As you might expect, in this article we’ll review the most important updates Google has released since 2003.
Google started updating its algorithm in 2003, 5 years after launching its search engine. Since then, there has been a constant game of cat and mouse between Google and SEO experts. The goal being to understand and prevent the impact of these updates on the positioning of indexed pages so that SEO strategies can be adjusted accordingly.
Google has always creatively named its updates after birds or animals. We haven’t looked up the meaning of each of them, but simply want to warn you in advance so that you won’t be confused when you read further down. Note that Google has made hundreds, even thousands of other updates since its creation but the purpose of this article is to list the main ones so that the text remains “digestible”.
Google update for November 16, 2003
“Florida” was a strong message from Google to the “black hat SEO”, i.e. those who manipulate search engines to exploit Google’s weaknesses. All websites, including affiliate sites, using questionable SEO methods (inserting invisible keywords in their texts, over-optimization of SEO, hidden links or even the creation of domain names all linking to the same site) had their rankings plummet just before the summer holiday period, giving SEO experts something to do during their time off 😊
Google update for September 1, 2005
“Jagger” was an update that unfolded in three phases (Jagger 1, Jagger 2, Jagger 3). The purpose of this update was to chase down unnatural backlinks including paid links, “negotiated” links or any other type of spam. However, we should remind you that the number of incoming links (backlinks) that point to your site is still an important SEO ranking factor today.
Google update for December 15, 2005
“Big Daddy” was another progressive update, starting in December 2005 and ending in March 2006. It should be noted that Google’s goal is not to cause disruption in its own search results, so the company needs to be cautious when implementing an update. The more popular Google has become over the years, the more the company has had to take responsibility for the search results it highlights, as well as for the companies that depend on it.
The goal of the “Big Daddy” update was to clean up all the broken links and other 404 errors that were starting to spread online. For those who don’t know what a 404 error/broken link is, it is an error message that Google displays when it is unable to access a page’s content.
404 errors are very easy to generate since it only takes one wrong character in your URL and Google (and all other search engines and Internet users) can no longer access the page’s content. For example, if you enter the URL https://mylittlebigweb.com/en/seo-services-search-engine-optimization/ in your browser or click on the link, you will land on the page content, but if you remove a letter (example: https://mylittlebigweb.com/en/seo-services-search-engine-optimization/), you will land on an error page:
Websites commonly generate 404 errors, especially sites that have a large number of pages or create a large number of external links. If you don’t want to impact your SEO negatively, you need to fix the problem by redirecting the invalid URL to a working URL and correct the error quickly. Some WordPress platforms or plug-ins (if your site was designed in WordPress) such as Broken Link Checker allow you to locate broken links quickly. As mentioned earlier, when you see a broken link, you have to perform what is called a redirection, i.e. you inform Google that the old URL is no longer valid and you tell Google the address of the new URL.
Google update for January 18, 2009
The “Vince” update was fast and efficient. The purpose of this update was to highlight sites that have built a natural reputation (such as major brand sites) among consumers/users and not through their SEO efforts. This doesn’t mean that all the SEO work done by the experts was undone, but it balanced the game a little.
Google update for April 28, 2010
The Google update called “MayDay” was rather fast since it was released between April 28 and May 3. The goal of this update was to improve the accuracy of search results for “long tail” terms, i.e. terms from very precise searches that generate little volume on their own, but when strung together generate most of a site’s traffic. Here’s an example if you still don’t understand what a long tail term is:
Google update for August 10, 2009
“Caffeine” proved to be one of Google’s major updates both in terms of its rollout time (August 2009 to June 2010) and in terms of efficiency, since Google completely redesigned its infrastructure to enable its robots to index online content more quickly and more comprehensively. Before this update, Google’s robots were scanning in “layers”, some of which could take up to two weeks to refresh. With the “Caffeine” update, Google was able to scroll much more content in a much shorter time, which enabled more than 50% more content to be indexed.
At this point in the article, we are going to summarize the main changes made to Google’s algorithm by year because since 2011, Google has significantly accelerated its number of updates. Listing everything would fill a book and we are quite sure that few of our readers would have the willpower to make it to the end. We will therefore highlight the main points to ensure that as many people as possible complete this algorithmic marathon 😊.
Google updates in 2011
2011 was a real disaster in terms of updates that hit companies that relied on questionable practices for their indexing. The search engine kicked off the year by first targeting all site owners who made their bread and butter by copying other people’s content to steal intellectual property. Since then, Google is now capable of finding out who put the content online first and it strongly penalizes those who try to duplicate it.
“Panda” was deployed to flush out low-quality content and sites with “link farms”, i.e. content whose main purpose is to link to other sites in an effort to influence the search results. The goal here was to sort through the content in order to provide users with increasingly qualified content. Panda 2.0 then permitted the update to be deployed worldwide and no longer only for English content. Using its “Chrome” browser, Google allowed users to give their opinions on the content they liked or disliked, which helped Google to sort content more quickly by popularity.
In October 2011, Google introduced encryption of user requests. Before that, webmasters could find out what search terms visitors had entered on Google before landing on their website. This information was a real gold mine for anyone who wanted to improve their SEO strategy and especially to know which keywords converted the most. Google played the privacy card but no one really believed it because even if you knew the search terms of the visitors, their identity remained anonymous.
Google updates in 2012
2012 was another year full of updates. Google continued its efforts to offer increasingly relevant content to its users by penalizing websites that have too much advertising or do not generate enough interaction with their visitors. For example, Google began to pay more attention to the content that appears above the fold of the page, that is, what people see first when they visit a page (see example below):
In February 2012, Google announced about 17 changes to its algorithm, including spelling errors in published content, before adding some 40 other changes, also related to the quality of written content. In April 2012, the “Penguin” update again allowed Google to increase penalties for websites that engage in spam practices such as over-optimization of content or misuse of keywords on pages.
In July 2012, Google again tackled links that were considered unnatural and sent a message to webmasters via its “Google Webmaster Tool” to warn them that an update was coming and that they had to clean up if they didn’t want to be penalized. These are links that were allegedly artificially created to manipulate search engines. In doing so, Google also wanted to make webmasters responsible for links to their sites. This was considered an injustice by webmasters because they claimed they did not have control over external sites deciding to link to their own (which makes sense). Google of course understood this request and allowed website owners to disavow links considered spam via its webmaster tool.
Another Google update was introduced in 2012 that affected site owners with questionable practices. This update was designed to no longer promote sites with strategic keywords in their URLs (dentist.com, restaurant-montreal.ca etc.). Some still believe that this is a valid practice today but Google has stopped taking this into account to judge a site’s relevance.
Google Updates in 2013
The year 2013 featured the launch of “Hummingbird”. Unlike “Panda” and “Penguin” which are updates to the old Google algorithm, “Hummingbird” was a brand new algorithm! Google justified its new algorithm by explaining that the company wanted to respond to the new search trends of Internet users, especially with regard to voice searches.
For example, if a person living in Montreal wants to find a restaurant, they will likely enter terms such as “restaurant montreal”, “restaurants downtown”, etc. With voice searches, people are inclined (according to Google) to use phrases like “what is the best restaurant near me?” With the old algorithm, Google claimed that it could not provide the best results, unlike Hummingbird, which completely revised the way results were generated.
This argument failed to truly convince the web community because voice searches were not really able to break through quickly with users and the relevance of the results is not that revolutionary.
In all cases, the goal was still to provide more accuracy for conversational search results and attempt to understand the search intentions of Internet users. Since Google understood that not all its users have the same “search level”, the algorithm needed to be adapted to maintain its position as the leader in the search engine market. Maxence and Eugénie, the two founders of My Little Big Web, worked on the launch of Bing.fr at Microsoft France’s headquarters and spent hundreds of hours studying Google. According to them, the search engine is evolving so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up with the pace.
Google updates in 2014
This year was a slow one in terms of updates offered by Google, apart from Panda 4 which once again aimed to punish sites that offer poor quality content and use spam tactics to position their pages or that host link farms.
Google updates in 2015
2015 was the year of mobile. Faced with the rise in traffic from mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), Google decided to promote websites that offer the best mobile user experience, mainly through responsive design technology.
The update only applies to the search results of users who search from their smartphones, which makes sense because Google has no interest in displaying “unresponsive” pages on small screens.
Google updates in 2016
One of the major updates that shaped Google’s evolution in 2016 is the disappearance of ads on the right side of search results in order to provide a 4th spot in the first results.
From an SEO point of view, this mainly had the impact of pushing the natural results a little further down.
The “Possum” update was designed to improve local referencing. The steady increase in searches from mobile devices, including smartphones, prompted Google to continue its efforts in local SEO. This had a very positive impact on local businesses, which were often misranked simply because they were located on the city’s borders. The development of Google My Business has also enabled thousands of companies offering quality services to see their natural positioning improve considerably and strengthen the trust of their potential customers.
Google updates in 2017
Google kicked off 2017 by tackling anything that could affect the mobile user experience, including pop-ups or other windows that prevented users from accessing the content they wanted without clicking to close them.
The other major update this year was of course the switch to HTTPS for all websites, including non-transactional websites. Data security has always been a major concern for Google and the best way to encourage site owners to strengthen the security of data that flows through their pages is to announce its impact in terms of SEO positioning. So we all followed suit and made sure to secure our websites before the sanction was imposed.
This was not without its challenges for webmasters, since it was necessary to ensure that the proper redirects were put in place to ensure that the positioning that had been so hard won over the years was maintained.
Google updates in 2018
In March 2018, Google decided that instead of indexing desktop versions of web pages it would prioritize mobile versions. As you will recall, earlier in this article we mentioned that updates regarding mobile browsing only impacted traffic from mobile devices. This period has since passed and Google considers mobile traffic to be the most significant and important. Optimizing your site for mobile devices is no longer a choice but an obligation for website owners who want to ensure a good ranking and good SEO.
At the same time, Google wanted to accelerate the implementation of SSL certificates on websites by displaying a message that was not very reassuring for sites that had not yet installed their SSL certificates:
In doing so, Google tries to raise awareness of the importance of data protection among users and website owners.
Google updates in 2019
Google will pursue the actions undertaken in previous years by strengthening the indexation criteria with each update. Data security, the quality of information published online by site owners, local referencing, the strict condemnation of spam tactics, and the constant optimization of the mobile user experience are all criteria that continue to have an impact on search rankings.
First, we would like to congratulate those who had the fortitude to read this article in its entirety. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. As you can see, Google constantly updates its algorithm and SEO efforts can be highly rewarded or nullified depending on the methods used. At My Little Big Web, we have leveraged Google’s updates over the years because we have always respected the indexing criteria to gain popularity and help our customers do the same. Please contact us if you would like to receive support from our SEO experts. We look forward to hearing from you and thank you again for taking the time to read our articles 😊