10 Major google algorithm updates - A Complete History


10 Major google algorithm updates - A Complete History

Google uses algorithms to ranking websites on search engine result pages (SERP). Google algorithms built to list more relevant, authoritative results first.

  • Jan 5, 2019
  • 10 mins Read

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Google’s algorithm is the program used by Google for ranking websites on its result pages (SERP) among organic results. Theoretically, the first page is more relevant for the query.

Google makes thousands of changes every year. Most of the Google updates are tiny, Others may seriously shake up the SERPs.

Some major algorithm updates are,

1. Panda
2. Penguin
3. Pirate
4. EMD
5. Hummingbird
6. Pigeon
7. Mobile Friendly Update
8. Rank Brain
9. Possum
10. Fred

Here we know what each of the updates was about, what the main hazards are, and how you can keep your site safe.

A quick reference infographic on 10 major Google algorithm updates.

Google algorithm updates Infographic


Google panda update aimed to lower the rank of low-quality sites. Panda likes new content. The panda word comes from Google engineer Navaneet panda, who developed this technology.

Launch date: February 2011

Who are affected?

Onsite duplicate content - Similar content across your pages.

Off-site duplicate content - Similar content that appears on other sites.

Thin content - Inadequate amount of content on a page. Thin content pages are pages with a low word count that are filled with ads and affiliate links. If the page is under 200 words of content and over 100 links, that is the Thin content page.

Low-quality content - Low-quality content means lack in depth of information.

Keyword stuffing - Keywords are loaded into a web page's Meta tags, visible content for boost search ranking. Keyword stuffing may lead to a website being banned or penalized.

Content farming - Content farms are also known as content mills and content factories. A content farm is a website that employs large numbers of freelance writers to generate large numbers of articles almost designed to satisfy search engines. The main purpose of a content farm is to maximize views and generate revenue by advertising.

Machine generated content - Machine-generated content is information that is produced by digital devices.

Page speed - Even if you have the best content, if your site takes minutes to load, you cannot guarantee that users will stay.

Sites contain a large amount of advertising - Pages made up mostly of paid advertising rather than original content.

Poor grammar and spelling - Poor grammar or spelling makes your content hard to understand.

How to recover from Panda?

Create unique high-quality contents. Remove duplicate content both internal and external- To check for instances of external content duplication, use a checker like Copyscape.

SEO powersuite website auditor will help to check for the keyword stuffing, duplicate content and thin content.

  • No pages with 1 or 2 paragraphs of text only.
  • No page should have more than 100 links
  • No page should be more than 3 clicks from the homepage
  • Navigation should be clear and intuitive for the user
  • Ensuring that the content of the given page is relevant match with user’s query
  • Make sure that the pages are not dominated by ads or affiliate links
  • Avoid auto-generated content
  • Trustworthiness plays an important role. There are some ways to improve trustworthily
  • Provide contact information and address
  • Provide privacy policy
  • Display reviews
  • Show testimonials
  • Provide an “about us” page with biography/company history
  • Remove all broken links


Penguin deals with link quality

Penguin update is aimed at de-rank of websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines by using black-hat SEO techniques to increase the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page. That is also known as link schemes.

Launch date: April 24, 2012

Who are affected?
  • Paid links
  • Links with over-optimized anchor text
  • Low-quality backlinks
  • Links coming from irrelevant sites
  • Hidden links and hidden texts
  • Any other black hat SEO technique
How to recover from penguin?
  • Check your site internal linking
  • Try to get links to pages with different anchor text.
  • Avoid excessive link building.
  • Get more quality back links. If you suspect your site has been negatively impacted by Penguin, you need to do a link audit and remove the low quality or spammy links.
  • Avoid any kind of black-hat technique such as keyword stuffing and cloaking.
  • Google introduced a tool called “disavow links tool” for check and remove toxic links from your site’s link profile. Disavow links on a domain level instead of disavowing the individual links.
  • Check your site internal linking
  • Try to get links to pages with different anchor text.
  • Avoid excessive link building.
  • Get more quality backlinks. If you suspect your site has been negatively impacted by Penguin, you need to do a link audit and remove the low quality or spammy links.
  • Avoid any kind of black-hat technique such as keyword stuffing and cloaking.
  • Google introduced a tool called “disavow links tool” for check and remove toxic links from your site’s link profile. Disavow links on a domain level instead of disavowing the individual links.
Google Penguin updates

There have been a number of updates and refreshes to the Penguin algorithm since it was launched in 2012.

Penguin 1 - April 24, 2012 - it affected more than 3 percent of search results, according to Google’s own estimations.

Penguin 2 - May 26, 2012 - it affected less than 0.1%

Penguin 3 - October 5, 2012 -. This was another data refresh. It affected queries in the English language, as well as affected international queries. It affected around 0.3% of queries

Penguin 4 - May 22, 2013 - also known as Penguin 2.0. This was the first Penguin update to look deeper than the websites homepage and top-level category pages for evidence of link spam being directed to the website. It affected 2.3% of English queries, as well as other languages proportionately.

Penguin 5 - October 4, 2013 - also known as Penguin 2.1. It affected around 1% of queries.

Penguin 6 - October 17, 2014 - also known as Penguin 3.0. Impacting less than 1% of English search queries.

Penguin 7 - September 23, 2016 - also known as Penguin 4.0


Pirate targets and de-rank sites with repeat copyright violations, probably via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

Google announced that any site with high numbers of valid DMCA notices dropped in search rank positioning as a way to “help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.

Launch date: August 2012

Who are affected?

Websites illegally share material without the valid consent from the owner.

How to recover from a Pirate?

If your site has been affected by pirate update follow these steps

  • Check if your site has a DMCA takedown request submitted against it.
  • You may talk to the complainant and can try to work out a way forward.
  • After talking to the complainant you will probably need to make adjustments to your pages in order to meet the compliance.
  • After that, ask for a written notice of compliance that you can pass on to Google.


An EMD is a domain name that matches with a search query that will likely drive traffic to your website.

EMD or Exact Match Domains update is a new filter aimed at ensuring that low-quality websites do not attain a high Page Rank. Sites with stronger brand recognition and high-quality content were less likely to be hit.

For example, if your website name is “watch movies Online.com”.

The search query is ‘watch movies online’ then you might assume this is a shortcut to drive traffic to your website.

Launch date: September 2012

Tips for recovering from EMD update
  • Improve your quality content.
  • Don’t build exact match domain name. Instead of targeting exact keyword matching domain name, go with the partial match domain names.
  • Don’t build exact match anchor texts to your website
  • Don’t build exact match doorway pages
  • Have plenty of pages and helpful content
  • Don’t go over 2% keyword density
  • Link to authority sites
  • Use well-planned internal linking
  • Add social share buttons to all of your content


Hummingbird the name comes from being “speed and accuracy.”

Hummingbird marked a huge advancement in Google’s search technology. It impacted about 90 percent of searches worldwide. It helped Google to understand the synonyms and semantics.

Hummingbird is intended to make search engines more directed toward conversational search rather than keyword-based search. This concept is called semantic search.

Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query. Google Hummingbird is a major algorithm change that has to do with interpreting search queries and providing more theme-related results in the SERPs that do not necessarily have the keywords from the query in their content. Hummingbird focuses on judging the intention of the individual who is searching for something online to determine what it is that they are looking to find.

Hummingbird is a reward-based change. Websites fit the criteria of Hummingbird will notice better search engine rankings.

Launch date: August 22, 2013. They didn’t announce the change until September 26, 2013 (15th anniversary of Google)

Tips to improve your rank in hummingbird algorithm
  • Content with more related keywords.
  • Optimize the anchor texts with relevant keywords.
  • Use of Knowledge Graph facts to ensure better search results.
  • Expand your keyword research, focusing on synonyms and co-occurring terms to diversify your content
  • Hummingbird is dedicated to using long-tail keywords. Those websites that use these long-tail keywords offer a lot of success.
  • Pay more attention to universal search listing.
  • Don’t create content for search engines. Create content for readers
  • Create long-form content. Create in-depth content.
  • Don’t create content for search engines. Create content for readers
  • Create long-form content. Create in-depth content.
  • Create a lot of content.


The Pigeon Update provides search results that are more relevant to people looking for local answers to their queries.

The update is aimed to increase the ranking of local listing in a search. This update provides the results based on the user location and the listing available in the local directory.

As an algorithm, Pigeon affects search results within Google Maps as well as Google Web Search. After the pigeon update, search results and the aesthetics of the SERP for both Google Maps search and Google Search have a more uniform appearance. It enhances their distance and location ranking parameters.

Launch date: July 24, 2014

Who are affected?

Poorly optimized pages
NAP inconsistency ( Name, Address, Phone number)

How to recover from Pigeon?

Stay on top of your local business directories like Yelp, Google Maps, and Google+ Local to ensure your contact information is always current and any listings associated with your business are accurate and complete. Don’t forget to claim all listings that are associated with your business.

You should make sure your business name, phone number, and address are also consistent in all the local directories where your business is listed.

Include location, as well as product or service, in your landing page title.

Maintain a presence on quality, authoritative indexes and directories for local businesses.

Since carousel results put a heavy emphasis on ranking, you should make sure to put a high-quality and attractive images in your Google+ business profile.

You should include city or state into your website’s title tags.

Having the name of a core goods or services in your business name may give you some advantage.

The number of positive reviews on Google+ Local page has proven importance on local search rankings.

Mobile Friendly Update

Mobilegeddon is a name given by webmasters and web developers. Google's Mobile Friendly Update is to give more importance to websites that display well on smartphones and other mobile devices. It ensures that mobile-friendly pages rank at the top of mobile search and de-rank pages that are not mobile friendly.

The Google mobile-friendly update is a page-by-page signal, so it can take time for Google to assess each page. it took some time to roll out fully.

Launch date: April 21, 2015.

How does it work?

The update affected the following areas:

It only affected mobile search. The change does not affect searches made from a desktop computer or a laptop. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact on Google Search results.

It does not necessarily concern entire websites, but individual pages that are shown to match a search query.

Mobile-friendly sites should have the following factors
  • The content must not be wider than the screen.
  • Size your content to the screen in order to avoid users to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Text must be large enough to read without zooming.
  • The site must avoid using software for mobile devices, such as Flash because the spider cannot read its content.
  • Make pages load in less than a second on mobile devices
  • Insert sufficient space between links to help people tap them
  • All clickable parts on the website are easily clickable

Check your site by testing your pages with the Mobile-Friendly Test tool

If your website is affected by the update convert your website into a mobile responsive website.

Rank Brain

RankBrain is a machine learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google better understand the meaning behind queries, and provide best-matching search results for users. But it also used to help rank web pages. Google also commented that RankBrain was the third most important factor in the ranking algorithm. The common understanding is that RankBrain, in part, relies on the traditional SEO factors such as links and content.

RankBrain identifies the relevance features on the pages in the index and arranges the results respectively in SERPs.

Launch date: October 26, 2015

To understanding the RankBrain we need to learn about machine learning and artificial intelligence. These both play a significant role in how RankBrain works

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that helps existing computer systems automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning takes user behavior and uses it to understand what works and what doesn’t.

What is artificial intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that the human mind works.

How does rank brain work?

RankBrain uses machine learning to teach itself without the aid of humans. The key purpose of RankBrain is to deliver more relevant results by interpreting the meaning of whole phrases instead of focusing on individual words.

RankBrain identifies patterns behind different search queries. It uses these learned connections to understand similarities in future searches. It groups various complex queries together and associates them with the most valuable search results.

Who are affected?

Shallow content
Lack of query-specific relevance features

Ways to optimize for Rankbrain update
  • Research the intent behind every keyword.
  • Expand your keyword list beyond synonyms and variations
  • Stop creating pages or content tailored to only one keyword or keyword phrase
  • Focus on creating great content that provides value to your audience
  • Write more posts and answer as many questions as you can.
  • Optimize for people not for search engines


The Possum is an algorithm update for Google’s Local Search results. Business listings that have the same addresses (Sharing a physical address with a similar business) will be filtered out of top Google search results to prevent duplicates.

The prime motive of Possum update is to diversify the local results and to put a serious end to the spammy practices. , Possum also gave a boost to businesses that are outside the physical city area.

Launch Date: September 1, 2016

Possum Update Recovery Tips:
  • Try not to share your physical address with another business
  • Mention the city name while providing your location
  • Focus on every permutation combination of your keywords
  • Perform geo-specific rank tracking
  • Provide consistent NAP details.


Fred got its name from Google's Gary Illyes, who jokingly suggested that all updates be named "Fred".

Google Fred had a big impact on the Google rankings of websites worldwide. Google Fred is an algorithm update that targets black-hat tactics. This includes an overload of ads, low-value content and little-added user benefits. Google Fred looked at the quality of websites. Fred targets are the ones that violate Google's webmaster guidelines. However, the majority of websites affected by Fred are content sites that have a large number of ads and seem to have been created for the purpose of generating revenue. Google Fred Update affected sites, reported traffic loss to their website of 50% or higher, and in some cases, websites saw a 90% traffic drop.

Launch date: March 8, 2017.

Who are affected?
  • Excessive Ads
  • Aggressive affiliate setups
  • Content on all sorts of topics created for ranking purposes
  • Invaluable or Unrelated Content
  • Thin content
  • Outdated content
  • low-quality backlinks
  • Mobile problems
  • Aggressive monetization
How to recover from Fred?
  • Remove duplicate and unrelated content
  • Review Google’s webmaster guidelines.
  • Review the placement of ads on your site
  • Limit the number of ads on your website
  • Update content along with keywords
  • Avoid link pyramids, link exchange, and paid links

Google Algorithm updates Image

These are the major Google updates along with some quick auditing and prevention tips to help your site in Google search. The basic process hasn’t changed. Follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Don’t ever chase an update. There will always be a way to get ahead of the competition. Stay focus on Google’s coming algorithm changes and improve your website up to date.

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Author: Rajanarthagi - Chief Content Officer (CCO) Co-Founder of GEC Designs

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