An Up-to-Date History of Google Algorithm Updates

Table of Contents

An Up-to-Date History of Google Algorithm Updates – New update 2024

The Digital Marketer Journal is packed with articles written by professionals from every current digital marketing field. We add new posts daily. Industry trends, product changes, feature announcements, and more can all be found in this blog.

Algorithm update: A change in the search engine’s ranking formulas that may or may not cause noticeable seismic shifts in which webpages appear at the top of search results, but which is meant to improve the quality of results overall.

Seismograph volatility readings.

An SEO Perspective on Algo Fluctuations

The only thing that’s constant in search engine optimization is change. In one year (2020), for example, Google reported running 600,000+ experiments that resulted in more than 4,500 improvements to Search. That’s a lot of volatility, folks.

Here is our running list of the notable confirmed and major unconfirmed algorithm updates of all time. Below the list, we also explain how to watch for algorithm updates and what to do if you think your site has been impacted.

Main TOC:

The following are the major updates, in our view, of all time — the ones that have shaped the face of search and SEO. These links will take you to the most important Google updates in our opinion:

If you want to jump to a particular year, be my guest:
2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | Pre-2009

Google Algorithm Updates by Year


May 2022 – Core Update

This algo update acknowledged by Google caused some noticeable ranking fluctuations, more than some other recent core updates. It rolled out starting May 25 and finished June 9, 2022.

February 2022 – Page Experience Update for Desktop

Core Web Vitals and the page experience ranking factor applied to desktop as well as mobile as of this update, which finished rolling out on March 3, 2022.


June 2021 – Page Experience Update

Rolled out between mid-June and early September 2021, this update had less impact on rankings than Google’s core updates. Yet despite the fact that the update was somewhat downplayed in the SEO community, Google’s John Mueller confirmed it was more than simply a “tie breaker” when ranking webpages. He also stated that when webmasters downplay the update, it may also mean that they downplay the impact that the ranking factors have on users.

What it did was create a new page experience ranking factor combining at least six signals related to how a webpage performs for mobile users. (Note that though it initially applied to mobile ranking only, Google rolled out the page experience update for desktop as well in February 2022.)

Core Web Vitals are three new performance metrics introduced with this update. Websites that meet certain performance thresholds can gain some competitive advantage and also improve their site’s user experience.

While improving page experience factors is often technical back-end work, top sites continue to improve their scores. So especially if you’re in a competitive industry, I highly recommend you check your site and get started.

For more details, see our comprehensive e-book Google’s Page Experience Update: A Complete Guide and these resources:

June 2021 – Core Update

In June 2021, Google released a core update and announced another one would be coming the following month in July.

Google told Search Engine Land that the reason the rollout was broken into two phases was that not all of the planned improvements for the June 2021 update were ready. So Google decided to release the parts that were ready and push out the rest the following month.

Many in the industry felt that this was a big update, according to a roundup of data published at Search Engine Land. Subsequently, many felt like the link spam update in July–August 2021 did not have as big of an impact, which is why we aren’t listing it separately here.

Was the June core update related to “your money or your life” webpages? Some thought so.

Google released a blog post that coincided with the June core update, stating that: “core updates are designed to increase the overall relevancy of our search results. In terms of traffic we send, it’s largely a net exchange. Some content might do less well, but other content gains.”

February 2021 – Passage Ranking

On February 11, Google announced it had launched passage ranking for U.S. queries in English.

Passage ranking helps Google Search better choose and rank the most relevant webpages with passages (like blocks of text) that answer very specific queries.

Whereas before, the search engine may have ranked articles that give general information on the query; now Google can find and rank articles that answer the query the best, even if it’s only within a block of text on the webpage.

Google said this about passage ranking:

Very specific searches can be the hardest to get right, since sometimes the single sentence that answers your question might be buried deep in a web page. We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to better understand the relevancy of specific passages. By understanding passages in addition to the relevancy of the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for.

Google stated that when it is fully rolled out globally, it will impact 7% of search queries.


December 2020 – Core Update

In early December 2020, Google released a new broad core update. Many industry commentators stated it was a big core update — one of the largest yet — with many sites seeing extreme traffic gains and losses.

As with previous broad core updates, there was no specific ranking factor targeted, rather, broad core updates are an update to how sites are evaluated.

While many webmasters were anticipating this update as a way to recover from losses from the May 2020 update, many were also concerned at the timing of this update, as it occurred during the holiday period.

You can check out an analysis of this core update at Search Engine Land: “Google’s December 2020 core update was big, even bigger than May 2020, say data providers.”

November 2020 – Subtopics Ranking

Some websites may have experienced ranking changes on or around mid-November, and the subtopics ranking change may have been the reason.

Google did not announce this algorithm update (but did discuss it back in October). Google’s Danny Sullivan later confirmed in 2021 that the ranking change went live in November 2020.

It’s worth noting that subtopics ranking is a new feature to the algorithm, as opposed to an update of existing processes.

Google discussed subtopics ranking in October 2020, saying the following:

We’ve applied neural nets to understand subtopics around an interest, which helps deliver a greater diversity of content when you search for something broad. As an example, if you search for “home exercise equipment,” we can now understand relevant subtopics, such as budget equipment, premium picks, or small space ideas, and show a wider range of content for you on the search results page. We’ll start rolling this out by the end of this year.

In other words, the subtopics ranking feature is designed to help Google understand how subtopics relate to a query.

As another example, if someone were to search for “SEO,” Google can now understand relevant subtopics such as agencies, conferences, tools and Google algorithm updates. With this information, it can then show wider ranging content in the search engine results pages.

For more, see the Search Engine Land article: “Google launched subtopics ranking in mid-November.”

May 2020 Core Update

Google announced a broad core update via Twitter This update took approximately two weeks to fully roll out.

Many felt that the May update was significant, even for a core update, with many sites seeing significant losses or gains in traffic. Many algorithm tracking tools registered extreme volatility.

A core update, according to Google, is a broad algorithm update that does not target specific types of queries or pages. Instead, the update is about improving how the search engine assesses content overall to make results more relevant. We are told to compare a core update to refreshing a list of top 100 movies that you made a few years back. Naturally, new items would appear in your list today, and other titles on your list would shift up or down.

Consequently, Google says that “pages that drop after a core update don’t have anything wrong to fix.” And some pages that were “previously under-rewarded” will rank higher.

Moz gives an analysis of the winners and losers of this core update here.

January 2020 – Featured Snippets Update

Google confirmed that results shown in featured snippets would no longer be repeated on the first page of search results. Previously, a featured snippet could be found in “Position 0” as well as one of the top organic listings on the page.


October 2019 – BERT

Google announced BERT — its deep learning algorithm also known internally at Google as DeepRank — on October 25, 2019. BERT impacts conversational search queries by helping Google to better understand context, including how words like “for” and “to” change the meaning of a search. Google later confirmed there was nothing specific to optimize for, and that BERT affects nearly every search performed.

September 2019 Core Update

Google announced this broad core algorithm update ahead of time. The industry weighed in after it rolled out, and many hypothesized it targeted link spam.

June 2019 Core Update & Site Diversity Update

Google pre-announced this update, which seemed to focus on correcting the way the algorithm evaluated links. It put more weight on the domain authority and trustworthiness of a site’s incoming links.

In my opinion, the “trustworthiness” component of the E-A-T factors rose in importance. And it overflowed SEO to include a fix for detecting sentiment. Note that this firmly places the issue with ranking loss on marketing in general … No wonder Google has said that there is nothing sites can do specifically to “fix” their rankings after a core update runs. Mess with user sentiment, link sentiment and quality, and prepare to die.

The search engine simultaneously released a separate site diversity update. The stated goal was to make search results more diverse. For most queries, users no longer see a domain appear more than twice in the top-ranked results, making it harder for a site to “saturate” a topic organically.

Hazards: Sites with too low a percentage of backlinks from trusted websites may have dropped. Those that used to have many pages ranking for a single query also lost some SERP real estate.

Winners: Pages may have risen that were previously under-rewarded. (Aren’t we all?)

March 2019 Core Update

Google confirmed this update, which seemed to fine tune broad core algorithm changes of the past. Data showed the majority of the websites that were impacted were also impacted by the March 2018 core update and the August 2018 “Medic” update. To prevent naming confusion, Google tweeted the update’s name the same day it was released.

However, the losers weren’t impacted as much as the winners. Research found that sites whose search traffic increased experienced higher rankings site-wide, with no increase in the number of keywords ranked.

On the flip side, the update hurt many sites that provide a poor user experience (due to excessive pop-ups, poor navigation, over-optimization and so forth).

And of course, trust was a significant signal. Sites dealing with YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) topics took ranking hits if they were participating in untrusted activities.

Hazards: Google’s March 2019 Core Update behaved like an evolution of previous algorithms, negatively affecting sites that were over-optimized.

Winners: Reputable sites ranking for queries related to particularly sensitive topics, like those about health questions, benefited. According to SearchMetrics, “websites with a strong brand profile and a broad topical focus” also advanced. See, trust matters.


September 2018 – Small Update

Google confirmed there was a small update made, and reiterated that it wasn’t anything major.

August 2018 Core Update – Medic

Google announced the release of this broad core algorithm update, coined by the industry as “Medic.” Google’s advice? Be more relevant for searches — and not just page by page, but as a whole site. More advice stated that small tweaks to content may not suffice and that holistic changes to the site may be required.

I believe the Medic update was a significant step focused on trust (part of Google’s “E-A-T” quality factors). In my opinion, trusted sites that were interlinked with untrusted sites were penalized.

Learn more:

July 2018 – Speed Update

Fast performance creates a better user experience for searchers clicking on results. After alerting website owners for months in advance, Google announced its Speed Update on July 9, 2018. Previously, page load speed factored into only desktop search results. Since this update, a slow performance on mobile devices can hurt a site’s optimization.

April 2018 – Broad Core Update

Google confirmed this broad core update. As is the case with all broad core updates, Google indicates that there’s nothing specific to do. However, as indicated in a later confirmation of the March core update (below), it may have been around relevance.

March 2018 – Broad Core Update

Google confirmed this broad core update and reminded webmasters to continue building great content. Later, Google explained that most of its updates are around relevance, not how good or bad a site is.


December 2017 – Several Updates

Google reacted to the SEO community that dubbed fluctuations in December as “Maccabees.” The search engine said it wasn’t a single update but several minor improvements and that there weren’t any major changes as a result.

March 2017 – Fred

Google confirmed a string of updates with the caveat that they make three updates per day on average. When asked if the updates had a name, Google jokingly said all updates would be called Fred, and the name stuck. These updates seemed to be related to quality, and some impacted were sites using aggressive monetization tactics that provided a bad user experience, and that had poor-quality links. Fred was wide-reaching and focused on quality across a variety of factors, not just a single process.

One specific target was sites using aggressive monetization tactics that provided a bad user experience. Poor-quality links were also targeted by Fred. Link to an untrusted site and it lowers your trust … and rankings.

Hazards: Sites with thin, affiliate-heavy, or ad-centered content were targeted.

Winners: Many websites featuring quality, high-value content with minimal ads benefited.

January 2017 – Interstitial Updates

Google preannounced that it would make updates in January 2017 that would impact sites with pop-ups on their pages that created a poor user experience. It confirmed these algorithm updates on January 10, 2017.


September 2016 – Penguin Integrated into Core Algorithm

Google confirmed that its webspam algorithm dubbed “Penguin” was rolled into the core algorithm. That meant that instead of manual refreshes, it would now work in real time. Penguin would now devalue spam links instead of demoting whole sites. It also became more granular in how it worked.

Rather than demoting a site for having bad inbound links, the new Penguin tried to just do away with link spam.

Now, if a site has inbound links from known spam sites, Google just devalues (ignores) the links.

However, if a site’s backlink profile is too bad, Google may still apply a manual action for unnatural links to your website. Also, John Mueller said earlier this year that a software-induced penalty can still occur if a site has “a bunch of really bad links” (h/t Marie Haynes).

Friendlier Penguin has not proven to be 100% effective. As a result, many businesses still need help cleaning up their link profile to restore lost rankings. Google has said that you should not need disavow files, yet also welcomes them. To me, that is a very clear signal that we should not rely on the algorithm alone when it comes to backlinks.

Hazards: Sites that had purchased links were targets, as well as those with spammy or irrelevant links, or incoming links with over-optimized anchor text.

Winners: Sites with mostly natural inbound links from relevant webpages got to rise in the SERPs.

See the detailed history of Penguin in the Penguin Algorithm Updates section.

September 1, 2016 – Possum

Possum is an unconfirmed yet widely documented Google algorithm update. This update targeted the local pack. Unlike confirmed updates, the details of the Possum update are a bit less clear. SEOs believe it sought to bring more variety into local SERPs and help increase the visibility of local companies.

With this update, Google seemed to change the way it filtered duplicate listings. Before Possum, Google omitted results as duplicates if they shared the same phone number or website. With Possum, Google filtered listings that shared the same address. This created intense competition between neighboring or location-sharing businesses.

Hazards: Businesses with intense competition in their target location could be pushed out of the local results.

Winners: Businesses outside physical city limits had a chance to appear in local listings.

May 2016 – Mobile Update

Google announced ahead of time that it would increase the mobile-friendliness ranking signal in May. Google confirmed the rollout was completed on May 12.

Learn more: Mobile Friendly SEO Ranking Boost Gets Boosted in May

January 2016 – Panda Integrated into Core Algorithm

Google revealed that the Panda algorithm targeting quality was a part of the core algorithm. It was not clear when this happened exactly. Google also confirmed that even though it was part of the core algorithm, it did not operate in real time.

This significant update is detailed below in the Panda Updates section.

Learn more: Google Explains What It Means To Be Part Of The “Core” Algorithm


October 2015 – RankBrain

Google revealed to Bloomberg that RankBrain — Google’s artificial intelligence system — was one of its top three ranking signals. Reportedly, 15 percent of queries per day have never been seen by Google before. Initially, RankBrain helped interpret those queries, but it may now be involved in every query. It’s also possible with RankBrain that searchers’ engagement with the search results is a factor in how it determines the relevancy of a result.

According to Google’s Gary Illyes on Reddit,

RankBrain is a PR-sexy machine learning ranking component that uses historical search data to predict what would a user most likely click on for a previously unseen query. It is a really cool piece of engineering that saved our butts countless times whenever traditional algos were like, e.g. “oh look a “not” in the query string! let’s ignore the hell out of it!”, but it’s generally just relying on (sometimes) months old data about what happened on the results page itself, not on the landing page. Dwell time, CTR, … those are generally made up crap. Search is much more simple than people think.

OK, if it changes the target, then it is always right. If you change the results to match a user-intent profile, then in the future all clicks would match that profile since that is all there is. Are all searches for a particular keyword always informational? RankBrain may think so and push out ecommerce sites from the results. Fortunately, it is often correct.

Hazards: No specific losers, although sites won’t be found relevant that have shallow content, poor UX, or unfocused subject matter.

Winners: Sites creating niche content and focusing on keyword intent have a better chance of ranking.

Learn more:

July 2015 – Panda Update 4.2

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

May 2015 – Quality Update to Core Algorithm

Google confirmed a change to its algorithm (although not right away) on how it processed quality signals. Google stated that the update wasn’t intended to target any particular sites or class of sites, but was an update to the overall ranking algorithm itself.

April 2015 – Mobile-Friendly Update (“Mobilegeddon”)

Google announced ahead of time in February and then confirmed in April its mobile-friendly update was rolling out that would boost the rankings of mobile-friendly pages. This update laid the foundation for Google’s mobile-first search mechanism.
The update underlined mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal and laid the foundation for the way Google’s mobile-first search mechanism works today. It was fun watching ecommerce sites try to fit 700 navigation links into a mobile menu. (Side note: There are better ways to handle mobile navigation.)

Hazards: Sites without a mobile-friendly version of the page, or with poor mobile usability, suffered.

Winners: Responsive sites and pages with an existing mobile-friendly version benefited.


October 2014 – Penguin Update 3.0

For more information on this update, please see the Penguin section below.

September 2014 – Panda Update 4.1

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

July 24 – “Pigeon” Local Search Algorithm Update

The update dubbed Pigeon shook up the local organic results in Google Web and Map searches.

Google told Search Engine Land that it had made an update to its local ranking signals to provide better results for users. Dubbed “Pigeon,” these updates improved distance and location ranking parameters (“near me”), and incorporated more of the ranking signals used in Google’s main web search algorithms. Google said it probably wouldn’t detail any more changes to the local search algorithm in the future.

Hazards: Local businesses with poor on- and off-page SEO suffered.

Winners: Local companies with accurate NAP information and other SEO factors in place gained rankings.

Learn more: How Do I Rank Higher in Google Local Search? Bruce Clay’s Checklist for Local SEOs

June 2014 – Payday Loan Algorithm Update (3.0)

Google confirmed that the third iteration of the “Payday Loan” algorithm that targets heavily spammed queries was rolling out.

May 2014 – Payday Loan Algorithm Update (2.0)

Google confirmed the second iteration of the “Payday Loan” algorithm, impacting about 0.2% of English queries.

May 2014 – Panda Update 4.0

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

February 2014 – Page Layout Algorithm Refresh

Google announced a refresh of its page layout algorithm. Its impact was not given.


October 2013 – Penguin Update 2.1

For more information on this update, please see the Penguin Update section below.

August 2013 – Hummingbird

Hummingbird was announced in September (although it had been live since August). Hummingbird was essentially a complete overhaul of its algorithm (not an added-on update) and was the beginning of semantic search as we know it today.

Google needed a way to better understand the user intent behind a search query. Search terms that were similar but different, for example, often generated less-than-desirable results. Take the word “hammer” as an example. Is the searcher looking for the musician, the museum, or a tool to pound nails with?

Google’s Knowledge Graph was a first step. Released the year before Hummingbird, the Knowledge Graph mapped the relationships between different pieces of information about “entities.” It helped the search engine connect the dots and improve the logic of search results.

Hummingbird used semantic search to provide better results that matched the searcher’s intent. It helped Google understand conversational language, such as long-tail queries formed as questions. It impacted an estimated 90% of searches and introduced things like conversational language queries, voice search, and more.

Hazards: Pages with keyword stuffing or low-quality content couldn’t fool Google anymore.

Winners: Pages with natural-sounding, conversational writing and Q&A-style content benefited.

Learn more: Google Hummingbird & The Keyword: What You Need To Know

July 2013 – Panda Update – Recovery

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

June 2013 – Payday Loan Algorithm Update

Google announced a new algorithm to address the quality of results for heavily spammed queries such as “payday loans,” “viagra” and pornography-related keywords. Sites impacted tended to be those involved in link schemes, webspam, and often illegal activities.

Learn more: What You Need to Know About the Google Payday Loan Algorithm Update

May 2013 – Penguin Update 2.0

For more information on this update, please see the Penguin section below.

March 2013 – Panda Update #25

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

January 2013 – Panda Update #24

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.


December 2012 – Panda Update #23

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

November 21, 2012 – Panda Update #22

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

November 5, 2012 – Panda Update #21

For more information on this update, please see the Panda section below.

October 2012 – Penguin Update 1.2

For more information on this update, please see the Penguin section below.

October 2012 – Page Layout Algorithm Update #2

Google announced an update to its page layout algorithm update and confirmed it impacted about 0.7% of English queries.

September 27, 2012 – Panda Update #20

See the Panda section below for more details.

September 18, 2012 – Panda Update 3.9.2

See the Panda section below for more details.

September 2012 – Exact-Match Domain Algorithm Update

Google announced an algorithm update dubbed “Exact-Match Domain” that aimed to reduce low-quality exact-match domains in the search results.

Learn more: The EMD Update: Like Panda & Penguin, Expect Further Refreshes To Come

August 2012 – Panda Update 3.9.1

See the Panda section below for more details.

July 2012 – Panda Update 3.9

See the Panda section below for more details.

June 25, 2012 – Panda Update 3.8

See the Panda section below for more details.

June 8, 2012 – Panda Update 3.7

See the Panda section below for more details.

May 2012 – Penguin Update 1.1

For more information on this update, see the Penguin Updates section below.

May 2012 – Knowledge Graph Release

In what Google described as a “critical first step towards building the next generation of search,” it began rolling out the Knowledge Graph. This is basically a knowledge base designed to match keywords to real-world entities.

April 27, 2012 – Panda Update 3.6

See the Panda section below for more details.

April 19, 2012 – Panda Update 3.5

See the Panda section below for more details.

April 2012 – Webspam Update (Penguin)

Google announced an algorithm designed to target sites that were directly violating its quality guidelines. With “Penguin,” link spam became the target of Google’s efforts. This significant update is detailed below in the Penguin Updates section.

March 2012 – Panda Update 3.4

See the Panda section below for more details.

February 27, 2012 – Venice Update

Google announced improvements to ranking for local search results. Dubbed “Venice,” this update to local search took into account the user’s physical location or IP address. This was a major change to how local search worked.

February 2012 – Panda Update 3.3

See the Panda section below for more details.

January 19, 2012 – Page Layout Algorithm Update

Google confirmed that it would be updating its page layout algorithm to penalize sites with overly aggressive “above-the-fold” ads.

January 2012 – Panda Update 3.2

See the Panda section below for more details.


November 2011 – Panda Update 3.1

See the Panda section below for more details.

November 2011 – Freshness Update

To give users the freshest, most recent search results, Google announced that it would be improving its ranking algorithm to prioritize freshness for certain queries. Google said it “noticeably impacts six to 10 percent of searches, depending on the language and domain you’re searching on.”

October 2011 – Panda Update 3.0

See the Panda section below for more details.

September 2011 – Panda Update 2.5

See the Panda section below for more details.

August 2011 – Panda Update 2.4

See the Panda section below for more details.

July 2011 – Panda Update 2.3

See the Panda section below for more details.

June 2011 – Panda Update 2.2

See the Panda section below for more details.

May 2011 – Panda Update 2.1

See the Panda section below for more details.

April 2011 – Panda Update 2.0

See the Panda section below for more details.

February 2011 – Panda Quality Update

Google announced on its official blog that a new update to reduce rankings for low-quality content had been introduced. Dubbed “Panda,” it took particular aim at content produced by so-called “content farms.”

The initial rollout impacted about 12% of English queries. (You’ll find detailed history in the Panda Algorithm Update section below.)

Hazards: Websites lost rankings if they had duplicate, plagiarized or thin content; user-generated spam; keyword stuffing.

Winners: Original, high-quality, high-relevance content often gained rankings.

January 2011 – Attribution Update

In an effort to reduce spam, Google updated its algorithm to better detect scrapers. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of webspam at the time, revealed the change on his personal blog, saying it was a “pretty targeted launch: slightly over 2% of queries change in some way, but less than half a percent of search results change enough that someone might really notice.”


June 2010 – Caffeine

Google completed a significant new web indexing system named Caffeine (originally announced in 2009). It enabled Google to speed up its search engine, as well as provide users with fresher content.

Learn more:

May 2010 – Mayday Update

Search Engine Land reported that at an industry event, Google had confirmed the so-called Mayday update. This update significantly reduced long-tail traffic for some sites.

Learn more:


December 2009 – Real-Time Search Launch

Google announced the release of real-time search, a “dynamic stream of real-time content” that allowed users to see the most recent and relevant tweets, news stories and more.


December 2005 – “Big Daddy”

This infrastructure update worked to improve the quality of search results. It was visible in December and 100% live by March of 2006, as reported by Google’s then-head of webspam, Matt Cutts.

Learn more: Was Big Daddy Too Much for Google to Handle?

September 2005 – “Jagger” Updates Begin

In a series of three updates (September, October and November), “Jagger” was meant to deal with the increasing amount of webspam in the search results.

Learn more:

November 2003 – Webspam Update (Florida)

The update called “Florida” targeting webspam was the first major update coming from Google that put the kibosh on tactics used in previous years to manipulate rankings.

Learn more: What Happened to My Site on Google?

A Note on Algorithm Changes Pre-”Florida”
Between 2000 and 2003, PageRank would usually be updated monthly, and rankings would fluctuate. Webmasters would often post their findings on Webmaster World (before the days of confirmations or announcements from Google).

Learn more: A Brief History of SEO

Panda Algorithm Update

Panda was rolled out in February of 2011, aimed at placing a higher emphasis on quality content. The update reduced the amount of thin and inexpert material in the search results. The Panda filter took particular aim at content produced by so-called “content farms.”

With Panda, Google also introduced a quality classification for pages that became a ranking factor. This classification took its structure from human-generated quality ratings (as documented in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines).

Websites that dropped in the SERPs after each iteration of Panda were forced to improve their content in order to recover. Panda was rolled into Google’s core algorithm in January 2016.

History of Panda Updates

From 2011 to 2016, Panda had many data refreshes and updates before being rolled into the core algorithm.

  • Core Algorithm Integration – January 2016: Google revealed through SEM Post and later confirmed that Panda was integrated into the core algorithm.
  • Update 4.2 – July 2015: Google revealed to Search Engine Land that it pushed out a slow rollout. This refresh affected 2 to 3 percent of English queries, and gave a second chance to those penalized by Panda in the previous refresh.
  • Update 4.1 – September 2014: Google’s announced that this refresh was meant to further “help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely.” The refresh impacted 3-5 percent of queries.
  • Update 4.0 – May 2014: Google announced a major update that impacted 7.5% of English queries.
  • “Recovery” – July 2013: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that this refresh was “more finely targeted” than previous ones.
  • Update No. 25 – March 2013: Search Engine Land reported that Google’s Matt Cutts announced a Panda update for March 15, 2013, during the SMX West panel. Tests suggest it happened, though Google never confirmed.
  • Update No. 24 – January 2013: Google announced a refresh that would affect 1.2% of English queries.
  • Update No. 23 – December 2012: Google announced a refresh that would affect 1.3% of English queries.
  • Update No. 22 – November 21, 2012: Google confirmed this update to Search Engine Land and said that 0.8% of English queries were impacted.
  • Update No. 21 – November 5, 2012: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that an update took place. This refresh affected 0.4 percent of queries worldwide and 1.1% of English queries in the U.S.
  • Panda 20 – September 27, 2012: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land this relatively major update (more than a data refresh) that took more than a week to roll out. The update impacted 2.4% of English queries. Panda 20 marked a change in the naming convention of the update.
  • Update 3.9.2 – September 18, 2012: Google announced a refresh that “noticeably” affected less than 0.7%. They also said to “expect some flux over the next few days.”
  • Update 3.9.1 – August 2012: Google confirmed a refresh that impacted about 1% of queries.
  • Update 3.9 – July 2012: Google announced a refresh that impacted about 1% of search results.
  • Update 3.8 – June 25, 2012: Google announced a refresh that “noticeably” affected about 1% of queries worldwide.
  • Update 3.7 – June 8, 2012: Google belatedly confirmed this refresh. Less than 1 percent of queries were noticeably impacted in the U.S. and 1% of queries were impacted worldwide. Ranking tools have suggested that this refresh was heavier hitting than others.
  • Update 3.6 – April 27, 2012: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that it pushed out a refresh on this day, and said it affected very few sites.
  • Update 3.5 – April 19, 2012: Google confirmed that a refresh happened. Search Engine Land published a list of the “winners and losers.”
  • Update 3.4 – March 2012: Google announced a refresh that affected about 1.6% of queries.
  • Update 3.3 – February 2012: Google announced the refresh on its Inside Search blog, saying it would make Panda “more accurate and more sensitive to changes on the web.”
  • Update 3.2 – January 2012: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that a data refresh had taken place.
  • Update 3.1 – November 2011: Google confirmed that a minor update went out and impacted less than 1% of searches.
  • Update 3.0 – October 2011: Google announced that people should “expect Panda-related flux in the next few weeks,” but that it would have less impact than previous updates at about 2 percent. The update included new signals in the Panda algorithm and a recalculation of how the algorithm affected websites.
  • Update 2.5 – September 2011: Google confirmed to WebProNews that a refresh happened, though declined to share details about the sites impacted by it.
  • Update 2.4 – August 2011: Google announced on its Webmaster Central blog that the Panda update had been rolled out internationally to English-speaking and non-English-speaking countries (except for Japan, Korea, and China). The update impacted 6 to 9 percent of queries in most languages.
  • Update 2.3 – July 2011: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that it implemented a small data refresh.
  • Update 2.2 – June 2011: Google confirmed to Search Engine Land that a data refresh occurred.
  • Update 2.1 – May 2011: The industry first thought this was a much larger update and could be Panda 3.0, but Google clarified that it was only a small data refresh.
  • Update 2.0 – April 2011: Google announced the first core Panda update, which incorporated additional signals and rolled the algorithm out to all English-speaking Google users worldwide. Only about 2% of U.S. queries were affected.
  • Update 1.0 – February 2011: Google announced on its official that a new update to reduce rankings for low-quality sites had been introduced, impacting about 12% of English queries.

Learn more: Understanding Google Panda: Definitive Algo Guide for SEOs

Penguin Algorithm Update

The Penguin update worked to target link spam.

Before rolling out Penguin, Google paid close attention to page link volume while crawling webpages. This made it possible for low-quality pages to rank more prominently than they should have if they had a lot of incoming links.

Penguin helped with the mission to make valuable search results as visible as possible by penalizing low-quality content and link spam. Many sites cleaned up their links. But they could stay in Penguin jail for months, unable to regain their lost rankings until Google ran the next update.

Google made Penguin part of its real-time algorithm in September 2016, and a friendlier version emerged.

History of Penguin Updates

From 2012 to 2016, Penguin had several data refreshes and updates before rolling into the core algorithm.

How to Watch for Google Algorithm Changes

With the exception of recent broad core updates, Google rarely announces its algorithm updates. And when it does, it is usually only after others discover them.

With so many tweaks going on daily, it is possible that Google doesn’t know that some changes will be significant enough to mention.

Often the first indication you have is your own website. If your search traffic suddenly jumps or dives, chances are good that Google made an algo update that affected your search rankings.

Where can you go for information when your online world gets rocked? Here’s what I recommend …

Have a “seismograph” in place on your website.

To detect search traffic fluctuations on your own website, you need analytics software. If you haven’t already, install Google Analytics and Google Search Console on your website. They’re free, and they’re indispensable for SEO.

Watch the SERP weather reports.

RankRanger SERP fluctuations chart.

Various websites and tools monitor ranking changes across categories and search markets and report on SERP volatility. Here are places you can check for early warning signs of a search ranking algorithm update:

Follow industry resources.

I’m always reading as an SEO. For the latest Google news, I recommend that you:

What To Do After a Google Update

Think that an algorithm update has penalized your site?

Don’t panic. Remember — nobody truly understands the algorithm. Whatever you’re experiencing may or may not be due to a Google fluctuation. And Google may “fix” it tomorrow, or next week.

With this in mind, get intentional. And stay calm. Decide whether you need to act before you do.

Calm woman meditating with laptop.

Here’s a plan to follow after an algorithm update …

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Get into puzzle-solving mode. Do NOT react or make changes hastily. Instead, gather data. Determine whether your site was impacted by the change and not something else, such as a technical SEO issue. Or it could be that your rankings dived because your competitors moved up in the SERPs. Depending on the cause, you need to do something different in response.
  3. Learn about the update from several sources (see my suggested resources above). Find out what other SEO experts are saying and experiencing.
  4. Adjust your SEO strategy accordingly.
  5. Remember that Google’s ranking algorithms change all the time. What impacts your site today could reverse itself in a month.
  6. Change what makes sense on your website.
  7. Re-evaluate your impact.
  8. If no results have changed, now you can panic.
  9. Call us.

Last Thoughts: You Don’t Need to Beat the Algorithm

Google’s algorithm updates are constant, often unverified, and difficult to anticipate. That doesn’t mean you have to be afraid.

Don’t spend your time trying to figure out a way to beat the algorithm. You’ll waste hours chasing your tail and missing the things that truly matter, like creating a high-quality website that is worthy of ranking.

I like to tell a story to illustrate this …

Imagine you’re out camping with a friend, and a bear shows up. You both take off running, the bear in hot pursuit.

In this situation, do you have to be an Olympic runner to survive?

No — you just have to be faster than your buddy.


In the world of SEO, your mission is to be better than your competition. You don’t need to beat the bear.

So don’t let algorithm updates cause you to make knee-jerk decisions. Instead, be strategic about how and when, but stay informed so you can make these decisions properly.

If you found this helpful, please subscribe to our blog. If you’d like assistance with your website SEO, contact us for a free quote.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce’s author page for links to connect on social media.


Relation articles with An Up-to-Date History of Google Algorithm Updates in the same categories

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