Google has a long history of algorithm updates. While most of these changes could be considered minor or unnoticeable, the tech giant occasionally rolls out an update that affects search queries in significant ways. 

We’ve compiled these major algorithm changes that have had the biggest impact on rankings, user experience, site traffic, and search engine optimization over the decade. 

2011 Panda

  • Launched in February 2011
  • Considered a major change to Google’s search results algorithm
  • Developed to lower the prevalence of low-quality, thin content, and to reward engaging, unique ones. 
  • In a blog post, Google said the update “noticeably impacts 11.85%” of their queries 

2012 Venice

  • Localized organic results on generic search queries, meaning it allows users to look for the closest businesses or establishments based on their location, which is particularly handy for travelers or those looking for a place for an event

2012 Penguin

  • Designed to decrease search engine rankings of websites by targeting webspams and manipulative black hat link-building tactics.
  • An addition to Google’s arsenal of tools to combat low-quality content. 

2012 Pirate

  • A search filter, it was designed to prevent sites that violated copyright laws from ranking well in Google
  • Sites caught by the filter are downgraded until the next time it is run. They might return to Google’s good graces if they’ve made the right improvements, or received fewer or no complaints.

2013 Hummingbird   

  • Demonstrating the speed and accuracy of the hummingbird, this algorithm change puts greater emphasis on natural language queries, looking at context and meaning over individual keywords
  • By looking deeper at content, it leads users towards the most appropriate page

2014 HTTPS/SSL 

  • In August 2014, Google announced it would start using HTTPS as a ranking signal, but that it would be less important compared to other ranking signals, such as high-quality content.
  • Google encourages website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep them safe on the web. 

2015 Mobile-friendly

  • Officially ushered in the mobile-first era
  • Designed to boost mobile-friendly pages in Google’s mobile search results
  • The change was so significant it was referred to by a variety of names, which includes mobilegeddon, mopocalypse, and mobilepocalyse 

2015 RankBrain

  • A machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps process Google’s search results
  • This computer program is used by the search engine giant to sort through billions of pages and help give users the best fit for their particular query

2016 Possum

  • This update’s name was given by the SEO community because many webmasters thought their Google My Business listing from search engine results had disappeared following the update, but what actually happened was that the results were “playing possum” or being filtered or hidden. 

2018 Speed Update

  • The ranking algorithm was designed for mobile searches, particularly impacting pages that deliver the slowest experience to users
  • However, with the intent of search queries remaining a strong signal, slow pages may still rank high if they contain great, relevant content

2018 Medic Update

  • Dubbed a broad core algorithm update that seemed to focus on the medical and health niche, as well as “Your Money Your Life” types of sites
  • Google did not confirm its reason for the specific focus in this update. 
  • Severely affected the rankings of many high quality and authoritative sites  

2019 Bert

  • With this update, Google aims to improve complicated queries that depend on context
  • The improvements aim to improve language understanding, particularly longer, more conversational queries
  • Can better understand the context of words in searches for more helpful results  

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