Google Algorithm Updates
Google upgraded their algorithm and underlying hardware to support the BERT natural language processing (NLP) model. BERT helps Google better interpret natural language searches and understand context.
SERP trackers registered multiple days of ranking flux, with MozCast showing early signs on October 2 and peaking at 98°F on October 4. Google did not confirm an update, and no details were forthcoming.
Google rolled out another core update. The update measured at 97°F on MozCast (fairly high, but not historically high) and seemed to impact sites affected by previous core updates. Google did not provide many details.
Ranking trackers and webmaster chatter registered a week of heavy flux (MozCast peaked at 95°F on July 16) that was later dubbed the “Maverick” update by the search community. Google did not confirm an update, and details were limited.
Google pre-announced a “site diversity” update, claiming it would improve situations where sites had more than two organic listings. Moz data showed that, while the update did marginally improve SERPs with 3-5 duplicate sites on page one, the impact was relatively small.
Google confirmed a bug that dropped pages from the search index around the weekend of April 5th. Moz data suggested drops on April 5th and 7th, with about 4% of stable URLs falling off of page one. Most sites recovered soon after.
Google confirmed a “core” update, stating it was the third major core update since they began using that label. MozCast hit a peak of 101.2°F, a bit below March 1st temperatures. No specific details were given about the nature of the update.
For one day, Google showed anomalous page-1 counts, with up to 19 organic results. These appeared to be related to In-depth Articles, which disappeared entirely on March 6. MozCast reached 108.2°F, but it’s unclear how much of this was due to the temporary boost in organic counts.
After a relatively quiet December and January, tracking tools detected heavy ranking flux, with MozCast reaching 103.4°F.
2018 Algorithm Updates
Google confirmed a “broad core algorithm update,” with wide reports of massive impact. It rolled out over the period of about a week, but peaked on August 1-2. This update seemed to disproportionately affect sites in the health and wellness vertical, although large-scale impact was seen in all verticals.
After warning users of unsecured (non-HTTPS) forms months earlier, Chrome 68 began marking all non-HTTPS sites as “not secure.” The changes rolled out on July 24, but rely on users installing the latest Chrome version, which can take weeks or months.
Algorithm trackers and webmaster chatter signaled heavy rankings flux, but Google did not confirm. MozCast recorded its highest temperature in 2018 at 114°F.
Six months after announcing it, Google rolled out the mobile page speed update, making page speed a ranking factor for mobile results. Google claimed that this only affected the slowest mobile sites, and there was no evidence of major mobile rankings shifts.
Google moved videos from organic-like results with thumbnails into a dedicated video carousel, causing a shake-up in results that were previously tracked as organic. At the same time, the number of SERPs with videos increased significantly (+60% in MozCast).
Algorithm tracking tools and webmaster chatter showed heavy activity, but Google did not confirm an update. MozCast showed very high temperatures over a 3-day period, peaking on May 23.
After testing longer display snippets of up to 300+ characters for a few months, Google rolled back most snippets to the former limit (about 150-160 characters).
MozCast picked up heavy algorithm flux that peaked on April 17 and continued for over a week. Google later confirmed a “core” update, but didn’t provide any specifics and the update wasn’t named by Google or the SEO community.
Google announced that the mobile-first index was finally “rolling out.” Since the index has been in testing for many months, and Google has suggested they are migrating sites gradually, it’s unclear how much impact this specific roll-out had on the overall index. Webmaster should begin to see notifications within Google Search Console.
On a small set of Knowledge Cards, including some time/date queries and unit conversion calculators, Google started displaying zero organic results and a “Show all results” button. A week later, Google stopped this test, but we believe it is an important sign of things to come.
Google confirmed a “core” update on March 7th, but volatility spiked as early as March 4th, with a second spike on March 8th, and continued for almost two weeks. This may have been multiple updates or one prolonged, rolling update. The “Brackets” name was coined by Glenn Gabe; no details were provided by Google.
Rankings showed a spike in volatility (across a number of tools) around February 20th, which quickly settled down, sometimes signalling a targeted algorithm update. Google did not confirm any update in this time period.
2017 Algorithm Updates
Chatter and several tools showed ranking volatility around December 14th. Barry Schwartz named this the “Maccabees” update, but Google would only confirm that several small updates had happened in the general timeline. Pre-holiday updates tend to get more attention (and are generally rarer) due to their disruptive effect on e-commerce.
After testing longer search snippets for over two years, Google increased them across a large number of results. This led us to adopt a new Meta Description limit — up to 300 characters from the previous 155 (almost doubling). Google confirmed an update to how snippets are handled, but didn’t provide details.
Algorithm trackers and webmaster chatter detected a high amount of flux, peaking (in our data) around November 15. Google did not confirm an official update.
Over a period of a few days from October 27-31, there was a substantial drop in Featured Snippets. This co-occurred with a jump in Knowledge Panels, as Google seemed to add many panels for broad terms and objects (“travel”, “toilet”, “web design”, etc.). Some of these panels disappeared around December 15.
With the launch of Chrome 62, Google started warning visitors to sites with unsecured forms. While not an algorithm update, this was an important step in Google’s push toward HTTPS and may have a material impact on site traffic.
Algorithm trackers (including MozCast) and webmaster chatter spotted increasing flux starting around September 25th, which seemed to spike on the 27th, after a period of relative calm. No update was officially confirmed.
Google officially launched their jobs portal, including a stand-alone 3-pack of job listings in search results. These results drew data from almost all of the major providers, including LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor, and CareerBuilder.
MozCast and other tools tracked a massive, multi-day spike that kicked off around May 17th. This preceded a sustained period of high algorithmic flux that may not have settled down for months.
According to our MozCast 10K tracking set, half of page-1 Google organic results were secure/HTTPs as of mid-April. This increased to close to 75% by the end of 2017.
Google rolled out what appeared to be a major update, with reports of widespread impacts across the SEO community. Gary Illyes jokingly referred to is as “Fred”, and the name stuck, but he later made it clear that this was not an official confirmation.
Algorithm changes beginning on February 1st continued for a full week, peaking around February 6th (some reported the 7th). Webmaster chatter and industry case studies suggest these were separate events.
There was a period of heavy algorithm flux starting around February 1st and peaking around February 6th. It is unclear whether this was multiple algorithm updates or a single update with an extended roll-out, but anecdotal evidence suggests at least two updates.
Google started rolling out a penalty to punish aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience. Google also provided a rare warning of this update five months in advance. MozCast showed high temperatures from January 10-11, but many SEOs reported minimal impact on sites that should have been affected.
2016 Algorithm Updates
Multiple Google trackers showed massive flux around December 14-15, including a rare MozCast temperature of 109°F. Webmaster chatter was heavy as well, but Google did not confirm an update.
MozCast detected a major (106°) spike on November 10th and another on the 18th. Industry chatter was high during both periods, with some suggesting that the second spike was a reversal of the first update. Google has not confirmed either event. Many people reported bad dates in SERPs during the same time period, but it’s unclear whether this was causal or just a coincidence.
The second phase of Penguin 4.0 was the reversal of all previous Penguin penalties. This seemed to happen after the new code rolled out, and may have taken as long as two weeks. Post-Penguin activity had one final peak on October 6th (116°), but it is unclear whether this was Penguin or a new update. Algorithm temperatures finally started to drop after October 6th.
The first phase of Penguin 4.0, which probably launched around September 22-23, was the rollout of the new, “gentler” Penguin algorithm, which devalues bad links instead of penalizing sites. The exact timeline is unconfirmed, but we believe this rollout took at least a few days to fully update, and may have corresponded to an algorithm temperature spike (113°) on September 27th.
After almost two years of waiting, Google finally announced a major Penguin update. They suggested the new Penguin is now real-time and baked into the “core” algorithm. Initial impact assessments were small, but it was later revealed that the Penguin 4.0 rollout was unusually long and multi-phase (see September 27th and October 6th).
MozCast recorded a nearly-record 111° temperature and a 50% drop in SERPs with image (universal/vertical) results. The universal result shake-up opened up an organic position on page 1, causing substantial ranking shifts, but it’s likely that this was part of a much larger update.
While unconfirmed by Google, MozCast recorded extreme temperatures of 108° and a drop in local pack prevalence, and the local SEO community noted a major shake-up in pack results. Data suggests this update (or a simultaneous update) also heavily impacted organic results.
Just more than a year after the original “mobile friendly” update, Google rolled out another ranking signal boost to benefit mobile-friendly sites on mobile search. Since the majority of sites we track are already mobile-friendly, it’s likely the impact of the latest update was small.
MozCast and other Google weather trackers showed a historically rare week-long pattern of algorithm activity, including a 97-degree spike. Google would not confirm this update, and no explanation is currently available.
Google made major changes to AdWords, removing right-column ads entirely and rolling out 4-ad top blocks on many commercial searches. While this was a paid search update, it had significant implications for CTR for both paid and organic results, especially on competitive keywords.
Multiple tracking tools (including MozCast) reported historically-large rankings movement, which Google later confirmed as a “core algo update”. Google officially said that this was not a Penguin update, but details remain sketchy.
2015 Algorithm Updates
RankBrain* — October 26, 2015
Google made a major announcement, revealing that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months, contributing to the 3rd most influential ranking factor. *Note: This is an announcement date – we believe the actual launch was closer to spring 2015.
Panda 4.2 (#28) — July 17, 2015
Google announced what was most likely a Panda data refresh, saying that it could take months to fully roll out. The immediate impact was unclear, and there were no clear signs of a major algorithm update.
Google Panda Update: Everything We Know About Panda 4.2 (The SEM Post)
Google Panda 4.2 Is Here (SEL)
The Quality Update — May 3, 2015
After many reports of large-scale ranking changes, originally dubbed “Phantom 2”, Google acknowledged a core algorithm change impacting “quality signals”. This update seems to have had a broad impact, but Google didn’t reveal any specifics about the nature of the signals involved.
Mobile Update AKA “Mobilegeddon” — April 22, 2015
In a rare move, Google pre-announced an algorithm update, telling us that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly sites starting on April 21st. The impact of this update was, in the short-term, much smaller than expected, and our data showed that algorithm flux peaked on April 22nd.
Unnamed Update — February 4, 2015
Multiple SERP-trackers and many webmasters reported major flux in Google SERPs. Speculation ranged from an e-commerce focused update to a mobile usability update. Google did not officially confirm an update.
Google Brand-eCommerce “Update” causing fluctuations (Searchmetrics)
2014 Algorithm Updates
Pigeon Expands (UK, CA, AU) — December 22, 2014
Google’s major local algorithm update, dubbed “Pigeon”, expanded to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The original update hit the United States in July 2014. The update was confirmed on the 22nd but may have rolled out as early as the 19th.
Local Search Results Affected as Google Pigeon Update Hits UK (Strategy Digital)
Penguin Everflux — December 10, 2014
A Google representative said that Penguin had shifted to continuous updates, moving away from infrequent, major updates. While the exact timeline was unclear, this claim seemed to fit ongoing flux after Penguin 3.0 (including unconfirmed claims of a Penguin 3.1).
Pirate 2.0 — October 21, 2014
More than two years after the original DMCA/”Pirate” update, Google launched another update to combat software and digital media piracy. This update was highly targeted, causing dramatic drops in ranking to a relatively small group of sites.
Google Pirate Update Analysis and Loser List (Searchmetrics)
Google’s New Search Downranking Hits Torrent Sites Hard (TorrentFreak)
Penguin 3.0 — October 17, 2014
More than a year after the previous Penguin update (2.1), Google launched a Penguin refresh. This update appeared to be smaller than expected (<1% of US/English queries affected) and was probably data-only (not a new Penguin algorithm). The timing of the update was unclear, especially internationally, and Google claimed it was spread out over “weeks”.
“In The News” Box — October 2014
Google made what looked like a display change to News-box results, but later announced that they had expanded news links to a much larger set of potential sites. The presence of news results in SERPs also spiked, and major news sites reported substantial traffic changes.
Panda 4.1 (#27) — September 23, 2014
Google announced a significant Panda update, which included an algorithmic component. They estimated the impact at 3-5% of queries affected. Given the “slow rollout,” the exact timing was unclear.
Authorship Removed — August 28, 2014
Following up on the June 28th drop of authorship photos, Google announced that they would be completely removing authorship markup (and would no longer process it). By the next morning, authorship bylines had disappeared from all SERPs.
Official Announcement from John Mueller (Google+)
HTTPS/SSL Update — August 6, 2014
After months of speculation, Google announced that they would be giving preference to secure sites, and that adding encryption would provide a “lightweight” rankings boost. They stressed that this boost would start out small, but implied it might increase if the changed proved to be positive.
HTTPS as a ranking signal (Google)
Pigeon — July 24, 2014
Google shook the local SEO world with an update that dramatically altered some local results and modified how they handle and interpret location cues. Google claimed that Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s).
Google Updates Local Algo with More Web Based Signals – Turmoil in SERPs (Blumenthals.com)
Authorship Photo Drop — June 28, 2014
John Mueller made a surprise announcement (on June 25th) that Google would be dropping all authorship photos from SERPs (after heavily promoting authorship as a connection to Google+). The drop was complete around June 28th.
Payday Loan 3.0 — June 12, 2014
Less than a month after the Payday Loan 2.0 anti-spam update, Google launched another major iteration. Official statements suggested that 2.0 targeted specific sites, while 3.0 targeted spammy queries.
Panda 4.0 (#26) — May 19, 2014
Google confirmed a major Panda update that likely included both an algorithm update and a data refresh. Officially, about 7.5% of English-language queries were affected. While Matt Cutts said it began rolling out on 5/20, our data strongly suggests it started earlier.
Payday Loan 2.0 — May 16, 2014
Just prior to Panda 4.0, Google updated it’s “payday loan” algorithm, which targets especially spammy queries. The exact date of the roll-out was unclear (Google said “this past weekend” on 5/20), and the back-to-back updates made the details difficult to sort out.
Unnamed Update — March 24, 2014
Major algorithm flux trackers and webmaster chatter spiked around 3/24-3/25, and some speculated that the new, “softer” Panda update had arrived. Many sites reported ranking changes, but this update was never confirmed by Google.
Page Layout #3 — February 6, 2014
Google “refreshed” their page layout algorithm, also known as “top heavy”. Originally launched in January 2012, the page layout algorithm penalizes sites with too many ads above the fold.
2013 Algorithm Updates
Authorship Shake-up — December 19, 2013
As predicted by Matt Cutts at Pubcon Las Vegas, authorship mark-up disappeared from roughly 15% of queries over a period of about a month. The fall bottomed out around December 19th, but the numbers remain volatile and have not recovered to earlier highs.
Unnamed Update — December 17, 2013
Almost all global flux trackers registered historically high activity. Google would not confirm an update, suggesting that they avoid updates near the holidays. MozCast also registered a rise in some Partial-Match Domains (PMDs), but the patterns were unclear.
The Biggest SERP Flux Since Penguin 2.0 (Dejan SEO)
Unnamed Update — November 14, 2013
Multiple Google trackers picked up unusual activity, which co-occurred with a report of widespread DNS errors in Google Webmaster Tools. Google did not confirm an update, and the cause and nature of this flux was unclear.
Penguin 2.1 (#5) — October 4, 2013
After a 4-1/2 month gap, Google launched another Penguin update. Given the 2.1 designation, this was probably a data update (primarily) and not a major change to the Penguin algorithm. The overall impact seemed to be moderate, although some webmasters reported being hit hard.
Hummingbird — August 20, 2013
Announced on September 26th, Google suggested that the “Hummingbird” update rolled out about a month earlier. Our best guess ties it to a MozCast spike on August 20th and many reports of flux from August 20-22. Hummingbird has been compared to Caffeine, and seems to be a core algorithm update that may power changes to semantic search and the Knowledge Graph for months to come.
In-depth Articles — August 6, 2013
Google added a new type of news result called “in-depth articles”, dedicated to more evergreen, long-form content. At launch, it included links to three articles, and appeared across about 3% of the searches that MozCast tracks.
In-depth articles in search results (Google)
Unnamed Update — July 26, 2013
MozCast tracked a large Friday spike (105° F), with other sources showing significant activity over the weekend. Google has not confirmed this update.
MozCast Update (Google+)
Knowledge Graph Expansion — July 19, 2013
Seemingly overnight, queries with Knowledge Graph (KG) entries expanded by more than half (+50.4%) across the MozCast data set, with more than a quarter of all searches showing some kind of KG entry.
Panda Recovery — July 18, 2013
Google confirmed a Panda update, but it was unclear whether this was one of the 10-day rolling updates or something new. The implication was that this was algorithmic and may have “softened” some previous Panda penalties.
Multi-Week Update — June 27, 2013
Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted a reply suggesting a “multi-week” algorithm update between roughly June 12th and “the week after July 4th”. The nature of the update was unclear, but there was massive rankings volatility during that time period, peaking on June 27th (according to MozCast data). It appears that Google may have been testing some changes that were later rolled back.
“Payday Loan” Update — June 11, 2013
Google announced a targeted algorithm update to take on niches with notoriously spammy results, specifically mentioning payday loans and porn. The update was announced on June 11th, but Matt Cutts suggested it would roll out over a 1-2 month period.
Panda Dance — June 11, 2013
While not an actual Panda update, Matt Cutts made an important clarification at SMX Advanced, suggesting that Panda was still updating monthly, but each update rolled out over about 10 days. This was not the “everflux” many people had expected after Panda #25.
Penguin 2.0 (#4) — May 22, 2013
After months of speculation bordering on hype, the 4th Penguin update (dubbed “2.0” by Google) arrived with only moderate impact. The exact nature of the changes were unclear, but some evidence suggested that Penguin 2.0 was more finely targeted to the page level.
Domain Crowding — May 21, 2013
Google released an update to control domain crowding/diversity deep in the SERPs (pages 2+). The timing was unclear, but it seemed to roll out just prior to Penguin 2.0 in the US and possibly the same day internationally.
Google Domain Crowding Update: May 2013 (High Position)
Google Domain Clustering Update (Justin Briggs)
“Phantom” — May 9, 2013
In the period around May 9th, there were many reports of an algorithm update (also verified by high MozCast activity). The exact nature of this update was unknown, but many sites reported significant traffic loss.
Panda #25 — March 14, 2013
Matt Cutts pre-announced a Panda update at SMX West, and suggested it would be the last update before Panda was integrated into the core algorithm. The exact date was unconfirmed, but MozCast data suggests 3/13-3/14.
Panda #24 — January 22, 2013
Google announced its first official update of 2013, claiming 1.2% of queries affected. This did not seem related to talk of an update around 1/17-18 (which Google did not confirm).