In the 18 years Google has existed (happy birthday!), the search engine has made a habit of making massive overhauls to the way they populate search engine results pages (SERPs) while releasing them with little to no fanfare. In response, the internet has an even more entrenched habit of poring over any and all Google search engine algorithm updates to see which ranking factors are affected most. Then, they crown the update with an animal name or something similar. These are the things we do in this industry to amuse ourselves, folks. We’re party animals.
At the end of the day, though, Google’s willingness to refine the way they pull up SERPs and their partial transparency in indicating the new ranking factors helps make the modern SEO world go ‘round. And everyone loves cute animals! Although, pigeons don’t count.
So to help you keep track of the virtual zoo Google has assembled, here is a rundown of nearly every important update along with the whimsical name that accompanied it:
First released: February 23, 2011
Last updated: July 17, 2015
Panda was not the first major overhaul of Google ranking factors, but it was one of the first to capture the attention of the SEO community. It targeted sites that offered thin value to searchers, mainly content farms and sites with a high ad-to-content ratio. Unlike its main algorithm, Panda penalties are also applied after-the-fact in a separate ranking process.
Over the past few years, Google modified the update to further weed out content farms and sites with bad ad practices, including the most recent “Panda refresh” in summer 2015.
The update was allegedly named after Google engineer Navneet Panda.
First released: February, 2012
Venice was the Google’s first attempt to enhance the visibility of local results in search. It telegraphed their later work on Pigeon.
First released: April 24, 2012
Last updated: September 23, 2016
The second truly major Google update in recent memory, Penguin punished sites for keyword stuffing within text or using keywords in an awkward, unnatural way. Updates improved the way Google sought and identified keywords in order to emphasize content that had value.
Just last week, Google made the Penguin algorithm part of the core ranking process as opposed to a separate element.
First released: May 16, 2012
Google’s Knowledge Graph function answers search questions or pulls the most relevant information and incorporates it into a standardized, easy-to-read card format displayed at the top of search. Rolling improvements added breadth and depth to the types of information that could be found in the Knowledge Graph.
First released: August 10, 2012
This update was in response to DMCA takedown requests, and it showed a notification when indexed search results were hidden because of DMCA complaints.
First released: August 20, 2013
The Hummingbird update brought core changes to the way Google search operated, which affected semantic search and the context of Knowledge Graph results.
First released: July 24, 2014
Unlike earlier releases, Pigeon completely shook up the approach sites took to ranking in search. Now, a local algorithm would take over for queries that seemed to be looking for a business or service nearby, such as “dry cleaners Alpharetta” as opposed to more general queries like “how old is Andy Milonakis.” After Pigeon, sites were encouraged to optimize content for local audiences or at least cultivate landing pages that added value to regional customer pools.
First released: April 22, 2015
Last updated: May 12, 2016
Google got the world’s collective underpants in a twist when they announced an upcoming algorithm that would promote mobile-friendly sites on mobile search. The update had minimal effects at first, but Google has been switching their boosts for penalties as more sites catch up with mobile competency.
First announced: October 26, 2015
Last updated: Ongoing
To supplement hand-coded algorithm adjustments, Google had quietly developed a machine learning feature that would offer ranking suggestions to the pre-existing algorithm. Rather than operating all on its own, RankBrain can boost or dock the ranking of pages in line with other factors, like keyword optimization.
Google AdWords Changes
First released: February 23, 2016
Not an algorithm update, but major modifications to Google’s AdWords changed the way marketers approached SEM.
First released: September 1, 2016
The latest update, Google Possum, aimed to get more specific with local searches by paying more attention to street addresses and proximity to major metro markets. You can read all about it in our latest write-up.
Google Platypus? Pangolin?
First released: ???
What will the next update look like? And, more importantly, what kind of quirky name can we give it? Take our audience poll to help us coin a new nickname for any upcoming updates!
You can also look to EverSpark for the latest advice and SEO best practices that always keep pace with Google algorithm changes. Take a look at our Atlanta SEO services to learn more.