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
December 2022 link spam update
This global update targeted spammy links and was meant to neutralize any credit passed by unnatural links. This rollout overlapped with the helpful content system updated of Dec. 6. Google said the link spam update would take about two weeks to fully roll out.
Google helpful content system update
This update added new signals to its classifier and also brought the helpful content update globally for all languages. Google said the rollout would take up to two weeks.
October 2022 spam update
Google rolled out the latest improvements to its systems that detect search spam. Google did not specifically say whether this update was focused on links, content or other forms of spam. This update was global, affecting all languages. The October 2022 spam update took less than 48 hours to fully roll out.
September 2022 Product Reviews Update
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.
September 2022 Core Update
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.
Helpful content update
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.
July 2022 Product Reviews Update
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.
May 2022 Core Update
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.
March 2022 Product Reviews Update
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.
Page Experience Update (desktop)
This update included all the signals from the mobile version of the page experience update, except for the page needing to be mobile-friendly. It took 9 days to fully roll out.
2021 Google Algorithm Updates
December 2021 Product Reviews Update
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.
November 2021 Local Search Update
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.
November 2021 Core Update
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.
November 2021 spam update
Google announced an update to its search spam detection systems. Google’s guidance: follow Google’s best practices for search (a.k.a., Google’s Webmaster Guidelines).
Link Spam Update
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.
July 2021 Core Update
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.
Spam Update (Part 2)
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
Spam Update (Part 1)
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.
Page Experience Update
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.
Multitask Unified Model (MUM) Update
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.
June 2021 Core Update
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.
April 2021 Product Reviews 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
December 2020 Core Update
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.
May 2020 Core Update
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.
January 2020 Core Update
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
BERT Natural Language Processing Update
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.
September 2019 Core Update
The September 2019 Core Update was another broad core algorithm update of the kind that Google rolls out every few months.
June 2019 Core Update
The June 2019 core update covered broad aspects of Google’s algorithm and was intended to improve user experience in multiple areas.
March 2019 Core Update
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
August 2018 Core Update (aka Medic Update)
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.
April 2018 Core Update
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.
March 2018 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.
January 2018 Core Update
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.
An unconfirmed Google ranking update seemed to target more of the link quality aspects of the overall algorithm. This SEO community dubbed this update “Fred” based on a joke by Google’s Gary Illyes, who suggested that all future Google updates be called “Fred.”
2016 Google Algorithm Updates
Penguin Update 4.0
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.
January 2016 Core Update (Jan. 10)
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
RankBrain (Oct. 25)
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.
Panda Update 4.2 (July 18)
This was a refresh of the existing Panda algorithm. It impacted about 2% to 3% of English language queries.
Quality Update (May)
Mobile-Friendly Update (April 21)
2014 Google Algorithm Updates
Pigeon Expansion (Dec. 22)
Penguin Everflux (Dec. 10)
Penguin Update 3.1 (Nov. 27)
Pirate Update 2 (Oct. 21)
Penguin Update 3.0 (Oct. 17)
Panda Update 4.1 (Sept. 25)
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.
Pigeon Update (July 24)
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)
Panda Update 4.0 (May 20)
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)
Panda Update 26 (July 18)
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)
Panda Update 25 (March 14)
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.
Panda Update 24 (Jan. 22)
This Panda refresh impacted 1.2% of English queries.
2012 Google Algorithm Updates
Panda Update 23 (Dec. 21)
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)
Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update (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)
Pirate Update (Aug. 10)
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)
Penguin Update (April 24)
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)
Page Layout Algorithm (aka Top Heavy) (Jan. 19)
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
PageRank Update (Oct. 7)
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
2004 Google Algorithm Updates
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 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.”
Google Algorithm Updates: the latest news and guides
Virginia’s privacy legislation and targeted ads; Tuesday’s daily brief
Plus, local marketing masters and the headless CMS
Google Search algorithm watching; Friday’s daily brief
Make sure not to miss the new more visual changes in Microsoft Bing Search, the new Google My Business reports and the Google Ads mobile app notifications.
A few pointers from the pros during SMX Report; Wednesday’s daily brief
Plus, Google extends deadline for Partner Program requirements and Yelp releases new features to address new consumer behaviors.
Passage based rankings, core web vitals and responsive search ads; Friday’s daily brief
I hope you like SEO rants...
Video: Dawn Beobide on Google confirmed vs unconfirmed algorithm updates
We also spoke about the upcoming Google Page Experience Update.
Content consolidation among winning SEO strategies, award winners say
This year’s Search Engine Land Award winners for Best SEO Initiative sat down with Search Engine Land’s own George Nguyen to talk SEO tactics and strategies.
Video: Phillip Thune on finding good writers and writing good content
We also spoke about how SEO behavior changed around content around both the Panda and Penguin releases.
SEO year in review 2020: COVID forces platforms to adapt their local and e-commerce offerings, and more
Even a pandemic couldn’t slow down developments in the search industry. Here’s our recap of the year’s most important stories and news.
Google algorithm updates 2020 in review: Core updates, passage indexing and page experience
Despite the pandemic, Google was busy working on changes to its search ranking algorithm — here is a summary review of those changes through 2020.
Some early observations on the Google December core update
Some of these observations are based on the quality raters guidelines, the past core updates, and sound SEO advice.
Google algorithms vs Google penalties, explained by an ex-Googler
This former Google quality analyst explains the difference between Google's algorithms, manual actions, quality and penalties.
PPC 2020 in review: COVID leaves its mark on e-commerce and paid search
Platforms pivoted to accommodate advertising during a crisis and automation continued to be at the heart of paid search changes.
Google December 2020 core update is now fully rolled out
Make sure to review your analytics and data and take the necessary steps if your site was negatively impacted.
How to compete with Google in the SERPs, make the jump to agency or in-house, and support ‘the doers’ in your organization
Areej AbuAli discussed a wide range of topics affecting the SEO industry at SMX.
Google’s December 2020 core update was big, even bigger than May 2020, say data providers
The update rolled out on Dec 3, but the impact was mostly felt on Dec. 4.
Google December 2020 Core Update rolling out
After seven months, Google has just released a new core update - the December 2020 core update.
Video: Michael Lewittes on growing a site after an algorithm update
He built his own entertainment news site, went through numerous Google algorithm updates and sold it to a private equity firm at the top.
Google launched DeepRank in October 2019: DeepRank is BERT
DeepRank goes back to 2017 at Google, it is the internal code name for the BERT launch.
Could Google passage indexing be leveraging BERT?
How Google leverages BERT depends on the use of the term ‘Passage Indexing’ (although it’s identified as a ranking update).
Google Ads turns 20: The most important trends and changes of the past 5 years
Looking back, we can see where the biggest trends in search (and beyond) are heading.
Google: BERT now used on almost every English query
Google announced numerous improvements made to search over the year and some new features coming soon.
8 major Google algorithm updates, explained
Of countless Google algorithm updates introduced over the last decade, here are the ones that changed SEO forever.
Did Google just hint at an authority profile?
A recent blog post from Google points to defining a paradigm on the SERP with what we now know as a core update.
8 major Google ranking factors — SEO guide
Of over two hundred Google ranking factors that we know about, which ones are the most important? Here is the definitive list.
Google now uses BERT to match stories with fact checks
Google has made numerous changes to auto-complete, News, fact-checking, knowledge panels, breaking news detection and more.
Google says you can recover from core updates without a new core update
Unlike the old Panda or Penguin updates, Google core updates get refreshed data regularly.
SEO myth-busting: What is not a Google search ranking factor
Google has said it doesn't use these signals to inform where your site ranks in organic search results.
Video: Jennifer Slegg on Google’s search quality raters guidelines
And whether SEOs too obsessed with Google search ranking updates.
What SEOs get wrong about Google updates
Your ranking decline is likely not due to an update and good luck trying to figure out the ranking factors impacting your site.
What content survives Google algorithm updates?
Be able to anticipate your target audience's needs.
The most memorable Google algorithm updates of all time
Panda, Penguin and the Florida updates still loom large. What you can learn from their history.
How to evaluate content quality with BERT
Using a code-free deep learning toolkit model to review grammar in your posts and could be used as one of several proxies for content quality.
How to diagnose and fix a search rankings dip
SEO tools and a process to determine what was hit and how to fix it.
What 20 years of Google algorithm updates say about what SEOs should focus on next
More than a history lesson: How to prepare for the next big Google update.
Video: Eli Schwartz on Google Panda gutting a site’s traffic
We also talked about enterprise SEO and what to expect when working with large companies on SEO.
Google to allow removal of counterfeit goods from search results
You can now submit a form to request Google to review and take down counterfeit goods from Google search.
5 Things Search Engine Land Can Do For Your Team Right Now
Looking for a boost to you or your team's search skills? Take a look through our best and most helpful assets and see which ones may benefit you!
The Google Page Experience Update: User experience to become a Google ranking factor
Core Web Vitals metrics will start to impact rankings in 2021. Here is what you need to know.
Google May 2020 core update is done rolling out
It is now time for you to review your site to see if this May 2020 update had an impact on its Google rankings.