The Last 10 Years of Google Algorithm Updates: What has changed?

Google are constantly improving their algorithm in order to best serve the user. Over the last 10 years, Google has had several major updates that have contributed to the ever-changing industry that is SEO. Here is a look at some of the more important updates of the last decade, how they have impacted SEO and how you can get ahead of the Core Web Vitals algorithm updated planned for May this year.

2011 Panda

In Google’s mission to serve their users with quality content they developed the Panda update which was designed to combat low quality sites. This meant that the days of creating content purely to rank were over with a new ranking signal identifying and penalizing sites with thin, spammy and low-quality content.

This meant that the SEO community had to focus more on the quality of the content they were creating, ensuring that it was meaningful for the user and not Google’s algorithm. Black Hat SEO people were also no longer able to keyword stuff as that became a sure-fire way to get their websites penalised.

2012 Penguin

Another algorithm update designed to target spam however this time it focused more on link building tactics rather than a website’s content. The algorithm update meant that Google could now identify what was a legitimate backlink and what was spam.

The Black Hat SEO community again was strongly targeted by this algorithm update. Not only did their manipulative link building tactics not work but sites they had built spammy backlinks for began to see decreases in their rankings.

2013 Hummingbird

The Hummingbird update saw Google start to pay attention to each word in a search query to better understand user intent and provide them with an answer instead of just a list of results.

This update really reinforced the Panda update that content should be created to provide value to the user. SEO professionals would now need to dig deeper to understand their target audience’s intent so that they were better able to optimise their content for it. Ultimately this meant that content needed to be readable, use natural language and make use of semantic keywords rather than overusing the same one.

2014 Pigeon

Pigeon focused on local SEO affecting both the search engine results pages and Google Maps. The intention with this update was to close the gap between Google’s web algorithm and Google’s local search algorithm meaning that a user was shown results based on their location.

This update had a huge impact on the local search community making it easier for small businesses to reach new audiences. SEO professionals would now have to ensure that their website conveyed the businesses’ locality, gained local reviews and implement structured data markup so that they could easily be found through local searches.

2014 HTTPS/SSL

Google wanted to make sure that the connection between user and website was secure, so it decided to give small ranking boosts to sites that properly implemented HTTPS. When it rolled out it was only a lightweight ranking signal but there were hints that this update would become more heavily weighted in the future.

2015 Mobile Update

By 2015 more than 50% of Google’s searches were from mobile devices which was likely led to this update which saw mobile-friendly websites given a ranking advantage. While it was called ‘Mobilegeddon’ by the SEO industry, it didn’t quite have the impact that everyone was expecting but it did begin the ever-increasing importance of mobile experience.

2015 RankBrain

RankBrain was designed to dive even deeper into understand the intent behind a user’s search. Using machine learning and previous searches, RankBrain can analyse past searches to determine the best results in order to improve. Google later announced in 2016 that RankBrain was one of its most important ranking signals meaning that SEO professionals more now than ever had to ensure they were creating quality content.

2017 Intrusive Interstitials

Having large pop-ups that meant that users couldn’t easily navigate around them became a ranking penalty. The intention behind this update was to keep spam to a minimum.

2018 Mobile Page Speed Update

In January 2018, Google announced that their Mobile Page Speed Update would start favouring websites with fast mobile page speeds in mobile search results. Part of both Google’s ‘speed up the internet’ and ‘mobile-first initiatives’ this update was created in light of the growing need for fast delivery of information. Similar to the desktop version, this update would start to see websites with slow mobile load speeds being negatively affected.

2019 BERT

Short for Bidrectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, BERT was announced by Google as the ‘biggest change of the last five years’ impacting one in ten searches. Similar to RankBrain, BERT, uses machine learning to understand a user’s intent behind a search by understanding the context in which it is used. Rather than words one by one in order, BERT looks at the words that come before and after it to better understand the query on a whole resulting in a big improvement in interpreting a search query and its intent.

This update again solidifies the need for quality content with specific keywords becoming less important and the natural language associated with them becoming more important.

2021 Core Algorithm Update

Furthering their ‘speed up the internet initiative’, Google has announced another algorithm update for May this year which will include new ranking signals they have called Core Web Vitals. The purpose of this announcement is to help improve a user’s page experience so Google will be paying close attention to these loading metrics:

  • Largest contentful paint (LCP)
  • First input delay (FID) and
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

We recommend SEO professionals and other webmasters look into how they can improve their website’s page speed looking closely at the above metrics well before May. This will ensure that your website is not adversely impacted by the rollout of this update and could potentially result in a competitive edge over your competitors who are slower on the uptake.

To find out more about the Core Web Vitals update, read our previous post on the subject.

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Been affected by Google’s algorithm updates in the past? Contact us today and one of our expert SEO specialists here are Gordon Digital can talk you through the best way to project your website against any future updates.

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