This was a means to prevent sites that were “top-heavy” with ads from ranking well in Google’s search results. Top Heavy is periodically updated. When a fresh Top Heavy Update happens, sites that have removed excessive ads may regain lost rankings. New sites deemed too “top-heavy” may get caught.
Google Algorithm Updates
Google has a long history of famous algorithm updates, search index changes and refreshes. Below is a history of the major Google search algorithm updates.
Want to read our latest coverage of algorithm updates and changes? Jump to the latest algorithm update news and guides.
How many times does Google update its search algorithms?
Google search is changing all the time. In 2020, Google made 4,500 changes to search. This number includes changes to its ranking system, user interface and more. Plus, Google ran more than 600,000 experiments. That means Google search is changing, on average, 12 times per day.
The history of Google algorithm updates: 2003-today
Here is a complete history of Google algorithm updates that you need to know about, in reverse chronological order.
2022 Google Algorithm Updates
This was the second Product Reviews Update of the year and fifth overall. While Google typically doesn’t like to overlap algorithm updates, this update was launched before the September 2022 Core Update was complete. It was meant to reward English-language product reviews that are helpful and useful to searchers. Rollout completed Sept. 26.
This was the second core update of the year and launched three days after the helpful content update finished rolling out. Overall, it seemed less significant than previous core updates, including the May 2022 core update. Rollout of completed Sept. 26.
Learn more about Core updates in our guide, Google Broad Core Algorithm Updates: Everything you need to know.
On Aug. 18, Google revealed details about its new helpful content update, a sitewide signal that is meant to reward content that helps or informs people, rather than content that is created primarily to rank well in search results. It began rolling out Aug. 25 and completed 15 days later on Sept. 9.
Google provided a list of 15 questions to ask about your content reviews to ensure you are building human-first content. It also said that the types of content that could be most impacted would be online education materials, arts and entertainment, shopping and tech-related. However, the impact was mostly felt in a few website categories (e.g., ringtones, coding, lyrics). Its overall impact was relatively small.
Google said the fourth release of the product reviews update would take 2-3 weeks to roll out but later announced it had fully rolled out after six days. This was more of a refresh than anything new, and is meant to reward high-quality product reviews. As a whole, this update was not as widespread and had little ranking volatility compared to prior product review updates.
This was the first broad core algorithm update of 2022 and the first in more than 6 months. Google said it would take up to two weeks to fully roll out. As with all other past core updates, Google has made broad changes to how its ranking systems assess content.
Google said the third release of the product reviews update, which will take a “few weeks” to fully roll out, builds on the work of the two prior product review updates. Like those, this update is meant to help Google to identify high-quality product reviews and reward them with better rankings.
There were three new bits of advice from Google around ranked lists, recommendations of “best” products and creating reviews for multiple vs. individual products.
2021 Google Algorithm Updates
The goal of the Google product reviews update, like the April Product Reviews Update, was to reward outstanding product reviews in search results. Google wanted to show users content with insightful analysis and original search, written by topical experts or enthusiasts. It took about three weeks for this update to fully roll out.
Google’s new advice for this update: provide more multimedia “evidence” around your product reviews and include links to multiple sellers.
Google said this global update was a “rebalancing of various factors we consider in generating local search results.” It ran between Nov. 30 and Dec. 8, overlapping with the December 2021 Core Update and December 2021 Product Reviews Update. However, Google didn’t confirm this update happened until Dec. 16.
This was the third and final Core Update of 2022. Like all of Google’s core updates, the November 2021 core update was wide-reaching, impacting websites and SEO across all languages and took about two weeks to fully roll out.
Google said the purpose of this update was to “nullify” spammy links across the web and multiple languages. Websites with spammy links were more likely to see an impact on their rankings. Google’s advice: follow best practices for all incoming and outgoing links.
This was the second of two back-to-back Core Updates that Google rolled out. As is typical of Core updates, the July 2021 core update was a comprehensive update that changed the whole algorithm slightly, but not any single function specifically. This update rolled out over 12 days, from July 1 to 12.
The promised sequel of its Spam Update. We learned that both parts of the Spam Update were “global” updates that targeted both web results and image results
Google announced the release of a Spam Update to their systems and said a second was coming the following week. There was no additional guidance or details. As part of the Twitter announcement, Google referred to its Webmaster Guidelines.
Google began using a new set of metrics – Core Web Vitals – to understand how users perceive the experience of a specific web page. The three Core Web Vitals metrics are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) (measures loading performance); First Input Delay (FID) (measures interactivity); Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): (measures visual stability).
Part of the Page Experience Update includes existing ranking signals, such as page load speed, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS and lack of intrusive ads. This new ranking algorithm was announced in May 2020. The rollout began slowly, finishing at the end of August.
Previewed at Google I/O in May 2021, Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) is built on a transformer architecture, like BERT, but 1,000 times more powerful and capable of multitasking to connect information for users in new ways. In our first glimpse of MUM, it helped the search engine identify more than 800 variations of vaccine names in over 50 languages in a matter of seconds. In September, Google announced additional applications of MUM technology.
This was the first of two back-to-back Core Updates that Google rolled out. Google decided to release these updates separately because some of the core updates they planned to roll out weren’t ready in June.
Like other Google core updates, the June 2021 update was comprehensive and wide-reaching. It’s likely many sites felt the impact of this update.
The Product Reviews Update is meant to better reward product reviews that go above and beyond (e.g., by including in-depth and original research, insightful analysis). Google said it will promote these types of product reviews in its search results rankings.
Google provided a list of nine questions to ask about your product reviews to make sure they are insightful, include original research and are written by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well.
Google began rolling out a change to how it ranks specific passages from a web page in search results. This update was meant to help searchers find specific “needle-in-a-haystack” information. Google said this update would impact 7% of search queries across all languages.
Because this update was more about how Google understands your content, there was no specific advice on things to address or change, according to Google.
2020 Google Algorithm Updates
The 2020 Core Update was the last major update of 2020 and the first major update since May of that year. Like all of Google’s core updates, the December 2020 core update was wide-reaching, impacting websites and SEO across all languages.
Google announced that BERT was powering nearly all English-based search queries, a big leap from 10% it powered the year prior. You cannot optimize for BERT per se, as BERT is designed to improve the relevancy of search results by better understanding the content on webpages.
Google rolled out its relatively strong May 2020 broad core algorithm update over a few weeks in early May of 2020.
This update was broad and comprehensive. Like other core updates, it was not targeted at any specific aspect of the algorithm.
A relatively weak core update, the January 2020 Core Update wasn’t felt strongly by SEO experts. It was followed up just four months later by the much more robust May 2020 core update.
2019 Google Algorithm Updates
Google announced its Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) update, which impacted 10% of searches. In short, BERT was created to help Google understand queries and webpage content more like how humans do.
The September 2019 Core Update was another broad core algorithm update of the kind that Google rolls out every few months.
The June 2019 core update covered broad aspects of Google’s algorithm and was intended to improve user experience in multiple areas.
The March 2019 Core Update was somewhat confusing, briefly disrupting the usual equilibrium of the SEO world. The March 2019 Core Update was released without a name, giving users all across Twitter to speculate about the update and why it wasn’t named.
Google, catching wind of the confusion, quickly jumped on social media to right the wrong. On Twitter, they wrote, “Our name of this update is March 2019 Core Update.”
2018 Google Algorithm Updates
The August 2018 broad core algorithm update was a core update that shook up the SEO world. In this update, Google made major fixes to their algorithm that rewarded previously under-rewarded pages on the web.
Google said there was “no fix” to any observed drop in the rankings. The ranking drops were simply due to other under-rewarded sites finally making gains.
Google’s advice to webmasters with a ranking drop? Keep making excellent content, and you may very well see your site rise back in the rankings.
The April 2018 core update, like other updates, was aimed at improving the end-user experience by delivering the most relevant content for search queries.
Google didn’t announce this update and only came out with its announcement after speculation that there may have been a core update.
The March 2018 Core Update, quickly followed by 2018’s April Core Update, was a broad and far-reaching core update meant to improve Google’s query results.
The March 2018 Core Update had a significant impact on some sites, and webmasters who witnessed a drop in rankings were advised to continue to develop excellent content and not to try to game the system. As always, only through excellent content are durable ratings attained.
The January 2018 Update was a comprehensive core update aimed at all aspects of the site’s SERPs. It was followed by the March and April core updates of that year.
2017 Google Algorithm Updates
Google confirmed releasing several minor changes that were meant to improve relevancy. It seemed to negatively affect sites that were targeting huge numbers of keyword variants.
This update made corrections to the Possum update, which had inadvertently unfairly impacted local rankings.
The Possum Update of 2016, which we’ll get into a little more detail further down, was intended to improve SERP relevancy by eliminating redundant search results from the SERPs. To summarize, some local business owners were being eliminated by Google’s filters because their businesses were too close to other similar businesses that already ranked on Google’s SERPs.
The Hawk Update slightly corrected the Possum update, making local businesses that competed with others that already ranked on the SERPs more likely to be seen in a relevant search query.
Fred Update (March 9, unconfirmed)
In March of 2017, Google seems to have released an update that members of the SEO community christened “Fred.” This was the result of a joke by Google CSH (Chief of Sunshine and Happiness) Gary Illyes, who suggested that all future Google updates be called “Fred.”
The Google Fred Update seemed to be an update attacking link accuracy across the web. Many in the “black hat SEO” corner of the internet saw their rankings dip, in some cases significantly.
Spammy links and practices like keyword stuffing are not the way to attain search engine results. Check out our SEO penalty reminders here.
2016 Google Algorithm Updates
Penguin Update 4.0 (Sept. 23)
After nearly two years, Google updated its Penguin algorithm – and it was for the last time. Google announced Penguin became part of its core search algorithm, which meant data was refreshed in real-time. It also became more granular, which essentially meant Penguin might impact ranking for individual pages on a site, parts of a site, or the entire site.
Possum Update (Sept. 1)
This update affected local listings. In brief, the Possum Update was a change to the way Google’s filters work.
What are filters? Filters for local results on Google eliminate websites that seem to be redundant. For local businesses, this can mean, for example, that if you have two websites for your service, only one of them will appear for a given local search term.
The Possum update was intended to improve the user experience of Google, but it may have gone too far. Certain businesses that were nearby to other businesses that already ranked on Google’s SERPs saw their website drop off significantly.
Mobile-Friendly Update 2 (April 21)
This update was more of a boost to the original Mobile-Friendly Update of 2015, a real-time, page-by-page signal that only impacts mobile search results. This update was meant to “increase the effect of the [mobile-friendly] ranking signal.”
January 2016 Core Update (Jan. 17)
Major fluctuations were being observed in the search results. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed it was a core ranking algorithm update.
Following a weekend filled with ranking changes and fluctuations, Google on Jan. 12 confirmed it was due to a core ranking algorithm update.
2015 Google Algorithm Updates
The RankBrain algorithm is powered by machine learning, processing what people search for and sorting through billions of webpages to rank the ones believed to be best first. Initially used on a “very large fraction” of search results, it was later rolled out and used on all Google searches.
This was a refresh of the existing Panda algorithm. It impacted about 2% to 3% of English language queries.
2014 Google Algorithm Updates
Penguin Everflux (Dec. 10)
Penguin Update 3.1 (Nov. 27)
Pirate Update 2 (Oct. 21)
Penguin Update 3.0 (Oct. 17)
Google said this Panda update was supposed to be more precise and allow more high-quality small and medium-sized sites to rank better. It impacted about 3% to 5% of English language queries.
This algorithm update was designed to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that were tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals. Google stated that this new algorithm improves their distance and location ranking parameters.
Payday Loan Update 3.0 (June 12)
The 27th update of Panda was supposed to be “gentler” for some websites and lay the groundwork for future changes in that direction. It impacted 7.5% of English queries.
Payday Loan Update 2.0 (May 16)
Page Layout 3 (aka Top Heavy 3) (Feb. 6)
2013 Google Algorithm Updates
Penguin Update 2.1 (Oct. 4)
Hummingbird (Sept. 26)
Google confirmed that it was pushing out a new Panda update that incorporated new signals to make it more finely targeted.
Multi-week Update (June 21)
Payday Loan Update (June 11)
Penguin Update 2.0 (May 22)
On March 11 at SMX, Google’s Matt Cutts said a Panda update was coming. It seemed to roll out on time as promised. However, Google never officially confirmed the rollout happened.
This Panda refresh impacted 1.2% of English queries.
2012 Google Algorithm Updates
This Panda refresh impacted 1.3% of English queries.
Panda Update 22 (Nov. 21)
Panda Update 21 (Nov. 5)
Page Layout Algorithm 2 (aka Top Heavy 2) (Oct. 9)
Penguin Update 3 (Oct. 5)
Panda Update 20 (Sept. 27)
Google launched this algorithm change to prevent low-quality sites from ranking well simply because they had words that matched search terms in their domain names.
Panda Update 3.9.2 (Sept. 18)
Panda Update 3.9.1 (Aug. 20)
This update demoted the rankings of sites that received too many DMCA takedown requests. It wouldn’t be until 2022 that we learned Pirate can cause up to, on average, an 89% drop in search traffic.
Panda Update 3.9 (July 24)
Panda Update 3.8 (June 25)
Panda Update 3.7 (June 8)
Penguin Update 2 (May 25)
Panda Update 3.6 (April 27)
The goal of this update was to decrease rankings for sites that Google believed were violating Google’s quality guidelines. In particular, websites that were buying links or obtaining them through link networks that were primarily designed to boost Google rankings.
Panda Update 3.5 (April 19)
Panda Update 3.4 (March 23)
Venice (Feb. 27)
Panda Update 3.3 (Feb. 27)
2011 Google Algorithm Updates
Panda Update 3.1 (Nov. 18)
Freshness Update (Nov. 3)
Panda Update 3.0 (Oct. 19)
Panda Update 2.5 (Sept. 28)
Panda Update 2.4 (Aug. 12)
Panda Update 2.3 (July 23)
Panda Update 2.2 (June 21)
Panda Update 2.1 (May 9)
Panda Update 2.0 (April 11)
Panda Update (Feb. 23)
2010 Google Algorithm Updates
Merchant Reviews (December)
Brand Update (August)
May Day (May)
2009 Google Algorithm Updates
In late February, SEOs and webmasters started noticing big brands gaining more visibility in search results. On March 5, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the “minor change,” adding that Google’s ranking algorithm may be factoring trust, quality, PageRank, and other metrics for more generic queries. Cutts said it did not impact long-tail queries. A Googler named Vince created this change, which is how the update got its name.
2008 Google Algorithm Updates
Dewey Update (March 31)
Some major shuffling in search results was being reported at the end of March and into early April. Google’s Matt Cutts asked webmasters for feedback on the changes via a form and to include the word “dewey” in their feedback, giving this update a name.
2007 Google Algorithm Updates
Google confirmed they were lowering PageRank scores for some sites that were selling links. Google also said that some of those sites could be removed from its search results or be given penalties that prevent them from ranking well. Google’s PageRank Update Goes After Paid Links? (Oct. 24) documented multiple sites that were impacted.
2005 Google Algorithm Updates
- Big Daddy (December)
- Jagger (October)
- Bourbon (May)
2004 Google Algorithm Updates
Austin (~Jan. 23)
This is considered to be a continuation of the work Google started with Florida, aimed at producing more relevant search results. Websites impacted by this update were using on-page SEO tactics that, at the time, had worked quite well (but today are considered spammy, outdated practices).
2003 Google Algorithm Updates
Florida (Nov. 15)
Florida was the first major Google algorithm update and it caused a huge outcry. Google’s goal was to make it harder for websites to rank well using manipulative SEO techniques.
Unfortunately, this update drove many websites out of business (including some “false positives”) right before the lucrative holiday season. After this update, Google promised it would try to avoid rolling out major changes around the holidays (a promise that remained unbroken until 2011).
This is the update when Google switched to indexing pages every day (or more often) instead of doing one large monthly algorithmic update (called the “Google Dance“), where everyone’s rankings would increase or decrease over a period of six to eight days. From this point onward, Google made many (typically minor) changes every day, which came to be known as “everflux.”
Learn the relationship between entities and expertise, authority and trust, or E-A-T evaluation of authors, publishers and companies.
Google’s March 2022 product reviews update was smaller than the December 2021 product reviews update, say data providers
As a reminder, the Google product reviews update looks for in-depth analysis, actual product use, unique information and comparable product coverage.
The new product reviews update looks for in-depth analysis, actual product use, unique information and comparable product coverage.
What is a broad core algorithm update? Learn the complete history of Google's core updates, what they are, and what's important for SEO.
As expected, Google is now rolling out the desktop version of the page experience update. This update should be fully rolled by the end of March 2022.
A recent document Google sent to the U.S. Copyright Office shows just how much being hit by the Pirate Update can sting.
From RankBrain, Neural Matching, BERT and MUM - here is how Google uses AI for understanding language for query, content and ranking purposes.
Despite supply chain challenges, U.S. consumers spent more than $204 billion online this holiday season.
Why does Google tip us off to search updates with minor ranking impacts but surprise us with the major ones?
It is the updates Google does not give us huge lead time to prepare for that impact the rankings the most, like the core updates, the Penguin and Panda updates from the past and most of the updates that go unconfirmed or unannounced.
Google updates its algorithms all the time, which leaves many marketers playing catch-up. At SMX Next, Crystal Carter shared how to be proactive when facing these changes.