Penguin Update 4.0 (Sept. 23)
Possum Update (Sept. 1)
This update affected local listings. In brief, the Possum Update was a change to the way Google’s filters work.
What are filters? Filters for local results on Google eliminate websites that seem to be redundant. For local businesses, this can mean, for example, that if you have two websites for your service, only one of them will appear for a given local search term.
The Possum update was intended to improve the user experience of Google, but it may have gone too far. Certain businesses that were nearby to other businesses that already ranked on Google’s SERPs saw their website drop off significantly.
RankBrain Algorithm (Oct. 26)
The RankBrain algorithm is powered by machine learning, processing what people search for and sorting through billions of webpages to rank the ones believed to be best first. Initially used on a “very large fraction” of search results, it was later rolled out and used on all Google searches.
Mobile-Friendly Update 2 (April 21)
January 2016 Core Update (Jan. 18)
2015 Google Algorithm Updates
RankBrain (Oct. 25)
Panda Update 4.2 (July 17)
Quality Update (May)
Mobile-Friendly Update (April 21)
2014 Google Algorithm Updates
Pigeon Expansion (Dec. 22)
Penguin Everflux (Dec. 10)
Penguin Update 3.1 (Nov. 27)
Pirate Update 2 (Oct. 21)
Penguin Update 3.0 (Oct. 17)
Panda Update 4.1 (Sept. 23)
Pigeon Update (July 24)
This algorithm update was designed to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that were tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. Google stated that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.
Payday Loan Update 3.0 (June 12)
Panda Update 4.0 (May 20)
Payday Loan Update 2.0 (May 16)
Page Layout 3 (aka Top Heavy 3) (Feb. 6)
2013 Google Algorithm Updates
Penguin Update 2.1 (Oct. 4)
Google Hummingbird (Sept. 26)
Panda Update 26 (July 18)
Multi-week Update (June 21)
Payday Loan Update (June 11)
Penguin Update 2.0 (May 22)
Panda Update 25 (March 14)
Panda Update 24 (Jan. 22)
2012 Google Algorithm Updates
Panda Update 23 (Dec. 21)
Panda Update 22 (Nov. 21)
Panda Update 21 (Nov. 5)
Page Layout Algorithm 2 (aka Top Heavy 2) (Oct. 9)
Penguin Update 3 (Oct. 5)
Panda Update 20 (Sept. 27)
Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update (Sept. 27)
Panda Update 3.9.2 (Sept. 18)
Panda Update 3.9.1 (Aug. 20)
Pirate Update (Aug. 10)
This update demoted the rankings of sites that received too many DMCA takedown requests. It wouldn’t be until 2022 that we learned Pirate can cause up to, on average, an 89% drop in search traffic.
Panda Update 3.9 (July 24)
Panda Update 3.8 (June 25)
Panda Update 3.7 (June 8)
Penguin Update 2 (May 25)
Panda Update 3.6 (April 27)
Penguin Update (April 24)
The goal of this update was to decrease rankings for sites that Google believed were violating Google’s quality guidelines. In particular, websites that were buying links or obtaining them through link networks that were primarily designed to boost Google rankings.
Panda Update 3.5 (April 19)
Panda Update 3.4 (March 23)
Venice (Feb. 27)
Panda Update 3.3 (Feb. 27)
Page Layout Algorithm (aka Top Heavy) (Jan. 19)
2011 Google Algorithm Updates
Panda Update 3.1 (Nov. 18)
Freshness Update (Nov. 3)
Panda Update 3.0 (Oct. 19)
Panda Update 2.5 (Sept. 28)
Panda Update 2.4 (Aug. 12)
Panda Update 2.3 (July 23)
Panda Update 2.2 (June 21)
Panda Update 2.1 (May 9)
Panda Update 2.0 (April 11)
Panda Update (Feb. 23)
2010 Google Algorithm Updates
Merchant Reviews (December)
Brand Update (August)
May Day (May)
2009 Google Algorithm Updates
Vince Update (Feb. 20)
In late February, SEOs and webmasters started noticing big brands gaining more visibility in search results. On March 5, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the “minor change,” adding that Google’s ranking algorithm may be factoring trust, quality, PageRank, and other metrics for more generic queries. Cutts said it did not impact long-tail queries. A Googler named Vince created this change, which is how the update got its name.
2008 Google Algorithm Updates
Dewey Update (March 31)
Some major shuffling in search results was being reported at the end of March and into early April. Google’s Matt Cutts asked webmasters for feedback on the changes via a form and to include the word “dewey” in their feedback, giving this update a name.
2007 Google Algorithm Updates
PageRank Update (October 7)
Google confirmed they were lowering PageRank scores for some sites that were selling links. Google also said that some of those sites could be removed from its search results or be given penalties that prevent them from ranking well. Google’s PageRank Update Goes After Paid Links? (Oct. 24) documented multiple sites that were impacted.
2005 Google Algorithm Updates
- Big Daddy (December)
- Jagger (October)
- Bourbon (May)
2004 Google Algorithm Updates
- The Sandbox
- Austin (January)
2003 Google Algorithm Updates
- Google Florida (November)
- Fritz (July)
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