If there is one thing Google is known for and the thing that keeps some SEO experts up at night, is their update roll outs. Major updates often change the rules of the game and drop website rankings like flies.
SEO is an arms race between SEO experts and Google.
Following Google’s big June 2019 Core Update, we decided to list some of the notable algorithm updates Google has rolled out, and you will see just how dynamic SEO really is.
This article will help you better understand Google’s volatile update process and that frankly there isn’t much that can be done, other than simply abiding by healthy SEO guidelines. Avoiding spammy practices, tracking your ranks and setting up notification triggers, if you are a PRT user (will be linked in at the end of this article).
All roads still lead to Google somehow and everything is intertwined, so this timeline is relevant for everyone with a foot in the SEO and SEM game.
Bookmark this post since we will be updating it as more updates and notable changes happen and are discovered.
You can go through all of it or just check out specific parts that interest you. We marked in orange various tips that are also rank tracking related.
*A note about this guide: Everything is cited with links to sources. We will focus on the updates that were officially confirmed by Google. However, we will also list updates that were never officially confirmed. But the consensus of the SEO community and various tool observations suggested a major update did take place.
Dispelling the algo update myth
Before we list the update history we need to address one myth – that Google only operates with big leaps and changes. This is not true. Google evolves and changes ALL THE TIME. These can be small-medium changes that might get noticed by SEO experts and discussed and speculated through trial and error. But most of these changes are micro changes that constantly happen, and they are so gradual you will not hear about them anywhere.
In 2011 Eric Schmidt admitted to Congress that Google made 516 notable updates in 2010 and tested over 13,000. How many of these were discussed or mentioned by SEO news outlets? Perhaps only 10.
You have to hope that your SEO tool constantly monitors Google properly, and adjusts the software to remain accurate despite any small change.
We at Pro Rank Tracker have developed a fast response mechanism, and we monitor micro-changes and adapt to them almost immediately, to keep your ranking data fresh and the most accurate you will find. More on how micro-changes can affect an SEO tool:
|The truth revealed! Why are some SERP trackers more precise than others?|
We won’t list all the major changes that happened throughout the years since most of that stuff is old news and irrelevant. However, we will begin with the more or less “modern era” of SEO, with the introduction of the Panda Algorithm Update in 2011.
2011 Google updates
2011 was one of the most turbulent years for SEOs. Many black hat wizards would see their income cut short, and unfortunately many white hat pros would also sustain damage and would have to rebuild their strategies.
January 1, 2011 – Foreshadowing Panda
Google unleashes a penalty (WSJ) on shady SEO practices on overstock.com and JC Penny, publicly shaming them in the process.
February 23, 2011 – Panda launch
The major update designed to crackdown on low quality search results and stop certain black hat SEO practices (in particular “content farms”) is officially announced.
The change effects 12% of search queries and devastates rankings across the internet, many of which belonged to sites with legitimate high quality content.
This was of course just the initial phase, and as you will see, Panda (Wiki) will be updated many more times.
April 11, 2011 – Panda 2.0
All English queries were now affected (not just English-native countries). New ranking signals are also added to the algo, such as blocks done by users through the SERP of Chrome. Search Engine Land (SEL) reported the details.
Google’s blog announcement.
May 9, 2011 – Panda 2.1
Another Panda update officially announced by Google. Google insists this is a minor update and a “Panda 2.1” and not a full blown “3.0”. SEL reported the details.
June 2, 2011 – Schema.org is announced
A joint venture by Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
The Schema initiative introduces a new form of markup tagging, to allow web developers to convey a wider range of information to search engine crawlers.
The markup is made to pinpoint specific information types, such as recipe cook time, business addresses, dates of events, phone numbers, and other specific information.
Schema.org markup guidelines are quite integral to local SEO, and many beginners (and even pros!) neglect to implement them properly.
June 21, 2011 – Google rolls out Panda 2.2
Many sites that have avoided the ranking damage from Panda 1.0, were now seeing drops. SEL with the details.
July 23, 2011 – Google rolls out Panda 2.3
Official details by Google remained obscure and SEO pros for the most part had to discover what it meant on their own. SEL details.
August 12, 2011 – Panda 2.4
The Panda filter is now active internationally for non-English search queries (except Chinese, Japanese and Korean). 6-9% of SERPs in respective countries were affected. SEL reporting.
Google’s blog post.
September 21, 2011 – Google admits it made 516 Algo updates
We referenced this at the beginning of the article. Here’s the link with the details again, to save you the time scrolling up.
September 30, 2011 – Panda 2.5
Again, Google remained obscure about what had changed, but many users reported ranking damages. Eventually they confirmed to SEL that an update did happen.
October 5, 2011 – “Update flux”
Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted that a slew of small Panda related updates will take place gradually in the upcoming weeks. This flux will end up leading to the undeclared Panda 3.0.
This will mark how Google conducts its updates for the most part – gradually and with no announcements.
October 18, 2011 – search query encryption added, and an important feature blocked
Google officially announced that they had started encrypting search queries, to make private data more secure.
This unfortunately was also the beginning of the end for the very helpful organic keyword referral data provided by Google.
Within two years, following this announcement, all search queries will become fully encrypted and virtually all the organic keyword referral data marked with the now very hated (not provided):
|PRTip: There are several ways to handle this issue. One of them is to do a “reverse search”, using PRT’s Ranking Discovery Tool, which will add an important piece to the puzzle. Using the tool, you will be able to discover keywords that your sites already rank for (Top100) and could potentially be the source of some worthy organic traffic.|
November 3, 2011 – Freshness update
Google announced on their blog an algorithm change that impacts up to 35% of all search queries. Three times wider than Panda’s estimated impact.
The goal is to reward fresh new content, and impact mostly content that relied on relevance such as news.
It also marked Google’s future emphasis of content freshness over old outdated content.
SEL with the detail.
November 14, 2011 – 10 official updates | Update batch #1
Google admits on their blog that 10 small updates were made recently. This was a gesture of transparency but only highlighted how obscure their announcement practice is.
November 18, 2011 – Panda 3.1
Where is Panda 3.0 you might wonder, well it was never officially announced. SEO experts at Search Engine RoundTable (SER) simply referred to it as “Panda 3.1” jokingly, and the nickname stuck.
The only official statement from Google on this one was a tweet about a minor Panda update effecting 1% of search queries.
December 1, 2011 – Another 10 updates batch | Update batch #2
10 algo updates took place, each with an undisclosed date and little detail on what specifically changed.
2012 Google Updates
Turmoil continues, although SEOs are getting used to the turmoil and adapt faster than in previous years.
PRT is created to serve the increasing need for accurate Google rank tracking, in the face of relentless updates and continued uncertainty.
January 5, 2012 – 30-update batch | Update batch #3
Officially announced (Google’s blog).
January 18, 2012 – Panda 3.2
Not officially announced but was confirmed by Google to SEL’s inquiry on the subject.
January 19, 2012 – “Top Heavy” update #1 | Page Layout update#1
Google officially announces on their blog, that websites with too many ads “above the fold”, would be penalized and devalued in rankings.
The first update which will specifically addresses the layout of the page. Also nicknamed “Top Heavy” by the SEO community.
February 3, 2012 – 17-update batch | Update batch #4
Officially announced (Google’s blog)
February 27, 2012 – 40-update batch | Update batch #5 + Panda 3.3 + Venice
Another Panda update and 40+ minor updates (Google blog).
Plus, Google mentions an update code-named “Venice” which heavily localized organic search results. The official roll-out date was never revealed.
March 23, 2012 – Panda 3.4
Officially announced on Twitter. About 1.6% of SERPs are impacted.
April 3, 2012 – 50-update batch | Update batch #6
Officially announced (Google’s blog).
April 19, 2012 – Panda 3.5
Some reported a drop in ranks, but the impact seemed minimal. SER reported.
April 24, 2012 – Penguin is introduced
Penguin (Google’s blog) is an algorithm update meant to combat spammy “over-optimization” practices that contributed to low quality content, such as keyword stuffing. It impacted 3.1% of all English search queries.
While Panda is meant to combat low-quality content, Penguin is specifically aimed at catching spam.
April 27, 2012 – Panda 3.6
Observed impact was minimal. SEL with more details.
May 4, 2012 – 52-update batch | Update batch #7
Officially announced (Google’s blog)
May 16, 2012 – Knowledge Graph is introduced
The SERP feature we’re all accustomed to seeing by now, is 7 years old!
Today this SERP feature has so many embodiments, we will need an entire article, longer than this one, just to list all of them and explain how each works.
May 25, 2012 – Penguin 1.1
June 7, 2012 – 39-update batch | Update batch #8
Officially announced (Google’s blog).
June 8, 2012 – Panda 3.7
Google tweeted less than 1% of SERPs were impacted, but data gathered at the time suggested the impact was far more significant than that.
June 25, 2012 – Panda 3.8
Tweeted by Google. This update was not an actual algo update, but more of a search data sweep, aimed at capturing or releasing sites that deserve to be hit by the algorithm.
July 24, 2012 – Panda 3.9
Tweeted by Google. According to them, about 1% of search queries were impacted.
August 10, 2012 – DMCA Pirate update #1
Google announced on their blog, that websites that repeatedly violated copyrights, such as websites with pirated content, would be penalized.
August 10, 2012 – 86-update batch | Update batch #9
Officially announced (Google’s blog).
August 20, 2012 – Panda 3.9.1
Google tweeted about yet another Panda update. Having run out of numbers and this being a small update, they decided to stick to the .9 extension.
September 18, 2012 – Panda 3.9.2
Google tweeted about the update.
September 27, 2012 – Exact Match Domain (EMD) crack down
SEOs barely had time to catch their breaths as another update soon hits, and we’re sure you can see this is a recurring theme by now.
Tweeted by Matt Cutts. This update was meant to reduce low quality EMD from appearing high on their SERP. Another step towards higher quality search results.
September 27, 2012 – 20th Panda update
Considered a major update that impacted 2.4% of search queries. Reported by SER. SEO experts will also start naming panda updates by numerical order.
October 4, 2012 – 65-update batch | Update batch #10
Officially announced (Google’s blog).
October 5, 2012 – Small Penguin update
The update (SEL) impacted 0.3% of search queries.
October 9, 2012 – “Top Heavy” update #2 | Page layout update #2
November 5, 2012 – Panda #21
Small update, impacting 1.1% of English search queries. Confirmed by Google for SEL.
November 21, 2012 – Panda #22
Not officially announced but confirmed for SER. About 0.8% of English search queries were impacted.
December 21, 2012 – Panda #23
Google tweeted about the update following SER’s query on the subject and said 1.3% of English search queries were impacted.
2013 Google Updates
By now it’s clear what we are up against, and ranking volatility is to be expected. Rank trackers become very important as a result.
January 22, 2013 – Panda#24
1.2% of search queries are affected. SEL details.
March 14, 2013 – Panda #25 + Statement by Google | Unconfirmed update#1
Details are hazy and unofficial, as expected, and SEL had more info.
Interestingly enough ,this was also one of the first times Google openly stated to SEL, that not all algorithm updates will be officially confirmed by them. This is worthy of note, because as you will see going through the timeline, Google’s confirmations will only decline.
May 9, 2013 – An unknown unconfirmed update | Unconfirmed update#2
The update hit many rankings with absolutely no acknowledgment by Google. A fine example of how certain updates can only be discovered by experts and SEO tools. SER covered the story.
May 21, 2013 – Domain clustering update
Update hit internationally. SEL’s article.
May 22, 2013 – Penguin 2.0
An official “2.0” by Google. More finely tuned spam fighting mechanisms are introduced. Reported impact seemed moderate. SEL with the details.
Google’s Matt Cutts with the official statement in his blog.
June 11, 2013 – Panda “Dance” | Unconfirmed update#3
Matt Cutts suggested Panda was being updated continuously in 10-day increments. SEL’s explanation.
June 11, 2013 – “Payday Loan” algorithm update#1
An update specifically aimed at search queries, plagued with spammy search results, such as loans and porn. SEL breakdown.
June 27, 2013 – Unnamed “multi-week” update
July 18, 2013 – A “soft” Panda update
Google confirmed this one to SER, saying some previous Panda penalties may have been “softened”.
August 20, 2013 – Hummingbird
A major update, with more personalization, aimed at bringing higher quality search results.
SEL breaks down the new update.
The official Wiki page.
October 4, 2013 – Penguin 2.1
It’s been more than 4 months since the last Penguin update. The impact of this one was observed as moderate, with some webmasters being hit heavily. SEL details.
2014 Google Updates
February 6, 2014 – Page Layout update #3
Even more sites will now be influenced for spammy ad usage. SEL article.
March 24, 2014 – Unconfirmed update#4
Spotted by SERP trackers and SEO experts. Reported by SER.
May 16, 2014 – Payday Loan update #2
Algorithm update first introduced June 11, 2012. This update is aimed at spammy search queries, such as in the loans niche. SEL details.
May 19, 2014 – Panda 4.0 (No. 26)
June 12, 2014 – Payday Loan update #3
July 24, 2014 – Pigeon
Joining the growing zoo is Pigeon. A huge update that puts the SEO community in turmoil. The update dramatically changed some local search results. The aim was to tie the local algorithm closer to the core algorithm. SEL explains.
This solidifies the future of hyper geo-targeted search results even further.
August 6, 2014 – HTTPS/SSL Update
Google confirms in their blog, that making websites secure, will henceforth provide a “light” ranking boost.
September 23, 2014 – Panda 4.1 (No. 27)
Google announced a major Panda update that will affect 3-5% of search queries. Exact rollout date and details were not specified and was it left for the SEO community to figure out on their own (as usual). SEL with the story.
October 17, 2014 – Penguin 3.0
A year has passed since the last Penguin update. The update seemed to be a “refresh” only, and not an actual change to the algo, as less than 1% of US search queries are affected. Google said it will roll out internationally over a period of weeks.
October 21, 2014 – DMCA Pirate update #2
Two years following the first update, torrent and pirated media sites are hit hard by this update.
December 10, 2014 – Penguin constant evolution
A holiday “gift” to the SEO community, Google rep told SEL that Penguin will now be continuously and progressively updated. This is Google’s way of saying they will be acknowledging algo updates even less now. Expect the unexpected.
December 22, 2014 – Pigeon expands
The recent addition to the Google algo zoo expands to the UK, Canada and Australia, as Google confirmed for SEL.
2015 Google Updates
February 4, 2015 – Huge update goes unconfirmed by Google | Unconfirmed update#5
While there are many fluxes in ranks, that may or may not involve an algo update, this one was big enough to get recognized as a major update by the SEO community. SER covered the incident in more detail.
April 22, 2015 – First “Mobile friendly” update – a Mobile-First indexing precursor
This was a significant moment since eventually Google will forever separate mobile search results from desktop with their Mobile-First indexing.
May 3, 2015 – Quality signals update
Dubbed the “Quality Update” by SEL, Google admits a core algorithm change that impacts how it will process “content quality signals”.
July 17, 2015 – Panda 4.2 (No. 28)
Google announces a Panda refresh that will take a month to fully roll out. SEL with the details.
October 26, 2015 – RankBrain and the rise of the machines
This announcement is major, not just SEO wise, but for the internet as a whole. Google reveals machine learning has been a part of the algorithm for months (!).
This is one of the first historical moves in the direction of outsourcing decision making to machines. A.I. from this point onward will be influencing a huge part of our daily lives – the search of common information on Google.
The news is big enough that Bloomberg wrote an article about it.
2016 Google Updates
January 8, 2016 – An unnamed algo update | Unconfirmed update#6
Large ranking movements were registered across the board on multiple SERP trackers and SEO tools (us included). Google initially didn’t announce that any significant updates took place. But later they confirmed to SER that this was indeed a core algorithm update.
February 19, 2016 – Major AdWords reshaping
Right column ads were removed entirely and Google’s SERP started to look more like it looks today – with paid search results appearing above the regular organic search results.
This changed the paid and organic CTR game entirely, and many marketers and SEO experts had to adapt. SEL’s breakdown.
May 12, 2016 – Second harbinger update to Mobile-First | Mobile Friendly #2
Google rolls out another ranking signals update that benefits mobile-friendly sites on mobile SERPs.
September 1, 2016 – Another unconfirmed update | Unconfirmed update#7
While officially unconfirmed by Google, major Local Pack and organic ranking fluctuations were observed by SERP trackers. These were discussed on the SEO forums and news sites (nicknamed ‘Possum’ by SEL).
August 13, 2016 – Keyword Search Volume is removed for low spending AdWord accounts
The valuable metric has only become available for big spenders. This was a very controversial move, that hurt the workflow of many SEO centered experts that didn’t rely on AdWords.
PRT quickly stepped up to the plate and started showing our users their monthly keyword search volumes. And we still do today with no additional charges!
September 23, 2016 – Penguin 4.0 hits
Two years has passed since the last major Penguin update. Google at long last announced the long-expected Penguin 4.0. Google said that it was real-time and now also weaved into the core algorithm as intended. Roll out phase was Sep 27th – Oct 6th and ranking volatility was observed by many SEOs and tools.
SEL‘s analysis of the update and changes.
PRT‘s coverage and how it affects SERP tracking.
October 27, 2016 – Making search results more local
Google announced that they will be showing their users local search results, personalized to the country they are physically in, regardless of what ccTLD you use.
|PRTip: We covered this change in our blog and what it means for manual rank checking.
as a whole. Hint: Manual rank tracking is 100% ineffective for most use cases. You need a solid SERP tracker at your disposal.
November 4, 2016 – Mobile-First Indexing testing begins
And we also covered it in our blog at the time and gave a few tips on tracking your mobile ranks:
|Why knowing your mobile ranks is now more important than ever before! (+ 5 tips on improving mobile visibility)|
November 10 and December 14, 2016 – Unconfirmed updates #8-9
A couple of unconfirmed updates by Google that caused fluctuations and ranking turmoil. Widely accepted by SEO experts and news sites (SER) as an algo update.
Nov 10 details (SER)
Dec 14 details (SER)
2017 Google Updates
If you followed the timeline thus far, you probably noticed by now that the “official” announcements had decreased significantly. Many updates were now purely observed but not acknowledged by Google. This trend continues to the present day, making the use of SERP trackers a must for every webmaster, and anyone doing SEO and SEM.
January 10, 2017 – The Intrusive Interstitial crack down
As SEL reported, Google announced a significant penalty to punish aggressive ad tactics that damage the mobile experience. This refers to the type of pop-up ads that usually appear when the content you clicked on has been displayed for a few seconds. A very appreciated penalty.
February 1-7, 2017 – Unconfirmed big updates #10-11
March 8, 2017 – Major unconfirmed update | “Fred” Update | Unconfirmed update#12
Jokingly nicknamed “Fred” by SEL, this update had a very noticeable and widely discussed ranking impact for many webmasters.
|PRTip: We also followed this unannounced update on our blog at Pro Rank Tracker. We gave our readers some tips, on how to set up notifications to better track sudden ranking changes, that might be as a result of an algo update.|
May 17, 2017 – Another big unconfirmed update | Unconfirmed update#13
SERP trackers registered massive spikes and changes in ranks. The websites that were affected by this experienced algorithmic flux and found that it lasted for months. SER broke down the details of the impact.
November 14, 2017 – Unconfirmed update #14
SER reported many ranking fluctuations around this time and concluded it was an undeclared Google algo update.
December 14, 2017 – Confirmed ranking algorithm update
Google confirms to SEL, that an update indeed took place.
2018 Google Updates
|PRTip: While the issue is rarely discussed and certainly wasn’t officially announced, we believe in 2018, was when Google started noticeably indexing mobile search results, by mobile OS type and screen size. To make sure our users are prepared and ready for the future we updated our system to be able to track those unique mobile ranks:|
February 20, 2018 – Yet another unacknowledged update | Unconfirmed update#15
Ranking volatility observed by various tools and reported on SEO forums suggest an algorithm tweaking took place. Google remains silent, here is the SER story with the speculations on the nature of this likely update.
March 12, 2018 – Official core algorithm update #1
Not much is known about the nature of this one, other than many reports of ranking spikes and dips that lasted for 2 weeks.
Google confirms to SER that a core algorithm indeed took place, but as per their usual pattern of conduct, did not elaborate what it all meant.
March 26, 2018 – Mobile-First indexing officially begins
SEL with the details.
|PRTip: By now it should be abundantly clear that the mobile-index is an entity on its own almost, and that people will get different search results on mobile 100%. Optimize your websites to be mobile friendly and track both desktop type ranks and mobile-type ranks!|
April 17, 2018 – Broad core algorithm update | Official core algorithm update #2
No cool nicknames were given for this one. Google simply confirmed to SEL, in their regular dry and concise fashion, that an update did happen. No details were provided.
May 17, 2018 – Unconfirmed update #16
Observed on many tools. Barry Schwarts reported it on SER.
June 14, 2018 – The Video Carousel joins the Google SERP
Videos that were previously shown as regular organic results, were now presented in a video carousel form. This is a reasonable move considering video content is beating all other types of media.
The carousel itself takes 1 SERP spot from the organic ranks and can appear anywhere on the 1st results page. Within the carousel there are 10 positions.
We covered the change in our blog and also showed you how to track this specific feature with FULL accuracy:
|Track the two Google SERP elements with MORE value than regular organic listings|
July 9, 2018 – Mobile page speed update
Mobile page speed becomes a center piece of mobile ranking factors. Google releases a full post in their Webmaster Central Blog to address the matter.
We covered the issue of mobile page speed on our blog from several angles, which we advise you to read:
|Webpage Loading Speed Insights from Google|
July 22, 2018 – Unconfirmed update #17
Again, observed by many tools and SEO forum chatter, yet Google remained silent. SER with the story.
July 24, 2018 – non-HTTPS websites marked “not secure”
Making sites secure was announced as a ranking factor back in August 6th 2014.
Chrome would now mark HTTP websites with a “not secure” warning, directly effecting traffic to such websites. Here is the announcement on Google’s blog.
August 1, 2018 – “Medic” core algorithm update | Official core algorithm update #3
Nicknamed Medic because the update effected largely websites in the medical and health fields. The update was reported by SER to have struck internationally and on several languages. Confirmed by Google as a global core algorithm update.
September 11, 2018 – Unconfirmed update #18
October 16, 2018 – Unconfirmed update #19
SER with the story.
November 30, 2018 – Unconfirmed update #20
SER covering the story. Widely observed by SERP trackers and forums.
2019 Google Updates
Current year. Not much to report and the future seems to lead towards more unnamed and unconfirmed updates.
February 6, 2019 – Unconfirmed update #21
Observed by the SEO community and reported by SER.
March 12, 2019 – Official core algorithm update #4
June 3, 2019 – The June 2019 Core Update | Official core algorithm update #5
The hottest one fresh from the oven ready to smack or uplift ranks. SER with more details
We will also cover the details and add some rank tracking tips and insights next week, so be sure you are subscribed to our blog!
There is one main thing that you can learn from this timeline. Google for the most part, is not forthcoming at all about update details, and how their algo works following the updates.
Most of these updates and changes were not even announced officially. They had to be “discovered” by SEO pros and various rank trackers, and admitted half-heartedly by Google, after being directly confronted by either SEL or SER. Not only that, but the functionality following the updates is discovered via trial and error.
Also, it needs to be said – do not keep all your eggs in one Google basket. Don’t forget Bing and Yahoo! are also a part of SEO. When Google knocks your ranks down you can at least have some minor sources of traffic from other search engines.
Because they are now outsourcing to machine learning, the changes will become more and more seamless and gradual. Most likely we will see less and less “major” update earthquakes like we did in the past.
SEOs never have time to chill as Google is constantly updating, but do not be discouraged! As long as you keep a solid SEO infrastructure and keep track of your organic progress, you will have a better chance at this game.
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Helpful links from our blog
|Is Bing really a failure? Should you even track your Bing ranks?|