An Overview of Google’s Major Algorithm Updates

October 17, 2022 | Digital Marketing

Google’s Algorithm Updates have always been a roller coaster ride. It came as a bane to some websites and turned out to be boon for some.

If we go back to the days when search engines were not nearly as precise and powerful as they are now, anyone could easily rank. All you had to do was make your website a dump of keywords and a link bank and sit back to relax.

The early so-called “SEO gurus” were winning by cheating the system and achieving higher rankings but providing almost negligible value to actual searchers. But it didn’t last long.

Google’s goal has always been to provide a seamless and logical platform so that users can get easy and fast access to the knowledge they seek. Every time Google came across a problem that weakened its ability to deliver accurate and relevant results, it rolled out an update to address the issue.

Every year Google rolls out nearly 400-500 search algorithm updates. While most of these changes were small, there have also been some major updates which caused turbulence in the SEO industry and changed the opinions and strategies of marketers.

We have created a Google timeline infographic which includes all the Google Algorithm Updates since the year 2000. Also, you can integrate your Google Analytics to see how these updates have affected your website’s organic traffic and rankings.

I have compiled a list of the major Google Algorithm Updates below. This knowledge will help you in optimizing your website for better rankings and organic traffic.

  • Google Mobile-Friendly Update – April, 2015

Mobile Friendly Update, commonly referred as the “Mobilegeddon” Update primarily focussed on pumping the ranks of mobile-optimized pages and thus, giving a better experience to mobile users. This update ranked pages (with relevant and high quality content) where users could easily read the text without tapping or zooming and demoted pages with unplayable content or horizontal scrolling.


It affected rankings only for mobile searches and applied to individual pages and not to the entire website.

Soon after announcing the update, Google also provided a Mobile-Friendly test which reported if your page had a mobile friendly design.

  • Google Pirate 2.0 Update – October, 2014

Google Pirate Update was launched two years after the DMCA/”Pirate” Update. The Update targeted software and digital media piracy. Though the update impacted a small group of sites, the hit was very powerful. While British Phonographic Industry was among the ones who welcomed the update, websites like “TorrentFreak” witnessed a major drop in their rankings.

  • Google Pigeon Update – July, 2014

Rolled out on July 24, 2014, Google Penguin Update completely shook the Local SEO landscape. The update aimed at providing relevant, precise and useful local search results to the users. It improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters in the algorithm. Eventually, traditional search engine ranking signals became more significant in returning local search results.

  • Google Hummingbird Update – August, 2013


Announced on September 26 and rolled out about a month later, this update led to a huge change in the SEO infrastructure giving way to tremendous improvements in semantic search and knowledge graphs. The update aimed at making the search results “precise and fast” and more inclined towards deriving the meaning of the entire sentence/query rather than focussing on particular words. It improved the way Google processed and sorted the information.

“Conversational Search” became the new trending thing. You could now ask questions and get back relevant results. The search was no longer confined to individual searches but also incorporated multiple, consecutive and joined up queries. The logic behind this was that pages

More detailed information: Google Hummingbird FAQ

  • Google Payday Update – June, 2013

Google Payday Update, launched on June 11, 2013 primarily targeted Payday Loan and Pornographic websites which were known to benefit from spammy practices. Matt Cutts suggested that such spammy set of verticals would take a long time to get cleaned up and therefore the update could take upto one or two months to be implemented completely.

  • Google EMD (Exact Match Domain) Update – September, 2012

The update rolled out on 27th September and targeted sites which had the exact same words in their domain names as search terms. With this update, Google started devaluing EMDs. The official word says that only 0.6% queries were affected, but webmasters felt that it was more significant.

  • Google Penguin Update – April, 2012

Google Penguin Update initially known as the “web-spam update” was the next major update after Panda. It flushed out all those sites deemed to be spamming the search results by stuffing keywords or buying links via link networks to hike their Google rankings. The updated affected 3.1% of english search queries.

While Google was already issuing warnings about this through Webmaster Tools, this update prompted even more penalties on spammy websites.

Whenever a new Penguin Update is launched, the sites previously caught, which have now removed bad links, regain their rankings. “False positives” sites that were caught by mistake, may escape the penalty and regain their rankings.

  • Google Top Heavy Update – January, 2012

Launched on January 19, 2012, this update attacked and devalued sites which had too much ad-space above the fold. Top Heavy Update is updated periodically. Whenever a fresh update was launched, sites that had removed excessive ads regained their rankings.

  • Google Panda Update – February, 2011


Introduced in February 2011, this update targeted all those websites which challenged Google’s Quality Guidelines. The updated affected 12% of search queries. It took down on sites that were thin on content, sites with content farms or had a high ad-to-content ratio and other similar quality issues. It rolled out for at least a couple of months, hitting Europe in April 2011.

Panda is updated from time-to-time. Whenever any new Panda Update is rolled out, sites previously penalized may escape, if they have made the rightful changes. Also, those sites which escaped previously might be caught and the “false positives” (which were caught by mistake) may escape the penalty.

I hope this information helps you. How was your experience with these updates? Did they hit your rankings? What measures did you take to combat the adverse effects? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.


Share Your Thoughts

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more articles

Want to stay on top of the latest search trends?

Get top insights and news from our search experts.


Try Rankwatch Today For FREE !

Start Your FREE 14 Days Trial

25,000+ Active customers in 25 countries use RankWatch as their primary SEO software