11 Major Google Algorithm Updates Every Webmaster Should Know About!

SEO is ever-changing. How we optimize our sites now is definitely not same as how it used to be 10 years back. And a lot of it depends on the different algorithm updates that Google roll out from time to time.

According to Moz, Google changes its search algorithm around 500 – 600 times a year. But, not all are significant to your search rankings.

However, as a webmaster of your site, it is indeed important to have a clear understanding of all the major Google algorithm updates that might affect your SERP rankings.

So, let’s check out the most significant search algorithm updates that have changed the entire scenario of SEO from how it was before. They are listed according to the years of their first roll outs.

Important Google Algorithm Changes


Google’s Panda update is aimed to de rank websites with low quality and/ or thin content. Launched in February 2011, Panda is one of the first major Google algo updates. It assigns a quality score filter to web pages.

Initially Panda was a filter, however from January 2016 it has become a part of Google’s core ranking factors. Panda updates are more frequent now and hence the recoveries too.

Key Things to Do:

  • No plagiarized content
  • No thin content
  • Check for keyword over optimization
  • Audit your website regularly


Many websites use blackhat or spammy link building techniques to achieve higher rankings. Penguin is aimed to penalize such sites from the SERPs. This Google algorithm update was first rolled out in April 2012 to de-rank sites with spammy or irrelevant backlinks. From 2016, it is also a part of Google’s core algo.

Key Things to Do:

  • No links from spammy sites
  • No paid / PBN links
  • Don’t over optimize anchor texts
  • Audit your backlink profile
  • Disavow the bad backlinks on regular basis


Pirate was first rolled out in August 2012 and is aimed to filter out sites with copyright infringement issues. Websites that make pirated content free for download (movies, music, books etc.) are the main targets here. Many big websites, particularly torrent sites, got affected through this Google update.

Key Things to Do:

  • No piracy
  • Don’t share anyone else’s content without their permission

EMD Update

Google’s EMD update (Exact Match Domain) is aimed to prevent low quality sites to rank well, just because they have the exact keywords in the domain names. It was first rolled out in September 2012. In a Twitter update Matt Cutts shared that,

With every EMD rollout, many affected sites may regain their rankings if they enhance their content quality and on the other hand many new sites or sites which got missed earlier may lose their search rankings.

Key Things to Do:

  • Improve your content quality
  • Share detailed information about the specific topic


Hummingbird is the most significant Google algorithm update in recent times. Launched in August 2013 it aims to provide more relevant results to the searcher by understanding the meaning of the search query.

Hummingbird is mainly helpful for long keyword phrases where it assists Google to better interpret the search queries and return results that best match the user intent. With this rollout many web pages answering some queries have ranked well in SERPs, even though they don’t have the exact keyword phrases in the content.

Key Things to Do:

  • Focus on the concept and not a specific keyword
  • Say no to keyword stuffing
  • Use a good keyword research tool to expand your research
  • Use related, long tail and LSI keywords


Pigeon was launched in July 2014 with an aim to provide more valuable and highly relevant local SEO results. This SEO algorithm helps Google to enhance their location and distance tracking parameters to give preference to those results which are closer to the searcher’s location and at the same time is of high quality. Pigeon is currently affecting the English searches only.

Key Things to Do:

  • Set up a Google My Business page for your local business
  • List your business in relevant local directories
  • Correct NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) across all your listings
  • Optimize your on page factors

Mobile Update

Google’s Mobile friendly update (also known as Mobilegeddon or mobile apocalypse) was rolled out in April 2015 kicking out pages that are not optimized for mobile. Also, mobile friendly websites got a ranking boost in mobile searches.

Key Things to Do:

  • Get a responsive theme
  • Check your site with the mobile friendly test tool
  • Increase page loading speed and usability


Launched in October 2015, RankBrain is considered to be the third most important ranking factor in Google. It helps Google to interpret the meaning behind a query better. RankBrain is basically a part of Hummingbird algorithm with an objective to deliver best search results through relevancy and machine learning.

Key Things to Do:

  • Provide all the related information around your targeted query
  • Do not forget the traditional SEO (on page, backlinks)
  • Optimize your site for better user experience


Since the launch of Possum in September 2016, the local results in Google started to vary more according to the physical location of the searcher. If you are closer to the searcher’s location, it is more likely that your page will show higher in the SERP.

However, this Google algo also started to show local results that are not even in the physical area. Possum tend to display different search results for variations of a specific query.

Key Things to Do:

  • Expand your list of local keywords
  • Monitor your search rankings with geo specific rank tracking

Fred Update

Fred was considered to be a major Google SEO update aimed to de rank ad centric, affiliate heavy pages with thin content. Though an unconfirmed one, but Fred got a lot of hype when webmasters saw big drops in traffic during March 2017 and Gary Illyes jokingly referred it as “Fred”.

Snippet Length Increase

This is the latest update from Google, which was rolled out in November 2017. Google was testing longer search snippets (Meta description) for around 2 years and finally has increased it limit of up to 300 characters. It is almost double than the earlier limit of 155 characters. A good search snippet also has a great role in increasing CTR.

Key Things to Do:

Over to You

So, these are the major Google algorithm updates of all time. Google releases an update almost every day. And, it is not possible to keep a track of all of them. However, as a webmaster of your site, you must know the significant ones, to keep your rankings safe.

Did you ever get a penalty from Google? How was the effect on your search traffic? I would love to know about your experience of recovering from a Google penalty.

Guest article written by: Manidipa Bhaumik is an avid blogger who mostly writes about Blogging, WordPress and SEO in her blog WPBlogging360.com . Along with her online engagements, books & road trips are her other fascinations. You can connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

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