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    The Algorithm That Rules The Web

    The Evolution of the World’s Most Valuable Algorithm

    413 275 Jason McMahon

    What the evolution of Google’s algorithm tells us about the direction of search.

    As of August 2017, there were 1.24 billion websites, roughly one for every three internet users — there are now 3.74 billion users worldwide — and that number is growing every second.

    Naturally, finding the information we’re looking for online doesn’t require us to search through each of these websites. As everyone knows well, when searching for something we immediately head to our search engine of choice — Bing, Baidu, Yahoo, or the world’s most popular search engine, Google — enter a search query, and we’re taken directly to a SERP (Search Engine Results Page), where a list of search results awaits us.

    While this is amazing in itself, what’s even more amazing is the relevance of the search results that we’re presented with, not to mention the momentous task that just took place in a matter of milliseconds. To perform this remarkable feat, one which most people take for granted, search engines use immensely intricate mathematical equations known as algorithms to sift through the information on websites and rank the relevant webpages based on several factors.

    Of all the algorithms used by search engines, Google’s algorithm, PageRank, is by far the most complex and intricate, and also the most valuable. This remarkable mathematical equation is a work in process and is forever being updated to improve search results and user experiences. While sometimes Google informs the world of its algorithm updates and what we can expect, it quite often updates its algorithm without a word, and often without confirming that any changes have actually taken place.

    What follows is a list of updates, both confirmed and unconfirmed, that have taken place since December 2000 when the first Google algorithm update (Google Toolbar) was released.

    “Fred” — March 2017

    Despite no confirmation from Google, “Fred” targeted aspects of link quality and impacted many sites, particularly within the “Black Hat” SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) community.  

    Unnamed Major Update — February 2017

    Commencing around the start of the month, a number of changes, including ranking fluctuations, were noticed. Google did not confirm that an update had taken place.  

    Intrusive Interstitial Penalty — January 2017

    With the first update of 2017, Google targeted sites with aggressive popups and interstitials, both of which it has previously stated (and warned five months earlier) deliver a poor user experience. This update was clearly aimed at improving the experiences of its users.

    Unnamed Major Update — December 2016

    Major fluctuations were reported over two days in mid-December. However, no update was confirmed by Google.

    Unnamed Major Update — November 2016

    Another unconfirmed and unnamed update which focused on content quality and lasted a week.

    Penguin 4.0 Announcement — September 2016

    Penguin was rolled out in real-time after a wait of nearly two years, with Google suggesting that it was now incorporated in their “main algorithm”. Google also stated that Penguin was more “granular”, which many believed implied that the algorithm would impact webpages rather than affecting entire domains. The announcement was followed by the rollout of the Penguin 4.0 update, which took place in two phases over several weeks.

    Possum — September 2016

    Despite Google remaining silent on the update and not confirming that an update took place, a significant fluctuation in rankings, including organic SERPs rankings, was reported.

    Mobile-Friendly 2 — May 2016

    Another ranking signal boost with the aim of benefiting mobile-friendly sites, this time the overall impact of the update was relatively small. This update further highlights Google’s push to give greater significance to sites that have been optimised for mobile.

    Unnamed Major Update — May 2016

    Algorithm activity over the course of an entire week was noted by Moz and other Google trackers. Despite significant ranking fluctuations and changes, Google didn’t confirm that an update had taken place, and the precise nature of the update remains unknown.

    AdWords Shake-up — February 2016

    This update involved Google making notable changes to AdWords. Some of these changes were major, such as rolling out 4-ad blocks on commercial searches and completely removing right-column ads. Both paid and organic search results were impacted by the update.

    Unnamed Update — January 2016

    A core algorithm update (this was confirmed by Google) which impacted upon both desktop and mobile queries across the globe.

    RankBrain* — October 26 2015

    Google’s media release revealed that AI (Artificial Intelligence) had been used to provide enhanced search results for months. RankBrain is now the third most important ranking signal.

    Panda 4.2 #28 — July 2015

    With no apparent ranking fluctuations and no signs of a major update, the impact of Panda 4.2 remains unclear. 2-3% of search queries were reported to be affected.

    The Quality Update — May 2015

    An algorithm change that impacted “quality signals” and initially seemed to have a broad impact. No specifics were revealed by Google about the quality signals involved in the update.

    Mobile Update AKA “Mobilegeddon” — April 2015

    [Image Credit: ReadyCloud]

    This was one of the most notable Google updates of all time. On 21 April, “Mobilegeddon”, Google’s mobile update, was rolled out. This update saw the rankings of mobile-friendly pages move up, which was clearly Google’s way of rewarding websites that deliver enhanced user experiences on mobile. Despite the rumours circulating, the impact of this update was minor.

    Unnamed Update — February 2015

    Major fluctuations were seen across Google’s SERPs rankings. Despite widespread ranking fluctuations, there was no comment from Google.

    Pigeon Expansion in English-Speaking Countries — December 2014

    This was one of the most serious Google updates. Pigeon was expanded to English-speaking regions (Australia, Canada and the UK) just a few days before Christmas, and a little over a week after hitting the US. The aim of Pigeon was to enhance local search by providing users with more accurate search results.  

    Penguin Everflux — December 2014

    Google announced that Penguin will now take the form of continuous updates rather than sporadic major updates.

    Pirate 2.0 — October 2014

    Once again, Google combated digital media and software piracy with a Pirate update. Unlike the previous update, this time Google specifically targeted a small group of sites, leading to significant drops for the sites targeted.

    Penguin 3.0 — October 2014

    A minor Penguin algorithm revision which had minimal impact on search queries.

    “In The News” Box — October 2014

    A display change to News-box results was made, upsetting publishers due to losing out on web search traffic to non-news sources, including Twitter. This update also had the effect of bringing about significant changes to traffic.

    Panda 4.1 #27 — September 2014

    Affecting 3-5% of search enquiries (depending on location), Panda 4.1 improved the algorithm’s accuracy as well as the rankings of small and medium-sized sites it deemed to be high-quality. It also enabled Panda to more effectively penalise sites with thin or poor-quality content.

    Authorship Removed — August 2014

    Following previous changes to authorship, Google now announced that it would be completely removing all authorship markup from SERPs and would no longer even process it.

    HTTPS/SSL Update — August 2014

    With this update, Google started giving preference to secure sites in its rankings, with encrypted sites getting even more of a boost. This update clearly shows that Google is making security a top priority.

    Pigeon — July 2014

    Pigeon significantly improved local search results by enhancing both its algorithm’s location and distance ranking parameters. Google also announced that closer ties between local and core algorithms were created by Pigeon.

    Authorship Photo Drop — June 2014

    Despite Google’s previous promotion of the connection between authorship and Google+, it now announced that it would stop including authorship photos from SERPs completely. It was also announced that it will also stop tracking data from content which uses the rel=author markup.

    Payday Loan 3.0 — June 2014

    Whereas Payday Loan 2.0 targeted specific spammy websites, its successor targeted specific spammy enquiries in markets known for high instances of spam, most notably casino, porn and pills.

    Panda 4.0 #26 — May 2014

    This is one of the most important Panda updates, with 7.5% of English language queries affected. The Panda algorithm is designed to prevent sites with content deemed to be poor quality from making their way into the top SERPs.

    Payday Loan 2.0 — May 2014

    Although Google released few details, there was little doubt that payday loan companies were once again being heavily penalised. Google did, however, announce that this algorithm change was being rolled out internationally, with different languages affected to different degrees.

    Page Layout #3 — February 2014

    Once again, sites with what Google deemed too many ads above the fold were penalised. The “Top Heavy” algorithm downgrades webpage rankings if there are too many ads or the ads featured are considered too distracting.

    Authorship Shake-up — December 2013

    This update reduced the number of authorship markup queries on SERPs.

    Penguin 2.1 #5 — October 2013

    A data refresh with little changes made to Google’s algorithms and minimal effect on search results. Once again, this update targeted spammy websites, particularly sites with paid links.

    Hummingbird — August 2013

    This is a new search algorithm which Google has announced should return better search results. The last algorithm change on this scale was the Caffeine Update in 2010.

    In-depth Articles — August 2013

    This official update was aimed at increasing freshness, with the intention of allowing only fresh, comprehensive content on SERPs and aiding searchers in finding in-depth articles from well-known publishers as well as lesser-known publications and blogs.

    Unnamed Update — July 2013

    An unconfirmed Google update that saw a sudden and unexpected rise in rankings.

    Knowledge Graph Expansion — July 2013

    The number of KG entries was increased by 50%, according to data from Moz. Google appears to be giving users easier access to information about brands by providing quick access to additional information relating to the search enquiry.

    Panda Recovery — July 2013

    An official Panda update in which algorithm changes were made and some previously implemented Panda penalties were softened for sites in the ‘grey area’.

    Multi-Week Update — June 2013

    No permanent changes were made with this update, which was actually not an update at all, but rather Google testing changes. Rankings danced up and down for a few days before stabilising.

    Payday Loan Update — June 2013

    Payday loan and pornographic sites were specifically targeted for spammy practices with this algorithm update. It was clear that the intention with Payday Loan was to prevent such sites from showing in Google’s search results.

    Panda Dance — June 2013

    Causing sites to dance up and down for several days, the Panda Dance presented Matt Cutts with the opportunity to announce that Panda is updated on a monthly basis rather than being in a state of “everflux”.

    Penguin 2.0 #4 — May 2013

    Although the precise nature of Penguin #4 is unknown, Google announced that it features a new generation of spam-preventing tech and will affect 2.3% of search queries. As Penguin’s scope varies by language, the languages affected most by web spam will be the most impacted.  

    Domain Crowding — May 2013

    To control domain clustering/crowding and diversity on all SERPs from page 2 onwards, Google released the Domain Crowding update.

    “Phantom” — May 2013

    With Phantom, ranking havoc ensued and many websites lost a substantial amount of traffic. Google has not released a statement about this update and its exact nature is not known.  

    Panda #25 — March 2013

    What was most notable about this Panda update is that Matt Cutts stated that Panda updates would be less noticeable and more integrated in the future. This will be the final Panda update before Panda is fully integrated into Google’s core algorithm.

    Panda #24 — January 2013

    The first official update of 2013, Google claimed that Panda #24 affected 1.2% of search queries.

    Panda #23 — December 2012

    With a slightly higher impact than the previous two Panda updates (1.3% of search queries were impacted), Panda #23 was officially called a refresh.

    Knowledge Graph Expansion — December 2012

    With this update, Google added enhanced KG (Knowledge Graph) capabilities and functionality to non-English enquiries, including French, German, Spanish and Russian search enquiries.  

    Panda #22 — November 2012

    A data-only update with minimal impact.

    Panda #21 — November 2012

    A small Panda update which impacted 1.1% of English search queries.  

    Page Layout #2 — October 2012

    This was a further update to Google’s original page layout algorithm change that took place in January that same year, one which rewarded sites with content instead of ads above the fold. There was some doubt as to whether this update was a data-based or algorithmic change.

    Penguin #3 — October 2012

    A data-based update, Penguin #3 affected 0.3% of search queries. Like many Google updates, it targeted spammy links through penalisation.

    August/September 65-Pack — October 2012

    The highlights of this 65-pack of updates included improvements to local search, 7-result SERPs and updates to how Google calculates page quality.

    Panda #20 — September 2012

    A relatively major Panda update which overlapped the EMD (Exact-Match Domain)update, Panda #20 impacted 2.4% of search queries.

    Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update — September 2012

    Google changed the way it handles exact-match domains (EMDs) with this update.

    Panda 3.9.2 #19 — September 2012

    A data-only Panda refresh with minimal impact on search queries.  

    Panda 3.9.1 #18 — August 2012

    More minor changes to the Panda algorithm were made with less than 1% of search queries impacted.

    7-Result SERPs — August 2012

    [Image Credit: Search Engine Land]

    This signalled the end of Google’s top 10 search results for many queries, reducing search results to seven listings on 18% of searches.

    June/July 86-Pack — August 2012

    86 changes were made to the June/July updates. These changes include improved HTML5 resource caching for mobile, better detection of queries about weather, updates to SafeSearch and improved natural language detection for a number of features.

    DMCA Penalty, aka “Pirate” — August 2012

    To combat copyright infringements, Google announced that it would penalise sites with repeated copyright violations. These penalties would take the form of DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown requests.

    Panda 3.9 #17 — July 2012

    With this Panda update, rankings fluctuated for several days after the update was posted before returning to normal. Less than 1% of search queries were affected.

    Link Warnings — July 2012

    There was a lot of confusion when Google made an announcement via Webmaster Tools which warned about unnatural links, only to later announce that these links may not actually represent an issue at all.

    Panda 3.8 #16 — June 2012

    Yet another low-impact Panda data refresh with little effect on SERPs.

    Panda 3.7 #15 — June 2012

    Although it affected less than 1% of search queries, the impact of Panda 3.7 was significantly higher than the two previous Panda updates.  

    May 39-Pack — June 2012

    Another 39 changes were made to the Penguin Update, including deeper detection of hacked pages, more predictions for Japanese users, new segmenters for Asian languages, a unified football search feature, and better application of inorganic backlinks signals.

    Penguin 1.1 #2 — May 2012

    Google announced that it would, as with Panda data, now manage Penguin data separately from its main search index. This was the first targeted data update after Penguin.

    Knowledge Graph — May 2012

    Enabling users to receive instant information on people, places and things, Knowledge Graph is widely seen as Google taking the first step towards creating a new era in search.

    April 52-Pack — May 2012

    The 52 changes that Google announced were tied in with the Penguin update. These changes included better HTML5 resource caching for mobile, improved pagination handling and the introduction of country identification for webpages.

    Panda 3.6 #14 — April 2012

    Another minor Panda update with minimal impact.

    Penguin — April 2012

    Penguin, also known as the “Webspam Update” impacted 3.1% of English queries and adjusted a number of spam factors, such as spam links and keyword stuffing, with the emphasis being on heavily penalising sites which didn’t follow Google’s Guidelines.

    Panda 3.5 #13 — April 2012

    Whilst Panda 3.5 had a minimal impact on search queries the update did, however, refresh Panda’s data and introduce a number of minor changes.

    Parked Domain Bug — April 2012

    This wasn’t an intentional algorithm change but an update to correct a data error which resulted in some domains being devalued as they were mistakenly treated as parked domains.

    March 50-Pack — April 2012

    Along with the confirmation of Panda 3.4, updates were made to image search and changes were made to anchor-text “scoring” and to the interpretation of queries with local intent. The +1 button was also introduced in more countries and domains.

    Panda 3.4 #12 — March 2012

    1.6% of search queries were affected by this update, which was more of a “Panda Refresh” than an actual update. Once again, the target was low-quality websites.

    Search Quality Video — March 2012

    Although this wasn’t an update, but a rare glimpse into a Google search quality meeting, it gave viewers and interested parties insights into the process and priorities of the tech giant.

    Venice — February 2012

    The main change with this update was the localisation of organic results, which was achieved by more tightly integrating local search data.

    February 40-Pack — February 2012

    Of the 40 changes made in February, the most notable were a Panda update, multiple freshness updates and multiple image-search updates.

    Panda 3.3 #11 — February 2012

    Another relatively minor Panda update. This update involved refreshing data in the Panda system to increase its accuracy and make it more sensitive to recent web changes.

    February 17-Pack — February 2012

    To improve speed, spell-checking and freshness, among other factors, 17 algorithm changes were made. It was also announced by Google that Panda would be more tightly integrated into the main search index.

    Ads Above The Fold — January 2012

    Sites with too much ad-space above the fold were devalued when page layout algorithm changes were made. This was a clear attempt to improve the user experience by forcing sites to show content (rather than ads) to users right away.  

    Panda 3.2 #10 — January 2012

    Although a Panda update was confirmed by Google, it suggested changes hadn’t been made to its algorithm. Moreover, it wasn’t made clear how this update fits in with the Panda Flux scheme.

    January 30-Pack — January 2012

    This time 30 algorithm changes were announced. These changes intended to improve the relevance of sitelinks, provide richer snippets and deliver better search results for lyrics.

    December 10-Pack — December 2011

    Another ten-pack update in a bid to become more transparent, this time round the changes were focused on detecting parked domains and providing fresher search results.

    Panda 3.1 #9 — November 2011

    At this time, Google entered what is known as the “Panda Flux” period, in which relatively minor updates would occur with greater frequency. Panda updates would now only be numbered if they involved high-impact changes.

    10-Pack of Updates — November 2011

    In a bid to increase transparency, Google announced ten algorithm changes it had made. All changes were relatively minor.

    Freshness Update — November 2011

    A massive update which affected 35% of search queries. The purpose of the Freshness update was to give more importance to recent content and motivate webmasters to continuously update their content and aid the user experience.

    Query Encryption — October 2011

    For privacy reasons, Google encrypted search queries, though this had the adverse effect of causing a major disruption to organic keyword referral data.

    Panda “Flux” #8 — October 2011

    More small changes to Panda were made, with around 2% of sites and search queries affected.

    Panda 2.5 #7 — September 2011

    More changes were made to the Panda Update, with around 2% of sites affected. Google didn’t announce any specifics of the changes implemented.

    516 Algo Updates — September 2011

    More of an announcement than an update, 516 Algo is memorable for Google CEO Eric Schmidt announcing that not only had 516 updates been made the previous year, but that they had tested no less than 13,000 updates in that same period. Google also announced that users and their search experience would be given primary importance with future algorithm updates.

    Pagination Elements — September 2011

    Ecommerce sites and notable issues relating to crawling and duplication issues were the focus with this update. Pagination Elements had the effect of improving automatic consolidation and canonicalization for View All pages.

    Expanded Sitelinks — August 2011

    Expanded sitelinks were introduced which enrich snippets on SERPs, mostly for brand queries. Up to six links could be displayed by authoritative sites under the site link.

    Panda 2.4 #6 — August 2011

    ‘Panda went international’ and with the exception of Japanese, Korean and Chinese, the update now covers all major languages. The algorithm changes with this Panda update affected 6-9% of all local market queries.

    Panda 2.3 #5 — July 2011

    Small changes were made to the Panda Filter, with the most notable change Google’s refinement of its algorithm.

    Google+ — June 2011

    Google+ was Google’s social media platform and a direct response to Facebook. Initially, it was quite a hit, gathering 10M users in its first two weeks, however, its popularity has since waned.

    Panda 2.2 #4 — June 2011

    As Panda 2.2 updates occurred separately from the main index and these updates didn’t occur in real-time, it was similar to the first Google Dance updates. This Panda update continued to update sites and data impacted by the first Panda update.

    Schema.org — June 2011

    Focused on providing users with enriched search results by presenting structured data, Schema.org was jointly supported by Microsoft and Yahoo.

    Panda 2.1 #3 — May 2011

    The changes made with Panda 2.1 (initially known as Panda 3.0) were minor and weren’t discussed in detail by Google. It was widely believed that the minor changes made were intended to enhance the previous Panda update.

    Panda 2.0 #2 — April 2011

    Additional signals which refined English search queries were added with this notable update and Google began collecting data on sites blocked by users. This update wasn’t limited to English-speaking countries, but all countries in which search queries were entered in English.

    The +1 Button — March 2011

    Widely seen as Google’s response to Facebook and Twitter, the +1 update saw Google launch its +1 button which allowed users to influence both organic and paid search results within their social circle.  

    Panda/Farmer — February 2011

    Affecting about 12% of search queries and lasting for about two months, Panda cracked down hard on sites that failed to adhere to Google’s Quality Guidelines. The sites hit hardest were content farms, sites which exploited ad-sense and sites with thin content.

    Attribution Update — January 2011

    Yet another precursor to the Panda update, Attribution affected about 2% of search queries by sorting out content attribution and preventing scrapers. This update was another in response to high-profile spam cases such as overstock.com, JCPenney and DecorMyEyes.

    Overstock Penalty — January 2011

    Another precursor to Panda, the Overstock Penalty targeted sites using “Black Hat” SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) techniques, especially overstock.com. The major US retailer, JCPenney, was also hit hard.

    Negative Reviews — December 2010

    In response to a New York Times report on how DecorMyEyes was enjoying higher visibility due to negative reviews, Google modified its algorithm. The algorithm change reduced the SERP visibility of sites that used negative reviews to gain higher visibility.

    Social Signals — December 2010

    Along with Microsoft (Bing), Google now began including social signals from Facebook and Twitter in its ranking algorithm.

    Instant Previews — November 2010

    A new feature which enables visitors to preview landing pages directly on SERPs by clicking on a magnifying glass beside search results, Instant Previews saw Google place further focus on landing page usability, design and quality.

    Google Instant — September 2010

    Implemented with the aim of improving UX (User Experience), Google Instant provided instant results in SERPs as users typed search queries. The impact on SEO was relatively minor.

    Brand Update — August 2010

    Brand Update saw Google start to allow increased domain visibility by enabling domains to appear multiple times in a SERP. Prior to this, domains could appear just once or twice in a SERP, or just once but with indented results.

    Caffeine (Rollout) — June 2010

    The rollout of the Caffeine infrastructure was finally completed after months of testing, not only boosting Google’s search results but also more tightly integrating crawling and indexing, and providing a 50% fresher index.

    May Day — May 2010

    Significant drops in long-tail traffic were noticed throughout late April and early May, with Matt Cutts later confirming that algorithm changes had been made which impacted long-tail traffic. Sites with thin content were being penalised by Google, making May Day a precursor to Panda.

    Google Places — April 2010

    Google’s Local Business Centre was rebranded as Google Places and maps became an even more important aspect of local search. New local advertising and paid search options were added among other features.  

    Real-time Search — December 2009

    With Real-Time Search, Google fully enabled the integration of newly indexed content, Google News and Twitter feeds into a real-time feed. This would later grow to include social media.

    Caffeine (Preview) — August 2009

    A preview of its planned infrastructure change which would be rolled out over several months, the intention of Caffeine (Preview) was to enable faster crawling while enlarging the index, and to integrate indexing and ranking. This update was also notable in that Google invited people to check it.

    Rel-canonical Tag Update — February 2009

    With joint support from Microsoft and Yahoo, Canonical Tag was introduced. It enables webmasters to tell search bots which version of duplicate content should be shown to visitors.

    Vince — February 2009

    While Matt Cutts called Vince a “minor change”, many small brands felt otherwise, believing that it has had major long-term implications. With Vince, it appeared that Google was strongly favouring major brands over their smaller counterparts.

    Google Suggest — August 2008

    Suggest would later power Google Instant, though what was most notable about this update is that as visitors typed queries, suggested searches now began to appear in a dropdown below the search box. It has since been added to YouTube and other Google services.

    Dewey — April 2008

    Was Google pushing its own properties with Dewey? That’s what many people suspected, but nothing was confirmed. What’s more, some changes were noticed in search results but not much is known about this update.

    Buffy — June 2007

    It seems that few people are really aware of what happened with Buffy, except that it was named in honour of Vanessa Fox who was leaving Google. It was announced by Matt Cutts that Buffy was the accumulation of smaller changes to search.

    Universal Search — May 2007

    Not only did Universal Search see the end of the 10-listing SERP, but it also saw the integration of verticals such as Images, News, Local and Video with traditional search results. This was a notable change in the way search results were presented.

    Supplemental Update — November 2006

    Google’s Supplemental Update created a great deal of confusion, especially around the nature of the Supplemental Index and what it meant. Google quashed fears by stating that sites with good-quality links would continue to be in the main index.

    Big Daddy — December 2005

    Beginning in December and wrapping up in March the following year, Big Daddy saw Google introduce a new crawling and indexing system, as well as a variety of technicalities such as redirects and URL canonisation.

    Google Local/Maps — October 2005

    Data from Maps was merged with Google’s Local Business Center, changing how Local SEO would function in the future and bringing more focus to local search.

    Jagger — October 2005

    Targeting pure spam, Jagger hit paid links, poor-quality reciprocal links and link farms hard. This update was rolled out over three stages (at least) with the bulk of the impact occurring in October.

    Gilligan — September 2005

    Also known as the “False” update (as Google claimed that no major algorithm updates took place), minor changes in rankings occurred with Gilligan. Matt Cutts announced that the index data was updated daily but some other metrics and Toolbar PR were updated every 3 months.

    Personalised Search — June 2005

    Personalised search saw the data in users’ search histories used as a means of automatically adjusting search results to increase relevance and make search more personalised.

    Bourbon — May 2005

    With Bourbon, it was announced that “something like 3.5 changes in search quality” was being implemented by Google. It was heavily speculated upon that Bourbon changed how non-canonical URLs and duplicate content were to be treated in search results.

    Allegra — February 2005

    Another update that was rather unclear in its intention, Allegra saw the penalisation of many suspicious sites. Ranking changes were notable with this update.

    Nofollow — January 2005

    Nofollow was a collective effort by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to control the quality of outbound links and combat spam. Although not technically an update, Nofollow is notable for its impact on the link graph (backlink profile).

    Brandy — February 2004

    Taking keyword analysis to the next level, Brandy saw an increase in Google’s indexes and its algorithm become better able to understand synonyms and contextual meanings. Brandy is also notable for Google paying greater attention to link neighbourhoods and anchor text relevance.

    Austin — January 2004

    Austin was a continuation of Florida in many regards, with Google continuing to draw a line against deceptive SEO techniques such as meta tag stuffing and invisible text.  

    Florida — November 2003

    “Black hat” SEO techniques (especially keyword stuffing) were hit hard with Florida, which saw many sites lose their rankings. This update also showed that their algorithm was now employing AI to understand the context of web pages and not just the text contained.

    Supplemental Index — September 2003

    In an attempt to index more documents without affecting performance, a supplemental index was created to split off some search results into using the PageRank Technology.

    Fritz — July 2003

    Indexing began on a daily basis which brought about more regular changes in search results and rankings.

    Esmeralda — June 2003

    Esmeralda was the last of the monthly Google updates. Some major infrastructure changes took place at Google, and the “Google Dance” was replaced by “Everflux”.

    Dominic — May 2003

    Although the precise intention behind Dominic was unclear, it was widely reported that the way backlinks were counted or reported changed significantly. “Freshbot” and “Deepcrawler” (Google’s bots) made their presence felt.

    Cassandra — April 2003

    And so the crackdowns began. Link-related issues were at the heart of this update, with Google penalising sites for “Black Hat” SEO techniques, such as bulk linking and linking to poor quality sites, along with hidden links and text.

    Boston — February 2003

    The very first named update and the first of many index updates to come.

    1st Documented Update — September 2002

    The very first publicly announced update. This update was met with heavy criticism by webmasters due to a decline in search result quality.

    Google Toolbar — December 2000

    The very first Google update. This update is important for not only being the first, but also for launching the Google browser toolbar, and with it, the TBPR (Toolbar PageRank).

    … And that’s how the world’s most valuable algorithm evolved.

    We hoped you’ve enjoyed this article and that it provides food for thought on the evolution of search over the past 17 years. If you’re interested in getting more out of Search Engine Optimisation, give our Brisbane SEO team a call on (07) 3216 1151 to have a quick chat about how we can help you enhance your rankings on the world’s most popular search engine. 

    [Image Credit]

    AUTHOR

    Jason McMahon

    Marketing @bambrickmedia, lover of Lucy, the ocean & caramel popcorn.

    All stories by: Jason McMahon
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