The Google Algorithm Update: A History Lesson for Search Marketers and Businesses

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Google Algorithm Updates and Changes

Google Algorithm Change History

Here’s a thorough timeline into Google’s Search algorithm updates over the years. Currently, we’ve listed all the confirmed, core updates search marketers need to be aware of from 2016 till present.

This page will continue to be updated throughout history as Google makes changes to its search algorithm.

We’ve also included helpful resources from our SEO hub to help you prepare for or optimise your website after these changes have taken place.

Finally, here's a short, ever-changing list of software you can use to grow your organic search alongside search engines, as their algorithm evolves.

  • Webtexttool
  • Zag.ai
  • Google Search Console

2019 Updates and Changes

March 2019

March 2019 Core Update

On 13th March 2019, Google officially confirmed via Twitter, that a core global update was released. Named “March 2019 Core Update”. Specific details of the nature of this update was not included, but according to Search Engine Journal, it’s “one of the biggest updates in years.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This week, we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see these tweets for more about that:<a href="https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX">https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX</a><a href="https://t.co/tmfQkhdjPL">https://t.co/tmfQkhdjPL</a></p>&mdash; Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) <a href="https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1105842166788587520?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 13, 2019</a></blockquote>

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As this was a broad update, there is nothing special for search marketers, analytics and webmasters to implement - as no specific niches, websites or industries were targeted.

2018 Updates and Changes

September 2018

Small Unnamed Update

A small update was officially confirmed by Google’s Danny Sullivan. Details weren’t provided, but a number of health/medical websites have been reporting huge recoveries from August 2018’s broad core “Medic” update.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Our core algorithm is updated all the time. For major updates, we&#39;ll continue to share about those on <a href="https://twitter.com/searchliaison?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@searchliaison</a>, as we have been. We haven&#39;t had a major update of that nature, but we did have a smaller one this week.</p>&mdash; Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) <a href="https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/1046145741243047936?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 29, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Note: If you run a health or medical-based website and still haven't recovered from this update - get in touch with us today. We'll help match you with an SEO provider that has worked with many health/medical websites just like yours.

August 2018

Broad Core Algorithm Update

Google’s third “broad core algorithm update” was confirmed on August 1st 2018. Whilst it has been noted that many industries and verticals were affected by this update, medical and health websites have taken the biggest hit. As a result of this, search marketers everywhere have touted this as the “Medic Update”.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March, as we covered here: <a href="https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX">https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX</a></p>&mdash; Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) <a href="https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1024691872025833472?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 1, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Since this was a broad update, there was no specific things for websites to fix. However, Google insisted that you must “have great content”, providing a link to their rater’s guidelines. A 200-paged document used by Google search quality evaluators to rate web results.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Want to do better with a broad change? Have great content. Yeah, the same boring answer. But if you want a better idea of what we consider great content, read our raters guidelines. That&#39;s like almost 200 pages of things to consider: <a href="https://t.co/pO3AHxFVrV">https://t.co/pO3AHxFVrV</a></p>&mdash; Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) <a href="https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/1024771615265980417?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 1, 2018</a></blockquote>

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It is advised that you create content which meets or exceeds the guidelines set forth in the document above.

Note: The rating’s provided by a Google search quality evaluator has no direct impact on the rankings of a website or pages they rate as “low quality”. Instead, the data is used to improve Google’s search algorithm so that low quality pages don’t rank higher than more deserving pages.

April 2018

Core Unnamed Algorithm Update

A core, unnamed, algorithm update was confirmed by Google on Monday 16th April 2018. According to reports from search marketers and Google themselves, this update, much like last month’s update, focused on content relevancy. In short, pages with content that best answered a searcher’s query, would rank higher.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">On Monday, we released a broad core algorithm update, as we routinely do throughout the year. For background and advice about these, see our tweet from last month: <a href="https://t.co/uPlEdSu6xp">https://t.co/uPlEdSu6xp</a></p>&mdash; Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) <a href="https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/987397051997663232?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 20, 2018</a></blockquote>

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During a Google Hangout session held earlier in April, John Mueller of Google said that websites which lost their rankings during this period were not penalised because of “poor content quality”, but relevance, which websites can lose over time.

Instead, to recover from this, search marketers and publishers should invest in learning more about their audience and how they currently interact with their content. (Surveys, conversion data etc).

For example, if a particular page has low dwell time, this signals to Google that perhaps this page isn’t the most relevant for this search query.

March 2018

Brackets - Core Algorithm Update

Codenamed “Brackets”, Google confirmed the release of a broad, core algorithm update on March 9th 2018. It’s goal is to provide greater benefits to pages that were previously unrewarded. The changes now favours pages that are most relevant to a searcher’s query.

To ensure the content you create is relevant for your target audience, you must factor in searcher’s intent. Tools such as Webtexttool, MarketMuse and Clearscope helps you uncover additional topics to cover within your content, to increase relevance with your target search queries.

2017 Updates and Changes

November 2017

Search Snippet Increase Update

After years of testing, Google released an update on November 30th 2017 which increased the size of search snippets across millions of results. Notably, the limit for meta-descriptions increased from 155 to 300 characters. For search marketers, this presented an additional opportunity to claim more SERP real estate by writing longer descriptions.

Update: Several months later, Google reversed its decision, limiting meta-descriptions back to 155 characters or 920 px wide (whichever is smaller).

Note: This is partly why we never advise businesses to make large sweeping changes across their pages as soon as Google makes a change. Unless the way people search for information online significantly changes, it’s best to stick to SEO best practices until the dust settles.

Unfortunately, many SEO plugins and CMS platforms have still not made this reversal known to customers. Even in 2019, publishers and search marketers are led astray into submitting poorly optimised meta data. That is, truncated, resulting in lower click-throughs.

May 2017

Minor Algorithm Update

An unconfirmed, minor algorithm update was reported to be released on May 17th 2017. For about 7 days, many webmasters reported sweeping declines in search visibility. The websites most affected by these changes were content farms and websites using deceptive advertising practices to earn revenue.

January 2017

Intrusive Interstitials Update

Google released a core update on January 10th 2017 that could deliver an “Intrusive Interstitial” penalty to websites who push aggressive popups, adverts and interstitials that hurt the mobile search and user experience.

Five months prior, on August 23rd 2016, Google announced this update was coming as a warning to webmasters to improve the mobile user experience of their website.

The impact of this update was very minimal, even on websites who delivered intrusive interstitials.

2016 Updates and Changes

September 2016

Penguin 4.0 Update

On September 23rd 2016, Penguin 4.0 was implemented and fully-integrated into Google’s core search algorithm. At first, the effects of Penguin 4.0 was very minimal. However, its rollout took place in phases, focusing on devaluing links rather than pages.

May 2016

Mobile-Friendly Update #2

Google released another update on May 12th 2016, which gives a further ranking boost to mobile-friendly websites and pages. This update, a year after the first mobile-friendly update, makes mobile-friendliness an official ranking factor.

January 2016

Panda 4.2 Core Algorithm Update

On January 11th 2016, Google confirmed that Panda has become part of their search algorithm. What was previously an internal filter used for testing, Panda 4.2 now works in real-time.

2015 Updates and Changes

Coming soon.

About the Author
David is the Founder of Grow Hack Scale, a growth marketing company that teaches and implements fast-growth product marketing strategies across the entire funnel for organisations with products that make the world a better place.