Google make daily refinements to the organic search algorithms in an attempt to improve the quality of search results for their users. Most of these changes are tiny but several times a year more major changes are made and for the most part the broad strokes behind these changes are made public. Here is an historical listing of major and semi-major Google algorithm changes since 2000. All changes should in theory reward websites who adhere to Google’s webmaster guidelines and penalise who do not.
The value to me as an SEO consultant of this historical listing isn’t academic – it allows me – in the case of a website which is sufficiently old – to see how well or badly a domain weathered various Google algorithmic storms and gives me clues as to where your domains strengths and weaknesses probably lay algorithmically speaking. So I use this page as a reference point to further investigate clients historical traffic fluctuations.
Table of Contents
February 10, 2021
Passage Ranking went live for English-language queries in the United States.
December 2020 Core Update
December 3, 2020
Google confirms a core algorithm update, the December 2020 Core Update. This is the third core algorithm update of 2020. See previous What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates.
May 2020 Core Update
May 4, 2020
Google announced that they would be releasing a broad core algorithm update. This update took 1-2 weeks to completely roll out. See previous What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates.
Featured Snippet Deduplication
January 22, 2020
Webpages in a featured snippet position will no longer be repeated in normal Page 1 organic listings. This change affected all search listings, globally.
January 2020 Core Update
January 13, 2020
Google announced a broad core algorithm update. See previous What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates.
October 25, 2019
BERT Update (US) & December 9, 2019 BERT (Worldwide)
Google announced the BERT Update. They said it was the biggest change to Google search in 5 years. So big. BERT models help Google to better understand search queries & impacts search rankings and featured snippets. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. In simple terms as Google put it “we’ve built ways to return results for queries we can’t anticipate“. See the before and after below – I think you will agree that from a searchers perspective the second answer is probably a whole lot more likely to be the answer someone who typed that search query in was looking for…
The following post by Google Search’s Pandu Nayak entitled Understanding searches better than ever before contains pretty much all you need to understand the how the BERT update/s change the SEO landscape (and I’m sure all parties will agree its for the better).
Google announce BERT’s global rollout – specifically mentioning 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.
Broad Core Algorithm Update
September 24, 2019
Google announced a broad core algorithm update that would take days to roll out. See previous What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates.
June Core Update
June 2, 2019
Google release a new broad core algorithm update. They tell us there is nothing specific to fix because a core update touches on a range of factors.
March 12, 2019
Google confirmed the release of a global broad core algorithm update. Viewed as one of the biggest Google updates in years.
Valentine’s Day Update
February 13, 2019
Unconfirmed algorithm update that was picked up by ranking tracking software.
Unconfirmed Halloween Update
October 31, 2018
Unconfirmed Google update.
A “Small” Update
September 27, 2018
Significant spikes and drops in traffic, indicating some sort of update. Sites impacted by the August broad core algorithm update made a recovery. Google confirmed “smaller” update.
Broad Core Algorithm Update
August 1, 2018
Google confirmed the rollout of the third broad core algorithm update of 2018.
Broad Core Algorithm Update
April 16, 2018
Google second broad core algorithm update of 2018. They said it was similar to the March 9, 2018 update.
Further reading: Google Confirms Algorithm Update Released on April 16th
Broad Core Algorithm Update
March 9, 2018
On March 12, Google confirmed a “broad core algorithm update” had rolled out the week before. They said the changes were to “benefit pages that were previously under-rewarded,” and told webmasters to “continue building great content.”
Further reading: Google Algorithm Update Over The Weekend – March 9th, 10th & 11th?
December 12, 2017
Google confirmed several minor changes to the core algorithm.
September 18, 25, 29, October 4, 8, and 12, 2017
Unconfirmed Google update. Volatility and fluctuations.
Unconfirmed Quality Update
August 19, 2017
Ranking losses for: category pages, pages with aggressive advertising, thin content, and other negative user experience elements.
Suspected Quality Update
July 9, 2017
Minor volatility on July 9.
June 25, 2017
Biggest fluctuations for pages in positions 6-10. Food and beverage industry impacted the most.
Unconfirmed Quality Update
May 17, 2017
Week long SERP volatility. Impact limited. Sites impacted had issues with deceptive advertising, user experience, and thin content.
March 7, 2017 Google Fred
Major algorithm update targeted low-value content.
Further reading: 3 Examples of Impact From the March 7, 2017 Google Algorithm Update (AKA Fred)
February 7, 2017 Major Unconfirmed Update
Massive rankings shifts in rankings. Higher-quality websites benefited most.
Further reading: Google Search Algorithm Update February 7th
February 1, 2017
Intrusive Interstitials Update
January 10, 2017
Targeted intrusive interstitials and pop-ups that hurt the user experience on mobile devices. Impact on rankings was minimal.
November 10, 2016
September 23, 2016 Penguin Update 4.0 & Core Algorithm Integration
Penguin integrated into core algorithm. Penguin devalued links, rather than downgrading rankings of pages.
June 1, 2016
Unconfirmed. Content-related Quality Update. Search volatility on June 1, 8, 21, and 26.
May 12, 2016 Mobilegeddon 2
Update to Google’s first mobile-friendly update, further “increases the effect of the ranking signal.”
Panda Core Algorithm Incorporation
January 11, 2016
October 26, 2015 RankBrain
RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm that filters search results to help give best answer. RankBrain is considered the third most important ranking signal.
July 17, 2015
Panda data refresh which will roll out over the course of months.
The Quality Update
May 3, 2015
Core algorithm shift focusing on “quality signals”. Little more is known.
April 22, 2015 Mobilegeddon
Mobile rankings improve for mobile-friendly sites.
February 4, 2015
Major flux in SERPs. Possible e-commerce or mobile usability update.
Pigeon Expands (United Kingdom, Canada & Australia)
December 22, 2014
Major local algorithm update expands to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
Google Penguin Everflux
December 10, 2014
Penguin updates will now take the form of continuous updates.
October 21, 2014
Update to fight software and digital piracy. Highly specific change that only impacted a small number of websites – but in a major (negative) manner.
October 17, 2014
Penguin refresh. Less than 1% of US/English search queries impacted.
“In The News” Box
Display change to News-box search results. News links from a far bigger set of potential sites. News results in web SERPs increased substantially.
September 23, 2014
Major Panda update. Estimated impact was 3-5% of all search queries.
August 28, 2014
Google remove authorship markup with near immediate effect.
August 6, 2014 HTTPS/SSL Update
Preference is given to secure websites. This is an easy win for most modern websites and over 95% of pages served by Google are now HTTPS (encrypted). This is in keeping with the fact that 94% of requests made to Google from the United Kingdom are made via HTTPS.
July 24, 2014
Pigeon brought the local algorithm and the core algorithm closer to each other. Some viewed it as a mere extension of principals already brought in by Hummingbird.
Authorship Photo Drop
June 28, 2014
Authorship photos are taken off SERPs.
Payday Loan 3.0
June 12, 2014
Payday Loan 3.0 targets low quality search queries. Should only really impact you if you are involved in the short term financing or online pornography realms.
May 19, 2014 Panda 4.0
Major Panda update. 7.5% of English-language search queries were impacted.
May 16, 2014 Google Payday Loan 2.0
Targets spammy queries.
March 24, 2014
Many sites see ranking changes, but this update was not confirmed.
Page Layout Update
February 6, 2014
Refresh of January 2012 algorithm that penalizes websites with ads above the fold.
December 19, 2013
Authorship mark-up removed from 15% of search queries.
December 17, 2013
Huge ranking changes across the board. Company did not confirm an update or even a refresh.
Unnamed Irregularities with DNS Errors
November 14, 2013
Wholesale DNS errors picked up on Webmaster Tools.
October 4, 2013 Penguin 2.1
A data update. Allow some to recover from harsher earlier renditions of Penguin.
August 20, 2013
A core algorithm update effecting semantic search and the Knowledge Graph.
August 6, 2013
News result for long-form content. Appeared in 3% of the search queries.
July 26, 2013
Shake up in search results – company offered no confirmation of an update of any sort.
Knowledge Graph Expansion
July 19, 2013
Knowledge Graph entries increase dramatically.
Google Panda Recovery
July 18, 2013
Panda update that lessened previous Panda penalties.
June 27, 2013
Company tested changes that were later reversed.
“Payday Loan” Update
June 11, 2013
Algorithm update which targeted low quality websites especially in payday loans and porn.
June 11, 2013
Matt Cutts said that Panda was updating monthly, with each update taking 10 days to roll out fully.
May 22, 2013
4th Penguin update had a moderate impact. Focused on page level.
Domain Crowding in Deeper SERPs
May 21, 2013
Update to ensure more domain diversity in deeper pages.
May 9, 2013
Many sites report traffic loss although no update is admitted to.
March 14, 2013 Google Panda
Last update before Panda got inculcated into the core algorithm. Google Panda stopped low quality sites from ranking prominently. It is heavily influenced by (human) Google Quality Raters. One of the questions these Raters had to answer was “would I trust this site with my credit card?”
January 22, 2013
Impacts 1.2% of queries affected. Not confirmed at the time.
Panda Update #23
December 21, 2012
Data refresh impacts 1.3% of English search queries.
Knowledge Graph Expansion
December 4, 2012
Knowledge Graph added to non-English versions of the search engine.
Panda Update #22
November 21, 2012
Data refresh only.
Panda Update #21
November 5, 2012
Impacts 1.1% of English search queries.
Page Layout Update #2 aka ‘Top Heavy 2’
October 9, 2012
Targets pages with ads above the fold.
Penguin Update #3
October 5, 2012
Minor Penguin data update impacting just 0.3% of search queries.
October 4, 2012
65 updates include 7-result SERPs, Knowledge Graph expansion & local search changes.
September 27, 2012 Panda Update #20
Major Panda update affecting 2.4% of search queries.
September 27, 2012 Exact-Match Domain Update
Devaluation of exact-match domains. Impacted 0.6% of search queries by volume.
September 18, 2012 Panda Update 3.9.2
Panda refresh. Minor impact on global rankings.
August 20, 2012 Panda Update 3.9.1
Tiny Panda update with very small impact on rankings.
August 14, 2012
Top 10 becomes Top 7 results for many search queries. 18% search queries returned 7-Result SERPs.
7-Results SERPs by Category as of February 2013
Travel & Tourism 36.2%
Retailers & General Merchandise 29.6%
Sports & Fitness 28.6%
Dining & Nightlife 27.2%
Jobs & Education 21.4%
Home & Garden 20.0%
Arts & Entertainment 16.8%
Computers & Consumer Electronics 16.8%
Law & Government 16.2%
Food & Groceries 13.4%
Family & Community 13.2%
Real Estate 13.2%
Beauty & Personal Care 12.6%
Internet & Telecom 12.6%
Hobbies & Leisure 11.0%
Occasions & Gifts 7.8%
August 10, 2012
The June and July Search Quality Highlights were announced simultaneously. There were Panda data and algorithm changes and targeted ranking boosts for certain websites deemed highly trustworthy.
August 10, 2012 DMCA Penalty (aka Google “Pirate”)
Google start penalizing websites with a history of copyright violations via DMCA requests. If you are curious as to whether you have incurred such a penalty the search company offers a page dedicated to transparency outlining the latest reports of DMCA violations.
Panda 3.9 Update
July 24, 2012
1% of queries impacted.
July 19, 2012 Link Warnings via Webmaster Tools
Google send unnatural link warnings via Webmaster Tools.
Panda 3.8 Update
June 25, 2012
Panda data refresh with a very small overall impact.
June 8, 2012 Panda 3.7 Update
Panda data update with a relatively large impact on SERPs.
June 7, 2012
39 updates in May. These include a Penguin update, link-scheme detection and updates to News.
Penguin 1.1 Update
May 25, 2012
First data update after “Penguin”.
May 16, 2012
Company implement “Knowledge Graph”, a SERP display providing supplemental options about certain people, places & events.
May 4, 2012
52 updates in April.
Panda 3.6 Update
April 27, 2012
Panda data update. The impact was small for most but not all…
April 24, 2012 Google Penguin
An “Over-optimization penalty” Penguin focused on spam factors like keyword stuffing. 3.1% of English search queries were impacted as a result.
Panda 3.5 Update
April 19, 2012
Panda data update. Small impact.
Parked Domain Bug
April 16, 2012
Company admits a data error had caused some domains to be treated as parked domains by mistake.
April 3, 2012
50 changes in March. These focused on anchor-text, image search, and local search.
Panda Update 3.4
March 23, 2012
Impacted 1.6% of search queries.
March 12, 2012 Search Quality Video
Google publish a video of a search quality meeting.
February 27, 2012
Local search update.
February 27, 2012
40 changes in February.
Panda Update 3.3
February 27, 2012
Panda update that had a small impact.
February 3, 2012
17 updates in February 2012. Focused on freshness & integration of Panda into the main search index.
January 19, 2012 Ads Above The Fold
Devalues sites with excessive ad-space above the “fold”.
January 18, 2012 Panda Update 3.2
Panda data update.
Search + Your World
January 10, 2012
Google+ data suddenly used in SERPs.
January 5, 2012
30 changes in January 2012 focusing on image search, site-links, rich snippets, and related-queries.
10 updates in December. Updates focus on parked domain detection & freshness.
Panda Update 3.1
November 18, 2011
Another Panda update with minor impact on SERPs.
10-Pack of Updates
November 14, 2011
Matt Cutts shares 10 recent algorithm updates. Most updates were small in magnitude.
November 3, 2011
Algorithm change rewards freshness & impacts 35% of search queries. Huge shift toward recency of content.
October 18, 2011 Query Encryption
Google start encrypting search queries for privacy. This disrupted data, returning “(not provided)” for organic search traffic at a staggering rate pretty much immediately.
Panda “Flux” Update #8
October 5, 2011
Effected around 2% of search queries.
Panda Update 2.5
September 28, 2011
A handful of websites reported major traffic losses as a result of this Update.
516 Algo Updates Divulged in Congress by Eric Schmidt
September 21, 2011
CEO Eric Schmidt tells the US Congress that the search engine made 516 updates in 2010 alone. Additionally they tested a total of 13,000 updates. This was a rare and valuable insight into the inner workings of the Google search algorithm. 516 updates in a year is more than one per day.
Rel=”next” and Rel=”prev” Pagination Elements
September 15, 2011
Google introduce rel=”next” and rel=”prev” link attributes. Google announced that they had worked on improving consolidation for “View All” pages.
August 16, 2011
Google rolls out expanded site-links focusing on brand related queries.
August 12, 2011 Panda Update 2.4
Google implement Panda near globally. Impacted 6-9% of queries in these countries.
July 23, 2011 Panda Update 2.3
Update to Panda data and ranking factors.
Google+ (2011-2019 RIP)
June 28, 2011
Company launches Google+. The Google+ developer API was discontinued on March 7, 2019, and Google+ was shut down for business and personal use on April 2, 2019.
Panda Update 2.2
June 21, 2011
Panda updates outside of the main index.
June 2, 2011 Schema.org
Major search engines support structured data.
Panda Update 2.1
May 9, 2011
Relatively minor changes implemented.
Panda Update 2.0
April 11, 2011
Panda update extended to all English search queries globally.
The +1 Button
March 30, 2011
Google rolls out the +1 button on the SERPs themselves.
February 23, 2011
A major algorithm update hit sites hard, impacting 12% of search results. Panda clamped down on low quality content, content/link farms & sites with lots of ads but little content. Panda reached Europe in April 2011.
Content Author Attribution Update
January 28, 2011
Aimed at preventing content scrapers. Impacted 2% of search queries.
Google expose & penalize black hat SEO practices by Overstock.com.
Google adjusted the algorithm to target sites using black hat tactics such as those used by e-commerce site DecorMyEyes.
December 2010 Social Signals in Search
Company admit that they now use social signals in their ranking algorithm. Prior to this virtually all social media links were somewhat discounted in terms of pure SEO value because they were (almost always) no-follow.
Search visitors could now preview landing pages whilst still on SERPs.
Instant launches showing results as a search query was being typed in.
Google now let one domain appear several times on the same SERP.
June 2010 Google Caffeine
Google finished the role out of Caffeine. This made the index 50% fresher.
May Day Long-Tail Update
May Day was an algorithm shift that impacted long-tail search terms.
“Places” pages was initially rolled out in September 2009, but only on Maps. Places (for Business), infused pages with local search results.
Real-time search used Twitter feeds, News & newly indexed content on a real-time feed on certain SERPs.
Google Caffeine (Preview)
Preview what would ultimately lead to faster crawling & larger indexation capacity.
Major update that favored larger brands.
Rel-canonical Tag Gets Support of Search Engines
All of the major search engines announce support for the Canonical Tag.
Google rolls out Suggest, which shows suggested searches in a dropdown in real-time as one searched.
Suspected, but unconfirmed case of the search giant plugging their own wares.
Matt Cutts claimed Buffy was a collection of tiny changes.
Integrated standard search results with News, Video, Images, Local, and other verticals, changing the face of search.
Widespread uncertainty over the status of the Supplemental Index & implications of being placed there for search results going forward.
Big Daddy was concerned with URL canonicalization, redirects and sundry technical issues.
Google Local & Maps Merge
Local Business Center & Maps merge.
Updates concerned with low-quality links: reciprocal, link farms, and paid links.
Unconfirmed & suspected to have never taken place at all.
XML Sitemaps Allowed Via Webmaster Tools
Webmasters are allowed to submit XML sitemaps via Webmaster Tools.
This version of personalized search used your own search histories to adjust your personalized search results.
Bourbon is thought to have changed how duplicate content and non-canonical URLs were dealt with by Google.
LSI might have been altered with this rather mysterious update.
The “nofollow” attribute is introduced. Blog commenting was never the same again. This change would over time go on to have a significant impact on SEO.
Company list with a market capitalization of $20 billion.
Index expansion, Latent Semantic Indexing, anchor text relevance, and link “neighborhoods” are all involved in this update.
Google fights against spammy on-page tactics: invisible text and Meta-tag stuffing.
Major algorithmic update with far reaching impact that ushered in modern SEO. If SEO was warfare this would be the equivalent of World War One. War was declared on things like keyword stuffing and other unethical practices – often involving affiliate websites – and there was nothing less than carnage in the build up to Christmas 2003.
September 2003 Supplemental Index
Google splits index into Main & “supplemental”. The index is later recombined.
July 2003 Google Fritz
Google’s index started changing daily. Before the Google Fritz update (if you can believe this) the Google index was updated monthly. With Fritz came nightly changes to a percentage of the index. This was a major step toward better search results.
Esmerelda saw widespread Google Index infrastructure changes.
May 2003 Google Dominic
Changed the way Google counted inbound links to a domain. Speculated that more theme and less keyword specific search results began here too.
April 2003 Google Cassandra
Focused on mass linking from domains owned by one person or company. Penalized hidden text and links.
February 2003 Google Boston
At SES Boston, the first named Google update (by Webmaster World members) was announced by Dan Dulitz.
1st Known Update
Major shift in late 2002.