What is Google Algorithms?

Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. The search engine uses a combination of algorithms and numerous ranking factors to deliver webpages ranked by relevance on its search engine results pages (SERPs).

In its early years, Google only made a handful of updates to its algorithms. Now, Google makes thousands of changes every year.

Most of these updates are so slight that they go completely unnoticed. However, on occasion, the search engine rolls out major algorithmic updates that significantly impact the SERPs such as:

  • Fred
  • Intrusive Interstitials Update
  • Mobilegeddon
  • RankBrain
  • Panda
  • Penguin
  • Hummingbird
  • Pigeon
  • Payday
  • EMD (Exact Match Domain)
  • Page Layout Algorithm

Below we have compiled a full list of Google algorithm launches, updates, and refreshes that have rolled out over the years, as well as links to resources for SEO professionals who want to understand each of these changes.

All Updates

February 10, 2021

Passage Ranking

Google’s Public Liaison for Search, Danny Sullivan, tweeted today that as of February 10th, 2021, Passage Ranking is live for English-language queries in the United States.

Google’s Martin Splitt discusses Google’s new ranking system and shares 16 key points you need to know about it in a virtual get-together with a trio of top SEO professionals – Cindy Krum, Bartosz Goralewicz, and Tomek Rudzki.

December 3, 2020

December 2020 Core Update

Google confirms a core algorithm update, the December 2020 Core Update, is rolled out on December 3, 2020. This is the third core algorithm update of the calendar year. A fair amount of time has passed since the last core update, compared to the average time between these types of updates.

May 4, 2020

May 2020 Core Update

Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan announced via Twitter that Google would be releasing a broad core algorithm update. About 90 minutes later, he announced the update was underway and would take 1-2 weeks to completely roll out.

January 22, 2020

Featured Snippet Deduplication

Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter that webpages in a featured snippet position will no longer be repeated in regular Page 1 organic listing. This change affected 100% of all search listings, worldwide.

January 13, 2020

January 2020 Core Update

Google’s Danny Sullivan announced via a tweet that a broad core algorithm update was about to be released. Google again provided the same guidance as for all other recent broad core algorithm updates.

December 9, 2019

BERT (Worldwide)

Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted that BERT was beginning its worldwide rollout, and included the following languages: Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Basque, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified & Taiwan), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, Galician, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Kannada, Kazakh, Khmer, Korean, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Lao, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian Malay (Brunei Darussalam & Malaysia), Malayalam, Maltese, Marathi, Mongolian, Nepali, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sinhalese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tajik, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, and Vietnamese.

October 25, 2019

BERT Update

Google announced the BERT Update, calling it the biggest change to Google search in the past 5 years. Google uses BERT models to better understand search queries. Google said this change impacted both search rankings and featured snippets and BERT (which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) will be used on 10 percent of U.S. English searches.

September 24, 2019

Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google’s Danny Sullivan announced via a tweet that a broad core algorithm update would be released within a few hours and it would take a few days to complete rolling out. Google’s guidance was the same as it had been for all other recent core algorithm updates.

June 2, 2019

June 2019 Core Update

On June 2, Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan tweeted that Google would be releasing a new broad core algorithm update on June 3. The next day, Google confirmed the update was live and would be rolling out to its various data centers over the coming days. As is the case with any broad core algorithm update, Google tells us there is nothing specific to fix because a core update encompasses a broad range of factors.

March 12, 2019

March 2019 Core Update (a.k.a. Florida 2)

Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter the release of a global broad core algorithm update. SEJ confirmed this update is particularly important and one of the biggest Google updates in years. Sullivan once again recommended following the guidance it provided following the March 9, 2018 update.

February 13, 2019

Valentine’s Day Update

Algorithm trackers and industry chatter indicated some sort of unconfirmed update took place on and before this date. However, unlike other updates, mostly positive changes in rankings were being reported.

October 31, 2018

Unconfirmed Halloween Update

Some webmasters reported changes starting around Halloween, perhaps indicating an (unconfirmed) Google update. But there was little evidence of a significant update here. The more likely cause of the chatter was spillover from the August broad core algorithm update and Google ramping up its use of neural matching.

September 27, 2018

A “Small” Update

On September 27 (Google’s 20th birthday), many within the SEO community began noticing significant spikes and drops in traffic, indicating some sort of update was underway. Some of the sites impacted by the August broad core algorithm update reportedly made a recovery. Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan confirmed via Twitter on September 29 that some sort of “smaller” update had taken place (but it wasn’t a broad core algorithm update).

August 1, 2018

Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google confirmed via Twitter for the third time this year the rollout of a broad core algorithm update. In doing so, Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan recommended following the guidance it provided following the March 9, 2018 update. This update has been referred to as “Medic” by some in the industry, even though Google said it was a general ranking update and wasn’t specifically targeting medical sites.

April 16, 2018

Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google confirmed via Twitter the release of another broad core algorithm update and indicated it was similar to the March 9, 2018 update, which was about content relevance.

March 9, 2018

Broad Core Algorithm Update

On March 12, Google confirmed via Twitter that a “broad core algorithm update” had rolled out the prior week. While Google was light on details, Google said the changes were meant to “benefit pages that were previously under-rewarded,” and advised everyone to “continue building great content.”

December 12, 2017

Maccabees Update

Some in the search community reported their websites being hit by update between December 12 and 14. Google confirmed several minor changes to the core algorithm during the timeframe, but downplayed the significance of the period of flux.

September 8, 2017

Fall Flux

Industry chatter and SEO tracking tools indicated some sort of (still unconfirmed) Google update may have occurred on this date. Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive, also detected several noteworthy Google changes impacting traffic and search visibility starting September 8. This was followed by additional volatility and fluctuations on September 18, 25, and 29, as well as October 4, 8, and 12.

August 19, 2017

Quality Update

Webmasters and SEO ranking tools detected some minor volatility on August 19-20, with signs indicating this may have been another (unconfirmed) Google quality update. Among the ranking casualties: category pages, pages with aggressive advertising, lower-quality/thin content, and other negative user experience elements, according to an analysis by Glenn Gabe, president of GSQi. There was some speculation that Google began testing this algorithm on August 14 because pages that were impacted (either positively or negatively) on this date were further impacted on August 19.

July 9, 2017

Quality Update

SEO ranking tools detected some minor volatility on July 9, potentially another (unconfirmed) Google quality update.

June 25, 2017

June 25 Update

Various SEO tracking tools detected a significant, though unconfirmed, Google update on this date. One analysis found that this update caused the biggest fluctuations for pages ranking in Positions 6-10. While it impacted most niches, the good and beverage industry was reportedly impacted the most.

May 17, 2017

Quality Update

Starting May 17 and lasting for about a week, SEO tracking tools reported lots of SERP volatility. While the impact seems limited, those sites impacted by this update tended to have issues with aggressive/deceptive advertising, UX issues, and thin/low-quality content.

March 7, 2017

Fred

Google’s Gary Illyes jokingly referred to this update as “Fred” and the name ended up sticking. But this algorithm was no laughing matter for those impacted. This major algorithm update seemed to mainly target low-value content. On March 24, Illyes officially confirmed the update. But Google has refused to share any more specifics, instead choosing to say that all the answers about Fred can be found in Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines.

February 7, 2017

February 7 Update

This unconfirmed major update resulted in massive rankings shifts in Google’s SERPs, which also meant major increases or decreases for some websites. Overall, it seems higher-quality and more relevant websites gained the most visibility.

February 1, 2017

February 1 Update

This was a minor and unconfirmed Google update. Although all information about this update is more speculation than fact, it seemed to target private blog networks or those doing spammy link building.

January 10, 2017

Intrusive Interstitials Update

On August 23, 2016, Google announced an upcoming change that would target intrusive interstitials and pop-ups that hurt the search experience on mobile devices. As promised, this update rolled out January 10, 2017. The impact of this update on rankings was minimal.

November 10, 2016

Unnamed Update

Search industry chatter and data from SEO tracking tools indicated some sort of unconfirmed Google update happened on November 10.

September 23, 2016

Penguin Update 4.0 & Core Algorithm Integration

The final update to the Penguin algorithm saw it integrated into Google’s core algorithm, meaning Penguin was now evaluating websites and links in real-time. Another big change was Penguin devalued links, rather than downgrading the rankings of pages.

June 1, 2016

Quality Update

Though unconfirmed by Google, data indicates that another content-related Quality Update to Google’s algorithm began rolling out around June 1, with additional search ranking volatility seen on June 8, 21, and 26.

May 12, 2016

Mobile-Friendly Update (#2)

The second Mobile-Friendly Update (or “Mobilegeddon 2”) was an update to Google’s first mobile-friendly update, meant to “increases the effect of the ranking signal.”

January 11, 2016

Panda Core Algorithm Incorporation

Google confirmed that Panda had been incorporated into the core Google algorithm, evidently as part of the slow Panda 4.2 rollout. In other words, Panda was no longer a filter applied to the Google algorithm after it does its work, but is incorporated as another of its core ranking signals. It has been clarified, however, that this doesn’t mean the Panda classifier acts in real time.

October 26, 2015

RankBrain

Though it had been in testing since April 2015, Google officially introduced RankBrain on this date. RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm that filters search results to help give users a best answer to their query. Initially, RankBrain was used for about 15 percent of queries (mainly new queries Google had never seen before), but now it is involved in almost every query entered into Google. RankBrain has been called the third most important ranking signal.

July 17, 2015

Panda Update 4.2 (#28)

Google announced a Panda refresh that would take months to roll out and impact 2 to 3 percent of English queries. Due to the slow nature of the rollout, it’s unclear how substantial the impact was or precisely when it occurred. It was the final confirmed Panda update.

May 3, 2015

Quality Update

The Quality Update (or the Phantom Update) was a confirmed change to Google’s core ranking algorithm – specifically, how Google assesses quality signals. Websites with content quality issues, as well as too many ads, seemed to be impacted the most by this update.

April 21, 2015

Mobile-Friendly Update

The Mobile-Friendly Update (or “Mobilegeddon”) was an update meant to reward mobile-friendly websites with better search rankings and provide better results to searchers on mobile devices. This update impacted all languages globally

October 17, 2014

Penguin Update 3.0

Though named like a major update, this was actually another data refresh of Google’s Penguin algorithm. Penguin 3.0 allowed those impacted by previous updates to emerge and recover, while many others who had continued to utilize spammy link practices, and had escaped the radar of the previous updates, saw an impact. The update took about three days to fully rollout and impacted less than 1 percent of English search queries.

September 23, 2014

Panda Update 4.1 (#27)

Google’s Pierre Far announced that this update to the Panda algorithm added “a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely.” It impacted 3 to 5 percent of queries.

July 24, 2014

Pigeon Update

Pigeon was a significant local search update that saw Google start using more traditional website ranking signals to influence local search results. It also improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters

June 12, 2014

Payday Loan Update 3.0

Google’s Payday Loan update 3.0, which largely was focused on targeting spammy queries, also included better protection against negative SEO attacks.

May 20, 2014

Panda Update 4.0 (#26)

Google’s Matt Cutts announced Panda 4.0, a major update to the algorithm impacting 7.5 percent of English queries.

May 16, 2014

Payday Loan Update 2.0

This was the “next generation” of Google’s Payday Loans algorithm, updated to better target spammy websites.

February 6, 2014

Page Layout Refresh

Google’s Matt Cutts announced a refresh of the page layout algorithm. No changes to the algorithm were mentioned – it appeared Google simply reran the algorithm and updated its index.

October 4, 2013

Penguin Update 2.1

Google’s Matt Cutts announced the first (and only) Penguin 2.0 algorithm data refresh, impacting ~1 percent of searches.

September 26, 2013

Hummingbird Update

The Hummingbird update was a major overhaul to Google’s core search technology. Google needed a way to better understand and return the most relevant results to more complex queries as a result of the growth of conversational search (i.e., voice search). Google said the new algorithm affected about 90 percent of searches worldwide. Although this update was announced on this date, it actually started rolling out in August 2013.

June 11, 2013

Payday Loan Update

Google Payday Loans algorithm update targeted spammy queries mostly associated with shady industries (including super high interest loans and payday loans, porn, casinos, debt consolidation, and pharmaceuticals). It took about 1-2 months to fully rollout and impacted about 0.3 percent of U.S. queries.

May 22, 2013

Penguin Update 2.0

This was a “next generation” of the Penguin algorithm, as Google’s Matt Cutts explained in a blog post. This version looked deeper than the website homepage and top-level category pages for evidence of link spam being directed to the website. Penguin 2.0 impacted around 2.3 percent of English queries.

March 14, 2013

Panda Update (#25)

This update was not confirmed by Google though tools suggest it occurred on roughly this day.  Google’s Matt Cutts seemed to suggest that this would be the final update before Panda would be incorporated directly into the core Google algorithm. Instead, however, Panda data refreshes started rolling out monthly over a 10-day period, without any further confirmation from Google.

January 22, 2013

Panda Update (#24)

Google announced a Panda data refresh affecting 1.2 percent of English queries.

December 21, 2012

Panda Update (#23)

Google announced a Panda data refresh impacting ~1.3% of English queries.

November 21, 2012

Panda Update (#22)

Google confirmed a Panda data refresh impacting 0.8 percent of English queries.

November 5, 2012

Panda Update (#21)

Google confirmed a Panda data refresh impacting ~0.4 percent of worldwide queries worldwide and ~1.1 percent of U.S. queries.

October 9, 2012

Page Layout Update #2

Google’s Matt Cutts announced that the page layout algorithm had been updated, impacting 0.7 percent of English queries. This update gave an opportunity to websites hit by the first Google algorithm rollout to potentially recover.

October 5, 2012

Penguin Update 1.2

Google’s Matt Cutts announced the second Penguin algorithm data refresh. It impacted 0.3 percent of English queries.

September 28, 2012

Exact Match Domain Update

Google’s Exact Match Domain (or EMD) algorithm update focused on ridding the SERPs of spammy or low-quality exact match domains.

September 27, 2012

Panda Update (#20)

This was a significant update of the Panda algorithm that took more than a week to completely rollout and impacted 2.4 percent of English search queries.

September 18, 2012

Panda Update 3.9.2 (#19)

Google announced the rollout of a Panda data refresh impacting less than 0.7 percent of queries, adding “expect some flux over the next few days.”

August 20, 2012

Panda Update 3.9.1 (#18)

Google confirmed a Panda data refresh impacting ~1 percent of queries.

July 24, 2012

Panda Update 3.9 (#17)

Google announced a Panda refresh impacting ~1 percent of search results

June 25, 2012

Panda Update 3.8 (#16)

Google announced a Panda data refresh impacting ~1 percent of queries worldwide.

June 8, 2012

Panda update 3.7 (#15)

Google confirmed a refresh of the Panda algorithm started rolling out on this date, impacting less than 1 percent of U.S. queries and ~1 percent of worldwide queries. Ranking tools suggested it was bigger than more recent Panda updates.

May 26, 2012

Penguin Update 1.1

Google’s Matt Cutts announced a data refresh of the Penguin algorithm, impacting less than 0.1 percent of English searches. Websites that saw their rankings downgraded by the initial Penguin launch, and had been proactive in clearing up their link profiles, saw some recovery. Other websites that hadn’t been caught by Penguin the first time around took a hit.

April 27, 2012

Panda Update 3.6 (#14)

Google confirmed a refresh of the Panda algorithm occurred on this date.

April 24, 2012

Penguin Update

A long-anticipated “over-optimization” penalty finally arrived on this day. Google announced the launch of a (then unnamed) algorithm change meant to downrank websites engaging in aggressive webspam (e.g., keyword stuffing, unnatural linking) that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Google said this update would impact 3.1 percent of English queries. Just two days later, we learned the name of the algorithm: Penguin.

April 19, 2012

Panda Update 3.5 (#13)

Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed a Panda data refresh happened on this date.

March 23, 2012

Panda Update 3.4 (#12)

Googled announced a Panda refresh, impacting ~1.6 percent of queries.

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February 27, 2012

Panda Update 3.3 (#11)

Google announced a data refresh of Panda that made it more “accurate and sensitive” to recent changes on the web.

February 27, 2012

Venice Update

After the Venice Update, Google began including search results based either on the searcher’s physical location or IP address. Also, Google could better detect whether a query or webpage had local intent or relevance.

January 19, 2012

Page Layout Update

Google’s page layout algorithm update (or Above the Fold) targeted websites with too many ads above the fold. In other words, a user would have to scroll down the page to see any actual content. Google said this algorithm impacted less than 1 percent of websites.

January 18, 2012

Panda Update 3.2 (#10)

Google confirmed a data refresh of Panda took place on this date.

November 18, 2011

Panda Update 3.1 (#9)

Google announced a minor Panda refresh, impacting less than 1 percent of searches.

November 3, 2011

Freshness Update

With this update, Google altered its ranking algorithm to better determine when to deliver search results that are fresher (e.g., current events, hot topics, recurring events) to be more relevant to searchers. This update impacted 35 percent of searches.

October 19, 2011

Panda Update 3.0 (#8)

Google added some new signals into the Panda algorithm and also recalculated how the algorithm impacted websites.

September 28, 2011

Panda Update 2.5 (#7)

Another iteration of the Google Panda algorithm. Then, on October 5, 2011, Google’s Matt Cutts announced to “expect some Panda-related flux in the next few weeks.” Confirmed flux dates were October 3 and October 13.

August 12, 2011

Panda Update 2.4 (#6)

Google’s Panda algorithm update was rolled out internationally for all English-speaking countries and non-English speaking countries (except for Japan, China, and Korea).

July 23, 2011

Panda Update 2.3 (#5)

Another update to the Google Panda algorithm.

June 21, 2011

Panda Update 2.2 (#4)

Another update to the Google Panda algorithm.

May 9, 2011

Panda Update 2.1 (#3)

The industry first called this update Panda 3.0, but Google clarified that it was just a data refresh, as would be true of the 2.x updates to come.

April 11, 2011

Panda Update 2.0 (#2)

The first update to the core Panda algorithm. This update incorporated additional signals, such as sites that Google users had blocked.

February 23, 2011

Panda Update

The first iteration of a then unnamed Google algorithm update was introduced (12 percent of queries were impacted), shocking the SEO industry and many big players, as well as effectively ending the “content farm” business model as it existed at the time. Initially dubbed Farmer within the industry, Google revealed soon after launch that the update’s was called Panda, named after the engineer who came up with the primary algorithm breakthrough.

April 28, 2010

MayDay Update

The MayDay update was an algorithmic change to how Google assessed which sites were the best match for long-tail queries. This update rolled out between April 28 and May 3.

August 10, 2009

Caffeine Update

Google’s Caffeine update was a new web indexing system that allowed Google to crawl and store data more efficiently, resulting in 50 percent fresher results. Developers were given early access starting in August 2009 before the update officially rolled out June 8, 2010.

January 18, 2009

Vince Update

Google’s Vince update was a quick, noticeable change in broad-level, competitive keyword terms to favor first page rankings for big brand domains vs. previously ranking sites (typically less authoritative sites, affiliate sites, and sites that had won this coveted visibility purely through SEO efforts).

December 15, 2005

Big Daddy Update

Big Daddy (or Bigdaddy) was a gradual update to Google’s infrastructure that began rolling out in December 2005 and was completed in March 2006. This update changed how Google handled technical issues such as URL canonicalization and redirects. Some websites didn’t make it into the new Big Daddy data centers, typically due to unnatural linking (e.g., excessive reciprocal linking, linking to spammy neighborhoods, paid links).

September 1, 2005

Jagger Update

Jagger was an update in three phases (Jagger 1, Jagger 2, and Jagger 3) that began with a number of backlink-focused updates in early September meant to crack down on unnatural link building, paid links, and other types of spam. The second phase of Jagger had the most noticable impact in October. The final phase was completed near the end of November.

November 16, 2003

Florida Update

Google’s Florida Update signaled a new era of SEO. Websites (including retailers who relied on affiliates to drive traffic) using spammy tactics of the previous decade (e.g., keyword stuffing, using multiple sites under the same brand, invisible text, and hidden links) to rank for high-commercial keywords saw their rankings wiped out right before the lucrative holiday season.

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