Google Algorithm Updates: A Complete History (2003-2022)

Ben Tippet

If you’re a website owner, you’ve probably heard of Google’s algorithms. They form a smart system that the search engine uses to satisfy a user’s search intent and deliver the best results for Google search queries.To ensure that it includes the most relevant information in search results, Google is constantly updating its algorithms. In this article, we’ll discuss the history of Google algorithm updates to help you understand how the search engine has improved since 2003.

What Are Google Algorithms, and How Do They Satisfy Google Search Queries?

Google Updates - SEO Timeline

Google’s algorithms are a sophisticated technology used to quickly return the most relevant results for a query by retrieving information from its search index.On the search engine results pages (SERPs), it ranks websites according to relevance using a variety of algorithms and ranking parameters. The search engine only performed a small number of algorithm updates in its formative years. Google now performs thousands of updates each year. In 2020 alone, over 4,500 changes were made. Most of these modifications are so minor that nobody notices them. However, it occasionally releases substantial algorithmic upgrades that considerably impact on SERPs.

The History of Google Algorithm Updates

In the section below, we’ll discuss the significant Google algorithm updates from 2003 to 2022.

2003 Google Algorithm Updates

July 2003 Fritz Update

With this upgrade, Google stopped doing the “Google Dance,” a major monthly algorithm upgrade when websites’ ranks would fluctuate over six to eight days, and the search engine would start indexing pages daily.After this, Google began making numerous (usually modest) modifications each day, which became known as “everflux.”

November 2003 Florida Update

The first significant algorithm update, Florida, generated much controversy. It was executed on November 15 that year. Google wanted to make it more difficult for sites to rank highly using unethical SEO practices. Unfortunately, this change forced several companies out of business just before the holiday season. Google vowed that it would attempt to avoid releasing significant updates during the holiday season after this upgrade (a promise that it kept until 2011).

2004 Google Algorithm Updates

January 2004 Austin

This update, which was rolled out on January 23 of that year, was regarded as continuing the efforts it began with Florida to produce more pertinent Google search results. Sites affected by this upgrade were employing on-page SEO techniques that had been successful up to this point.

2005 Google Algorithm Updates

May/June 2005 Bourbon Google Algorithm Update

In May and June of 2005, Google rolled out its Bourbon Update. This update was intended to improve the filtering of spam search results and update the PageRank and backlinks of websites.

October 2005 Jagger Update

The Jagger update was intended to update Google’s backlink data and pave the way for its next update, the Big Daddy.

December 2005 Big Daddy

In December, Google rolled out its Big Daddy update, which involved an infrastructure change.

2007 Google Algorithm Updates

October 2007 PageRank Update

Google confirmed that some websites that sold links had their PageRank scores lowered during this update. Additionally, the search engine warned that some of those websites might lose their rating in its search results or receive penalties.

2008 Google Algorithm Updates

March 2008 Dewey Algorithm Update

At the end of March and the beginning of April, there were reports of some significant shifting in search results. Google’s Matt Cutts requested feedback on the modifications from webmasters using a form, asking them to use the word “dewey” in their comments to give the update a title.

2009 Google Algorithm Updates

February Vince Algorithm Update

People in the SEO community and webmasters first noticed major brands appearing more frequently in search results toward the end of February. Google’s Matt Cutts announced the “small adjustment” on March 5 and added that its ranking system may now take into account indicators such as quality, trust, PageRank, and others for more general queries. According to Cutts, it had no effect on long-tail searches. This modification was made by a Googler by the name of Vince, which gave the update its name.

2010 Google Algorithm Updates

May 2010 May Day Update

Long-tail keywords were the primary target of the May Day Google algorithm upgrade. The modifications were made between April 28 and May 3, which resulted in the name “May Day.” With this, Google aimed to make it easier for people to find high-quality websites that linked to specific long-tail queries.

June 2010 Caffeine Google Update

In order to completely rejuvenate Google’s index, a substantial update known as the Caffeine Update was introduced in June of 2010. Google confirmed that the rebuilt index produced relevant search results that were 50 percent more recent than the old index.

December 2010 Negative Reviews

The eCommerce website DecorMyEyes used an intriguing strategy, which The New York Times revealed. Based on these unfavorable ratings, the website rose in the SERPs. Google modified its algorithm after learning about it, focusing on websites employing similar techniques.

2011 Google Algorithm Updates

February 2011 Panda Update

Its Panda Update was a major Google algorithm update, and although it first debuted in 2011, there have subsequently been more updates. This algorithm upgrade placed a lot more emphasis on websites that offer users high-quality content. Moreover, the purpose of the search filter was to promote high-quality sites and devalue low-quality ones. Websites with low-quality material, also known as thin sites, were those with few sentences, little to no substantial substance, and a general lack of detailed information.

2012 Google Algorithm Updates

April 2012 Penguin Update

This update’s objective was to lower the rankings of websites that Google thought were not adhering to its quality standards. Websites that were intentionally purchasing links or acquiring them through link networks with the primary goal of enhancing Google search results were the primary target of this update.

August 2012 Pirate Algorithm Update

Websites that got an excessive number of DMCA takedown requests had their rankings reduced by this update. The SEO community wouldn’t understand Pirate’s ability to reduce search traffic by up to 89 per cent until 2022.

September 2012 Exact-match Domain Update

Google introduced this algorithm update to stop low-quality websites from ranking highly just because their domain names contained keywords that matched search queries.

2013 Google Algorithm Updates

June 2013 Payday Loan Algorithm Update

In 2013, Google released an algorithm upgrade called “Payday Loan” that was designed to tackle spammy websites and search terms. This update’s objective was to improve the value of queries that receive a lot of spam. High-interest loan markets, gaming, insurance, and pharmaceutical sites were a few of the sectors that were most affected.

August 2013 Hummingbird Update

Hummingbird was a critical Google algorithm upgrade that, like a real hummingbird, was built on speed and accuracy. With this change, users received more precise and customised results for their searches. Google used to base its results on keywords, but with Hummingbird, it could then take user intent into account to deliver even better results. Moreover, with this update, Google aimed to better respond to lengthier, more detailed, and naturally-phrased searches. The importance of long-tail keywords, as well as the calibre and context of the material on their websites, has changed for many marketers. Quality content has been and continues to be essential to rank well on SERPs.

2014 Google Algorithm Updates

July 2014 Pigeon Google Update

The Pigeon Update was designed to help local businesses reach their intended audience. With this algorithm change, local search results would be more informative, precise, and closely related to standard online search ranking factors. According to Google, its distance and geographical ranking criteria have improved with this new algorithm.

August 2014 SSL/HTTPS Update

In August 2014, Google announced that security was now its top priority and that it would utilise HTTPS as a ranking indication. This update impacted less than one per cent of all queries and was initially only a weak signal. However, Google stated that it intended to make it stronger in the future.

October 2014 “In the News” Box

Google modified its “In the News Box” that can be found on SERPs throughout this update. Now, a range of news websites and media, such as press releases, videos, photos, and more, would be displayed in the box. The company wanted to increase topical variety for news stories with this update.

2015 Google Algorithm Updates

April 2015 Mobile Update

Before updates, Google hardly ever made an announcement, but that pattern shifted in April 2015 with the mobile algorithm update. It warned that this modification might affect rankings in mobile search results and that those rankings could fluctuate based on how mobile-friendly a particular web page is. Pages that were not mobile-friendly had a significant drop in traffic, which prompted them to embrace the mobile-first approach.

October 2015 RankBrain Google Search Update

Google’s algorithm was updated in 2015 with the RankBrain upgrade, which included artificial intelligence and machine learning. By incorporating these technologies into its algorithm, Google can now guess a user’s intent when they enter a query. When this technique was incorporated into Google’s algorithm, it was able to more accurately predict what a user was looking for when they were using a term that Google had not come across before.

2016 Google Algorithm Updates

January 2016 Core Algorithm Update

Google announced on January 12 that the past weekend of ranking changes and volatility was caused by its Core Algorithm Update. There were noticeable changes in the search results. Gary Illyes from Google confirmed that the modification affected the primary ranking algorithm.

February 2016 Adwords SERP Update

In February 2016, Google announced that the sidebar of advertisements that was previously shown to the right of SERPs would be removed during its AdWords update. With this upgrade, it also increased the number of advertisements at the top of the search results to four and boosted the number of adverts at the bottom of SERPs to three. While some businesses felt at a disadvantage as organic results were moved farther down the page and frequently no longer featured above-the-fold, several marketers welcomed the adjustment.

September 2016 Possum Google Update

Local listings were affected by this modification. In a nutshell, the Possum Update altered how Google’s filters function. How do filters work? Google’s local search filters remove sites that appear to be repetitive. If a local firm has two websites for its services, for instance, only one of them will show up for a particular local search phrase. The Possum Update might have gone too far in its attempt to enhance Google’s user experience. Some companies that were close to those that previously appeared on Google’s SERPs witnessed a sharp decline in traffic to their websites.

September 2016 Penguin Update

Google modified its Penguin algorithm for the final time after almost two years in September 2016. Data was updated in real-time once Penguin was included in Google’s core algorithm, according to the company’s announcement. Additionally, it got more detailed, which effectively meant Penguin could affect the rankings for certain web pages, sections of web pages, or the entire page.

2017 Google Algorithm Updates

March 2017 Fred Update

There was an update in March 2017 that was dubbed “Fred.” The Google Fred Update appeared to target link integrity across the internet. Many people in the “black hat SEO” group on the web witnessed a decline in their ranks, sometimes quite noticeably. Keyword stuffing and link spam are not effective methods for gaining rankings.

August 2017 Local Google Search Update

This version fixed the Possum Update, which unintentionally adversely affected local Google search rankings. The 2016 Possum Update aimed to increase SERP relevance by removing irrelevant search results from the SERPs. To sum it up, Google’s filters excluded certain local company owners whose establishments were too close to similar establishments that had appeared on Google’s SERPs. The Hawk Update partly remedied the Possum Update, increasing the likelihood that local firms in direct competition with those currently appearing in the SERPs will be found in a pertinent search query.

Mid-December 2017 Google Algorithm Updates

Google acknowledged publishing a number of minor adjustments designed to increase relevance in December 2017. Websites that were aiming to target a large number of keyword variations appeared to be severely impacted.

2018 Google Algorithm Updates

January 2018 Core Algorithm Update

The site’s SERPs were the focus of the January 2018 Core Algorithm Update. Moreover, the fundamental updates for that year’s March and April updates came after it.

March 2018 Core Algorithm Update

A wide-ranging Core Update designed to enhance Google’s query results was released in March 2018 and was followed swiftly by the April Core Algorithm Update in the same year. This update significantly impacted some websites, and webmasters who noticed a decline in rankings were advised to keep producing top-notch content rather than attempting to manipulate the algorithm. As always, lasting ratings can only be gained through high-quality content.

April 2018 Core Algorithm Update

The April 2018 Broad Core Algorithm Update, like previous updates, sought to enhance the end-user experience by presenting the most pertinent results for Google searches. It did not initially announce this upgrade; rather, it made the statement on rumours that there may have been a core alteration.

August 2018 Medic or Broad Core Algorithm Update

The Broad Core Algorithm Update from August 2018 was a major update that rattled the SEO industry. With this upgrade, Google made significant changes to its algorithm that now rewards web pages that had previously had low rankings. Google stated that any decline in the ranks had “no fix.” Simply put, other under-rewarded websites started advancing, which is why the rankings dropped following this Broad Core Algorithm Update. Its guidance for webmasters experiencing a decline in the ranking was to continue producing high-quality material, and their websites may very well start to climb the Google rankings again.

2019 Google Algorithm Updates

March 2019 Core Update

The March 2019 Core Update confused some people and briefly upset the SEO industry’s normal balance. Without a name, the March 2019 Broad Core Algorithm Update allowed users on Twitter to speculatively discuss the upgrade and why it wasn’t named. Google announced on social media that it had named the upgrade  “March 2019 Core Update.”

June 2019 Core Update

On June 3, Google rolled out its June 2019 Core Update. The Google algorithm underwent a significant fundamental modification during this update, with the goal of enhancing the user experience across the board.

October BERT Natural Language Processing Update

Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) is a Google upgrade that affected 10 per cent of queries. In other words, BERT was developed to assist Google in understanding requests and webpage content more naturally.

2020 Google Algorithm Updates

January 2020 Core Update

According to SEO professionals, the January 2020 Core Update was a somewhat weak update. It was quickly followed by a more substantial May 2020 Broad Core Algorithm Update.

May 2020 Broad Core Algorithm Update

In May 2020, Google began rolling out its rather significant Broad Core Algorithm Update. This upgrade was extensive. It was not intended to address any particular algorithmic aspect, like other fundamental upgrades.

October 2020 BERT Upgrade

According to Google, BERT now powers almost all English-based Google search results, a significant increase from the 10 per cent it did the year before. Since BERT is made to enhance the relevance of results by better comprehending website content, you cannot specifically optimise for it.

December 2020 Core Update

Google updated its Core Algorithm in December, which was the final significant upgrade of that year and the first significant update since May. The December 2020 Core Update, like all of Google’s other upgrades, had a significant effect on websites and SEO worldwide.

2021 Google Algorithm Updates

February 2021 Passage Ranking Update

In February 2021, Google announced that it was changing how it ranks particular sections of web pages in SERPs. This update was created to make it easier for users to find information that was generally difficult to locate. According to Google, this modification would affect seven per cent of searches in all languages. There was no explicit guidance on issues to address or changes to make since this change was more about how Google reads your information.

April 2021 Product Reviews Update

To better recognise exceptional product reviews, the Product Reviews Update was released. It aimed to prioritise these product reviews in SERPs. Moreover, Google has offered a checklist of nine questions to ensure that your product reviews are informative, feature original research, and are produced by specialists or enthusiasts well-versed in the subject.

June 2021 Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google released two Core Updates back-to-back, the first of which was the June 2021 Broad Core Algorithm Update. Since a number of the fundamental updates that Google planned to push out in June were not ready, it chose to deliver these updates separately. The June 2021 Core Update, much like past Google Broad Core Algorithm Updates, was extensive and far-reaching. Numerous sites probably felt the effects of this update.

June 2021 Mum Update

Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM), which was introduced at Google I/O in May of 2021, is based on a transformer design similar to BERT. However, it is 1,000 times more efficient and capable of multitasking to link data for users in novel ways.

June 2021 Spam Updates

In June, Google announced that a second Spam Update would be released. There was no more information or instructions. Google’s Twitter post included a mention of its Webmaster Guidelines. We discovered that the Spam Update’s two components were “international” upgrades targeting picture and web results.

July 2021 Core Update

This was the second Broad Core Algorithm Update that Google released in a row. The July 2021 Core Update, as is customary with Core updates, was a complete upgrade that modified the entire algorithm. From July 1 to July 12, the July 2021 Core Update was rolled out.

July 2021 Link Spam Update

The goal of this upgrade, according to Google, is to “nullify” spam links throughout the web and in different languages. Rankings were more likely to be affected for sites with spam links. According to Google, website owners are advised to follow best practices for all links.

November 2021 Broad Core Algorithm Update

The last Broad Core Algorithm Update of 2021 was this one. It significantly impacted sites and SEO in all languages and took around two weeks to roll out completely.

November 2021 Local Google Search Update

This worldwide update, according to Google, “rebalances several criteria we take into account when producing local results.”

December 2021 Product Reviews Update

Similar to the April Product Reviews Update, this update sought to recognise and highlight exceptional product reviews in SERPs. Google aimed to present consumers with original research, intelligent analysis, and information created by enthusiasts or subject-matter experts. This modification was fully implemented over the course of around three weeks. The latest recommendation from Google for this update is to offer links to other sellers and to provide more multimedia “proof” around your reviews.

2022 Google Algorithm Updates

March 2022 Product Reviews Update

The third version of the Product Reviews upgrade, which Google claimed will take “several weeks” to completely roll out, improves on the previous two revisions. This update also aimed to make it easier for Google to recognise excellent product reviews and compensate them with higher rankings. Google included three new pieces of additional guidance concerning ranked lists, “best” product recommendations, and writing reviews for several as opposed to single products.

May 2022 Core Update

The Broad Core Algorithm was updated for the first time in 2022 during this upgrade. According to Google, the whole rollout would take two weeks. Like all previous core updates, Google has significantly adjusted how its ranking algorithms evaluate material.

July 2022 Product Reviews Upgrade

Google initially estimated that the fourth revision of the Product Reviews upgrade would take two to three weeks to roll out. However, six days later, Google reported that it was completed. This is intended to honour excellent product reviews and was more of a refreshment than anything new. Comparing this update to previous ones that affected product reviews, it was less pervasive and had less fluctuation in rankings.

Final Thoughts on the Google Algorithm Updates

Now that you know about the major updates that Google has made to its algorithms over the past 19 years, with this list you can optimise your website and improve your Google search rankings!

Want to learn more? Contact the team at Perth Digital Edge to elevate your brand and stay ahead of the competition. Find your digital edge today.

Find your digital edge today.

Harness the power of Perth's digital pulse and expand your reach Australia-wide.

Get Started