The Last 5 Years of Google Algorithm Updates


Google updates its search algorithm multiple times a year. Mostly, these are minor updates but occasionally there’s that major update that shakes up SEO. We’ve put together Google’s major updates from the last 5 years. We think every webmaster and marketer should know them.


In January, an intrusive interstitial penalty was initiated to penalise mobile sites that used intrusive overlays that covered all or part of the content of a page.


In February, AdWords was altered – sidebar ads were replaced with a block of 4 ads at the top of the page. From the comments in this Webmaster World thread, it’s clear this change wasn’t exactly welcome.  Three months later in May, Google released a second update to augment mobile-friendly sites, and September saw a Penguin update (Penguin 4.0) that reduced spam in SERPs while preventing entire sites from being penalised.


Dubbed “Mobilegeddon”, the first update that specifically benefitted mobile-friendly sites was released in April. The following month, Google admitted they made changes to their core algorithm that affected what they called “quality signals”. Panda (4.2) was refreshed in July, and in October, Google announced an artificial intelligence that had been part of their algorithm for months, it was called Rank Brain.


In February, Google refreshed the page layout algorithm that penalised sites with an excessive number of ads above the fold and in May, Google updated Panda (4.0) and the payday loans algorithm (2.0) that focused on dealing with frequently spammed queries. In June, photos were dropped from authorship and the payday loan (3.0) algorithm was updated again. A month later, Google released the Pigeon update to help make local results better in terms of accuracy and relevance.

In August, authorship was abandoned entirely and sites with SSL were given a slight boost, marking the beginning of Google’s obsession with security. Umbrellar Cloud’s  Alisha Eelington sheds light on how crucial SSL has become. In September, Google announced Panda 4.1 and began de-indexing private blog networks. In October, they updated Penguin (3.0), boosting sites that had cleaned up after the last update. The “in the newsbox was launched and the pirate algorithm that penalised sites repeatedly reported for copyright infringement was updated.


January saw the 24th Panda update and in March, Panda was updated again. This was the last update before Panda was integrated into the core algorithm. Penguin 2.0 (4th Penguin update) was announced in May, followed by a “diversity” update to prevent a single domain from dominating SERPs. Justin Briggs gives an in-depth explanation of the change in this Briggsby article. In June, the first payday loan update was launched and in July, the knowledge graph was extended to include about 15% more searches and Panda was updated.

In-depth articles were inserted in search results and the Hummingbird update that improved semantic search was launched in August. There was a small Penguin update in October and authorship was discarded for a fraction of sites.


Between January and October, Google published a monthly series detailing mainly minor search quality updates from the previous month.

In January, Google plus was used to improve personalised search, page layout algorithms were updated to punish sites with more than necessary ad-space above the fold, and Panda was updated. With February came another Panda update and the Venice update that refined localisation in search results.

Panda was updated again in March and twice in April. After Penguin was launched to address multiple spam elements, Google introduced the knowledge graph to give additional information on certain queries and rolled out the first Penguin update. This established that they were processing Penguin data outside the search index as was the case with Panda.

Panda was refreshed twice in June. The following month, Google updated Panda again and rolled out a series of warnings to webmasters on unnatural backlinks. Later, they rescinded and insisted that a website was responsible for finding and removing faulty links.

In August, Google updated Panda (3.9.1), announced the pirate penalty update, and switched from their traditional 10 listings per page to 7 SERPs. In September, there was a slight Panda data refresh, a larger Panda update (Panda 20), and an EMD update was issued, leading to a depreciation of low-quality Exact Match Domains.

October saw a multilingual Penguin update and a page layout update while Panda was updated twice in November. Finally, in December, Google refreshed Panda and developed the knowledge graph to extend to foreign language queries.