Google's algorithm has a massive impact. Google Search is such a prominent resource in answering questions for so many people and many businesses, organizations, and creators optimize their web content for Google search engine users. That's why it's so important that Google is continually adapting and improving its algorithm.
This article will help you understand the Google algorithm, the frequency of updates, updates that have already been applied, and updates that are to come.
Table of Contents:
- What is the Google algorithm?
- Frequency of Google Algorithm Updates
- Major Historical Updates
- How to Prepare for the May 2021 Google Algorithm Update
- How to keep up with Google Algorithm Updates
WHAT IS THE GOOGLE ALGORITHM?
Google algorithms work in a complex system to answer a user search query in the best possible way. Each Google algorithm uses a set of rules, combined with data from its index, to calculate which web pages answer a user search, and then the search engine uses its programmed ranking signals to organize content according to its relevance to the user search query in search results.
Frequency of Google Algorithm Updates
When Google first started, they weren't making nearly as many updates to their algorithm as they are today. Now, Google makes thousands of updates — large and small — every year.
Most of them are micro-updates, and webmasters and users are relatively unaffected, but every once and a while Google announces a major algorithm update. These larger algorithm updates are typically events that SEO professionals and webmasters need to plan for.
When Google will be making a significant change — or set of changes — to its algorithms, it calls it a "core update" meaning that a core part of the algorithm will change, and it will have a more significant impact on SEO or user experience.
A Short History of Google Algorithm Updates
Here is a list of the major Google algorithm updates over the past 10 years and a short summary of what each meant to webmasters and users.
- Caffeine (2010)
- Panda (2011)
- Penguine (2012)
- Hummingbird (2013)
- Pigeon (2013)
- Mobilegeddon (2015)
- Intrusive Interstitials Update (2017)
- Mobile Page Speed Update (2018)
CAFFEINE INDEX UPDATE (2010)
In June of 2010, Google launched its new Caffeine indexing system. The new indexing system was intended to speed up search results for users and help publishers get their content seen faster.
It helped Google to crawl and store data far more efficiently. According to Google, "Caffeine provide[d] 50 percent fresher results for web searches than our last index, and it's the largest collection of web content we've offered."– Google
This algorithm change was made in an overarching effort to speed up the internet and meet the demand of a rapid-growing web. So, to go along with this overarching mission, Google announced site speed would be a Google ranking signal around the same time.
Impact on SEO:
Although the Caffeine index update didn't include any new ranking factors, the update came as a part of Google's overarching "speed up the internet" initiative which made desktop site speed a new ranking signal and emphasized the importance of website performance.
Caffeine gave users a better experience by enabling Google to index more content across the web.
Panda Update (2011)
The Panda update introduced a new ranking signal which penalized content farms and keyword stuffing as part of Google's mission to serve users quality content. It resulted in improvements to search results by identifying thin, spammy, and low-quality content and then removing it from top search rankings.
Impact on SEO:
Many members of the SEO community had to change their tactics. Black hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing no longer worked as well and SEOs had to adjust by ensuring that content was really providing value to readers and answers search queries effectively.
Penguin Update (2012)
The purpose of Penguin was to target websites that had webspam and used manipulative link building tactics. Google called it the "webspam algorithm update."
Because of this update, the algorithm is now able to identify whether or not the links going back to a certain page are legitimate or are simply spam.
Impact on SEO:
The Penguin update also targeted black hat SEO techniques. Manipulative link-building techniques no longer worked and backlink profiles with a high volume of low-quality links began to see decreases in their organic traffic and rankings.
After Penguin, failure to comply with Google Webmaster Guidelines resulted in ranking penalizations.
The Hummingbird Google algorithm update greatly impacted the search engine experience. This update enabled Google to better understand what we call "search intent." It made it so that the search engine was able to contextualize user queries and website information more accurately and connect the two.
Impact on SEO:
The Hummingbird update ultimately made it easier for users to find the most relevant pages to answer their queries. This encourages the search community to better investigate the search intent behind specific keywords and to try to optimize for it.
The Pigeon Google Algorithm Core Update focused on improving local search. Pigeon was designed to close the gap between Google's local search algorithm and Google's web algorithm in order to improve ranking parameters based on physical proximity.
Impact on SEO:
The pigeon update had a massive impact on the local search community. It made it easier for small businesses to reach a local audience. Now, if small businesses implement basic SEO best practices, — like getting backlinks and growing domain authority — it could improve their chances of ranking.
Additionally, because of Pigeon, it is now more important that small businesses contextualize their business as local in their content, follow local SEO practices like getting local reviews, and implement structured data markup to be easily featured in rich results for local searches.
Mobilegeddon "Mobile-friendliness" Update (2015)
Also known as Google's "mobile-friendly" update, Mobilegeddon came out in April of 2015. This would be the first major update to address Google's "mobile-first" initiative. In order for a page to be considered mobile-friendly, it needs to meet specific visual requirements. Specifically, the proportions need to be conducive to the screen of a mobile device (smartphone).
Impact on SEO:
Mobile-friendliness became a new ranking signal. Web pages that offer mobile-friendly versions of their websites are now prioritized in search results. This only applies to individual pages and not entire websites.
Intrusive Interstitials Update (2017)
In 2017, Google updated its algorithm to cut down on what's called intrusive interstitials. Intrusive interstitials are essentially large pop-ups. They are ads that cover a large portion of a page and make it more difficult for a user to view the content of a page and find the information they need.
Google explained that the intent of the update was to keep spam at a minimum and enhance SEO, but even if the content has intrusive interstitials, it can still get high search rankings if it effectively answers user search queries.
Impact on SEO:
Due to this update, intrusive interstitials became an SEO ranking penalty.
Mobile Page Speed Update (2018)
In January of 2018, Google posted about a "speed update" to the algorithm that would include new ranking signals which favor pages with fast mobile page speed in mobile search results. This update was a part of both Google's overarching "speed up the internet" initiative and Google's "mobile-first" initiative.
In order to measure fast mobile speed, and get a more accurate representation of the mobile loading experience for real users, Google announced that PageSpeed Insights would now include data from the Chrome User Experience Report and they explained which loading metrics developers and webmasters need to pay attention to. At the time, Google favored First Contentful Paint ( FCP ) and DOM Content Loaded ( DCL ) as two of the most important indicators of a fast loading experience and these metrics could be — this has since changed.
Impact on SEO:
The mobile page speed update made mobile page speed a ranking factor in mobile search results. Sites with really fast mobile pages did better in search results, while pages with slow speeds lost rankings. SEOs need to work with developers or software to solve mobile speed problems.
BERT Update (2019)
The BERT algorithm (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a natural language processing machine learning system. It helps a search engine to understand what words in a sentence mean to a human being. The BERT update enables Google to understand search queries more effectively and determine which content is of higher quality, and more relevant to user search queries. After BERT, Google can determine nuance and subtle distinctions of meaning for words based on context.
How does it work? Well, for example, if you say "he's the GOAT" you don't mean he's a farm animal. You mean he's "the greatest of all time." With Google's natural language processing ability, Google would be able to make that distinction.
Impact on SEO:
BERT changes the way SEO copywriters write about topics. Specific keywords become less important and the natural language associated with specific keywords becomes more important. If you are writing quality content on a given topic, giving the correct information, and are in conversation with others who have already written on the topic (citing sources), then the Google algorithm should be able to pick up on that.
How To Prepare for the June 2021 Google Algorithm Update
In June 2021, Google will be releasing another Core Algorithm Update. The purpose of this update is to improve the user loading experience, which Google refers to as "page experience." The update will include new ranking signals called the Core Web Vitals, which consist of three loading metrics: largest contentful paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS).
This update is also part of Google's overarching "speed up the internet" initiative and will favor websites that score "good" on these three metrics (though it will still only be one of many ranking factors).
How to Improve Page Speed:
There are many things you can do improve your core web vitals, and each metric requires different solutions and some troubleshooting.
Of course, we recommend using Huckabuy Page Speed software as an automated solution to speeding up your website. We also recommend using a CDN to help with rendering speeds. For information on how to improve each loading metric, click the linked articles above.
How to Keep Up With Algorithm Updates
If you want to keep up with algorithm updates, the best way to do so is to follow Google's major search news outlets like the Chromium blog, the Google Developers blog, and their search-focused Twitter account @googlesearchc. Another great resource to learn about algorithm updates is Search Engine Journal
Frequently Asked Questions
How does Google's algorithm work?
Broadly speaking, Google’s ranking systems are made up of a series of algorithms. These search algorithms look at many factors based around the following 5 categories: the meaning of the query, the relevance of web pages, the quality of content, the usability of web pages, and the context and settings to serve up the best possible results. The weight applied to each one of the factors within these categories depends on the nature of the query.
What is Google's latest algorithm update?
The latest core algorithm is set to roll out in June 2021. It is called the “page experience” update and it will penalize sites with poor user experience, measured in terms of the loading speed, responsiveness, and visual stability, as well as whether the site is secure and safe to browse, is mobile friendly, and has a good advertising experience.
How often does Google change their algorithm?
Google updates its algorithm thousands of times per year. Most of the changes are small and go unnoticed by webmasters. Infrequently, Google will announce major “core” algorithm updates and will give webmasters plenty of lead time to prepare accordingly based on the changes that will be rolled out.
Why does Google change their algorithm?
Google is on a mission to organize the world’s information in an accessible and useful way. Their algorithms are getting better and better at providing a great user experience in their search results, but it is a work in progress. Each algorithm update is a step forward in their mission to provide the best possible search results.
What is the best way to prepare for Google algorithm updates?
Broadly speaking, the best way to prepare for Google algorithm changes is to simply focus on producing great content, on a technically sound website, with high-quality external and internal links. If you do this, you won’t have to worry much about upcoming changes. If you are still concerned, the best way to stay updated is to follow Google's major search news outlets like the Chromium blog, the Google Developers blog, and their search-focused Twitter account @googlesearchc.