Throughout the years Google has released many major and minor updates to improve its algorithm and give users the best searching experience possible. Here is a list of some of the more major updates we have seen: from Panda to today.

Jump to an update:

2024 Google Algorithm Updates

March 2024 Core Update & Spam Update

  • March Core Update: On March 5th Google announced its first core algorithm update of the year. Google expects this update will reduce unhelpful and low-quality content in search results by 40%.

Google has improved its ability to identify websites that offer a bad user experience or appear to be made mainly for search engines and not for people. If this update negatively impacted your website traffic, Google recommends following their guide to create helpful, reliable, and people-first content.

  • March Spam Update: Google announced new spam updates and spam policy updates to complement the release of the March 2024 core update.

Creating content at scale to rank higher in search results, whether done by machines or people, is now considered spam. Similarly, purchasing expired domains to boost the search ranking of low-quality or unoriginal content is also considered spam. Furthermore, Google considers any third-party content produced primarily for ranking purposes and without close oversight of a website owner to be spam.

Read Google’s new ways to tackle spammy and low-quality content for more information.

March 2024 was very volatile with continuous ranking fluctuations recorded over 5 weeks, especially between March 17 and March 26. Even if your site has not been negatively impacted by the spam or EEAT factors, you still may have experienced a significant change in website traffic in March as a result of the significant ranking fluctuations that occurred during the core update.

2023 Google Algorithm Updates

November 2023 – Broad Core Update & Reviews Update

This month, Google rolled out two key updates:

  • Broad core update: On November 2, 2023, Google announced a new core update to improve another one of its core systems. This update is said to affect site rankings in the upcoming weeks. According to data providers, this update was more volatile than the October 2023 core update.
  • Reviews update: On November 8, 2023, Google made its last official reviews update. Going forward, Google plans to make continuous improvements to its online reviews system regularly. This update extends beyond product reviews to encompass services, businesses, destinations, media, and various other review content. Now, changes to your website’s rankings and organic traffic may be reflected in real-time.

With both updates taking effect, it may be difficult to know which one has impacted your website. Review Google’s Q&A on Google Search Updates for more information.

October 2023 – Spam Update & Broad Core Update

October 2023 was quite the busy month as far as Google updates were concerned:

  • Spam update: On October 4, 2023, Google announced that it had released an update to its spam detection system, aimed at improving coverage in many languages and spam types, further stating that they “expect this to reduce the visible spam in search results, particularly when it comes to cloaking, hacked, auto-generated, and scraped spam.”
  • Broad core update: On October 5, 2023, Google announced on Twitter that it had released a broad core update and that this update would take up to 2 weeks to complete. Those who take a negative hit from this update are advised to review Google’s questions to consider if your site has been hit by a core update.

September 2023 – Helpful Content System Update

On September 14, 2023, Google announced that the September 2023 Helpful Content Update was rolling out and that it would take at least 2 weeks to complete. Afterwards, Google added new guidance about hosting third-party content, what to do after a helpful content system update, and added some additional information about removing content or changing dates on pages. The helpful content update is designed to de-value content that appears to be written solely for search engines rather than people. Those who have been impacted negatively by this update should conduct a thorough content audit for quality.

August 2023 – Broad Core Update

5 months after its last core update, on August 22, 2023, Google announced that it had released another broad core update, stating that it may take at least 2 weeks to complete. Although this update did not appear to be as widespread or impactful as previous core updates, Search Engine Round Table reported that the update hit some sites particularly hard on August 25, 2023, seeing traffic gains or losses from 20% to 80%.

April 2023 – Reviews Update

On April 25, 2023, Google finished rolling out its “reviews system” (previously known as the product reviews system) which went beyond product reviews to evaluate reviews of any topic including services and businesses, destinations, and media. Data from Semrush and Rank Ranger shows that this update was more significant than expected and more volatile than the February 2023 product reviews update.

March 2023 – Broad Core Update

The first core update of 2023 was released on March 15, 2023, 6 months after Google’s last broad core update. In its announcement, Google noted that it could take up to 2 weeks to complete so we may not see the full impact until that time. Although we don’t know exactly which types of sites will be rewarded or penalized by this update, Google notes that core updates in general are designed to ensure that Google is providing helpful and reliable results to searchers. This means that core updates will likely have a negative impact on sites that don’t provide value to searchers, while sites with high-quality and original content may see some boosts in rankings. If your site is being negatively impacted by a core update, we recommend reviewing the content and quality questions Google released after its August 2019 core update to determine if your content needs to be updated to provide more value.

February 2023 – Product Reviews Update

On February 21, 2023, Google announced its 6th release of the product reviews update, which now applies to several languages including English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish. The Product Reviews Update aims to promote high-quality review content that goes above and beyond thin, templated reviews. Google notes that these types of reviews can be characterized as those that provide insightful analysis and original research while being authored by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that low-quality reviews will be penalized, it does mean that high-quality reviews will start being promoted above ones that Google deems as not very useful.

2022 Google Algorithm Updates

August & December 2022 – Helpful Content Update

The Helpful Content Update is an ongoing effort to remove low-quality content from the search engine results page. It aims to reward website owners that publish more “people-first content” rather than those who publish “Search Engine-First Content”. The second release of this update was confirmed in December 2022 and will impact content globally in all languages.

Further reading: Google’s ‘Helpful Content Update’ to Devalue ‘Search-Engine First’ Content and Promote Authentic/Expert Voices in Search

October 2022 – Spam Update

This update is for Google’s AI-based spam-prevention system called SpamBrain which is designed to combat spam from the search results page. This update primarily impacts low-quality websites with autogenerated content, scraped content, hacked spam, gibberish spam, and link spam.

Further reading: How Google’s SPAM Filters Are Making the Internet Better for Your Customers

February 2022 – Page Experience Update for Desktop

In February 2022, Google confirmed that they had finished rolling out the page experience update for desktop. Building on the mobile page experience update from 2021, this update means Google’s algorithm will use Core Web Vital metrics as part of its ranking system for desktop results.

Other Major Google Algorithm Updates

June 2021 – MUM

Replacing BERT, the Multitask United Model Update (MUM) is an algorithm that uses the power of AI to remove the need for users to have to carry out multiple searches to get the answers they are looking for. MUM was trained across 75 different languages and can understand information from text, images, and later down the line: video and audio. Features for MUM were first released in 2021 and continued to be rolled out in 2022.

October 2019 – BERT

Announced as the biggest change to Google search in the past 5 years, the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) was a machine learning algorithm that helped Google’s systems better understand search queries and web content. It was specially designed for more complex and long-tail queries that depend on context and impacted about 1 in 10 searches. BERT was later replaced in 2021 by MUM.

August 2018 – Core Medic Update

Dubbed the “Medic Update”, this core update aimed to increase the relevancy of search results by improving Google’s identification of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) online. Although this was a broad update, as the name suggests, this update primarily impacted sites in the medical, health, and fitness industries (42% to be exact) and in particular “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL) sites – i.e., pages that can impact the future health, happiness, or wealth of users. Sites with no or low E-A-T saw major declines, while those with high E-A-T were heavily rewarded.

September 2016 – Possum

The biggest update since Pigeon in 2014, Google Possum is rumoured to have been specifically launched to improve local search results and filter out any ranking spam (Google never officially confirmed this). One study found that 64% of businesses were affected, with many businesses reporting that they were finding it a lot easier to rank locally after the update.

October 2015 – RankBrain

Confirmed by Google at the end of October 2015, RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm designed to help Google provide more relevant search results for users. Known as the first introduction of machine learning in search, RankBrain helps Google better understand the intent behind a search query by analyzing past searches and determining the best result for those queries. It initially impacted 15% of all searches and was eventually expanded to impact all searches.

April 2015 – Mobile Update (aka Mobilegeddon)

The Mobile Update of 2015, known as Mobilegeddon, was the first time that Google gave several months’ notice to website owners about a major update. Although it was originally thought that the impact would be greater than Panda and Penguin, hence the ultra-dramatic name coined by digital marketers, it actually wasn’t as big as expected. One study found that around 21% of non-mobile friendly URLs in the first 3 pages of search results saw ranking declines. On the plus side, Google’s announcement of the update forced many businesses to ensure their sites were more mobile-friendly, which was an important shift in the industry given how much mobile search has grown.

Further reading: Are you Ready for Google’s Mobile-Friendly Algorithm Updates on April 21st?

September 2013 – Hummingbird

Google’s Hummingbird update was a rewrite of the core algorithm that placed more emphasis on natural language queries and really laid the groundwork for voice search. Hummingbird’s main purpose was to better understand the context and intent behind search queries. Although Hummingbird didn’t appear to cause any dramatic impacts to sites in general, it enforced Google’s continued commitment to ranking pages that are designed for humans, not robots.

April 2012 – Penguin

Back in 2012, the SERP was inundated with sites using paid links as a way to boost their rankings. Google’s Penguin update was designed to crack down on those sites, and in particular, those using link scheme tactics. The anti-spam update removed many of those sites from the SERP, discouraging the industry from buying, exchanging, and creating fake links. In 2016, Penguin was added to the core algorithm and forced the industry to focus on obtaining relevant links from high authority sources instead.

Further reading: Google Penguin Update

February 2011 – Panda

The first major update in the modern SEO era, Google’s Panda update was designed to put a stop to black hat SEO tactics, i.e., sites that were purely created to rank on Google (such as content farms). At the time, complaints were piling up about the declining quality of Google’s search results as the search engine was getting increasingly flooded by content farms. The Panda update aimed to reduce rankings for these poor-quality pages by analyzing and evaluating the overall quality of a website. Sites that saw the biggest impact included affiliate sites and sites with thin content. Later that year, Google published a list of 23 questions to explain how Google searches for high-quality sites as a way to help those sites that saw major ranking declines from the update. Many of these questions are still relevant today and go hand-in-hand with the concept of E-A-T.

If you’ve been impacted by a Google Algorithm update, connect with the SEO experts at Ontario SEO today.