Google updates are famous and feared. Because the success of a website often stands and falls with them. But which updates were particularly far-reaching? We take a look at the most important algorithm changes of the last ten years.

Do you still remember the beginnings of Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

When the search engine algorithm was still so rudimentary that you had to mention a keyword – let’s say “garden furniture” – 30 times in the text so that the search engine would display the blog text at the top of the results when someone googled “garden furniture.”

Since then, the algorithm has become finer and smarter. For example, it recognizes more and more whether a website is relevant and well designed or just spam. But one thing has remained the same with all the changes.

It is still this algorithm that decides which results are displayed in which order for a search query.

Google updates cause confusion

Accordingly, changes to this algorithm often cause confusion in the calls to one’s website that are made through Google. This is true even sometimes when your own content is actually very good.

That’s why Google updates aren’t just popular. Because often they also mean that you have to adjust a complete website in order not to drop too much in the ranking.

Now it has to be said that Google is constantly changing something about its search engine algorithm and we often don’t notice. But the big Google updates rarely pass the Internet without a trace.

We therefore take a look back at the eleven most important algorithm changes of the last ten years.

Panda, 2011

One of the most important earlier Google updates was “Panda” from 2011, because it finally put an end to the keyword madness.

The focus was very clear: reward high-quality, unique content and penalize annoying websites. Content farms, for example, which merely stuffed texts with certain keywords and produced a lot of content, but meaningless content, lost out.

Panda also introduced an internal rating of websites. High scores were (presumably) given to pages that were particularly popular with users. This score also determines how high one ends up in the ranking in search results.

Penguin, 2012

Penguin finally ensured in 2012 that another extremely annoying SEO method was no longer successful: spam links.

Until then, links to a website, in whatever form, were considered a push. After all, if many users link to a website, the content must be good. The algorithm rated links as positive.

The problem: Some then tried to place links to their own website everywhere. In comments. In forums. In ratings.

However, the update ensured that the Google algorithm now evaluated not only the quantity, but also the quality of the links. Currently, the algorithm can even tell if links are relevant or trustworthy.

Page Layout, 2012

Panda was not the only significant Google update in 2012. “Page Layout” also brought innovations.

Because with it, the algorithm penalized websites that displayed too much advertising. After all, most people on the Internet find this annoying. Accordingly, Google improved here to guarantee a better user experience.

Hummingbird, 2013

Hummingbird was a crucial step in Google’s updates: away from mechanically counting points for different words or features in a text and towards better understanding our language.

For example, the update ensured that Google now better understands context and recognizes that a text about skiing will most likely include words like snow, mountain, or winter.

Websites that filled meaningless content with the keyword “skiing” alone were thus penalized. At the same time, Google was able to show users more appropriate results for their search queries.

Pigeon, 2014

The Pigeon update experimented for the first time with a phenomenon that we can now increasingly observe in the Google universe (but also beyond): the importance of the location of the search query.

After all, when someone Googles for the term “supermarket,” they most likely want to shop in the immediate area, not find the best website in the world on “supermarket.”

Local search has been firmly embedded in Google search ever since. On Google Maps, you’ll also find this feature when searching for things or places “near me.”

Mobilegeddon, 2015

The name of this Google update shows why the algorithm changes can also cause a lot of chaos. Namely, with this update, Google decided to reward the mobile-friendliness of websites in light of the increasing number of mobile users.

Individual web pages (not complete websites) that worked well on mobile devices moved up in the rankings accordingly. Pages that did not play correctly on mobile devices were sometimes removed completely from search results.

Meanwhile, Google uses the Mobile First Index to evaluate the mobile friendliness of the entire website.

Rankbrain, 2015

Rankbrain again focused on the relevance of the displayed content in relation to the search query. For this, Google used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to better understand what, depending on the search query, could be the best possible results.

The algorithm should also be able to learn better from previously unknown search queries. Rankbrain is considered the third most important ranking criteria on Google.

Fred, 2017

Fred is one of the Google updates that have not been officially confirmed by the company. Gary Illyes, “Chief of Sunshine and Happiness” once jokingly said that all Google updates would be called Fred.

The unconfirmed Fred update reportedly targeted websites that didn’t add value to users because, for example, they were too cluttered with ads.

Bert, 2019

Bert is undoubtedly considered one of the biggest Google updates of all time. It influenced every tenth search query.

Google’s goal was to understand more complex long-tail search queries and display better results. So with the help of Natural Language Processing (NLP), this time it was less about penalizing bad websites and more about bringing the algorithm closer to human language.

According to Bert, the algorithm began to increasingly analyze words in the context of a sentence.

Google Core, May 2020

In May 2020, in the midst of the Corona pandemic, came a Google Core update. This clearly impacted the search results displayed. In particular, websites in certain industries, such as finance or health, seemed to be affected.

Some experts believed that the Expertise, Authority and Trust (E-A-T) quality standards were an important part of the updates. Others believed that Google was improving a previous E-A-T update here, where actually high-quality smaller websites dropped in ranking because their backend was not mature enough.

Google Core, December 2020

Just a few months ago, Google implemented another Core update. Again, it was about E-A-T. Business, industry, beauty and fitness, and internet and telecommunications performed better after that. Shopping, encyclopedias and news, on the other hand, fell off.

The goal was to penalize websites that have little content and a weak brand.

Google updates: what can we expect in the future?

There is no end in sight for Google updates. The corporation has already announced another update with the new Google Core Web Vitals for May 2021.

Factors such as SSL certificates, loading speed and mobile-friendliness are to become more important in the process. The Core Web Vitals will also be measured concretely.

Anyone who runs a website may certainly find the one or other update annoying. But at the same time, Google is always about rewarding the websites that offer users really good and sophisticated content and don’t annoy them with spam or advertising.

Those who do that anyway don’t have to worry too much before the Google updates. After all, the Google algorithm and website operators should be concerned with the same thing: producing high-quality content.