A history of Google algorithm change

Welcome to the first post in a series we’ll be putting together to plot the evolution of Google’s algorithm and other notable Google organic search news. We’ve started the series with a brief look at the main events in its history to date, starting with the ‘Caffeine’ update in 2010.

Google’s Algorithm is used to determine which factors affect a website’s ranking. This is constantly changed to ensure cheaters or fraudulent websites are not abusing the system and gaining a high place in their search results. Over the years there have been many major Google algorithm roll-outs and updates to these which have affected the way search engine optimisation is done for many websites.

Jump to 2014   2013   2012

Caffeine – June 2010

One of the first major updates from Google was back in the middle of 2010 with their Caffeine algorithm. This was designed to improve the indexing speed for users and provide fresher results. According to Google, this resulted in a 50% fresher results page.


Panda/Farmer – February 23, 2011

This was a major algorithm update that, according to Google, affected up to 12% of search results. This update was focused around cracking down on thin content, content farms, websites with large amount of adverts and other quality issues.


The +1 Button – March 30, 2011

The +1 button was introduced to Google+ and SERPs, clicking the +1 button allowed users to affect the returned results for those within their social circles, on both organic and paid results. The +1 button was removed from SERPs and replaced with a “Share” button to users who were logged in to Google+, this has also since disappeared.


Panda 2.0 – April 11, 2011

Google launched new ways of allowing users to block particular sites including a Chrome extension and a “block link” button in the search results, and Panda used this information to test that the Panda update was on target, they found an 84% overlap in sites that were hit by panda and sites that were blocked by users, confirming the algorithm was working correctly.


Google+ – June 28, 2011

Google attempted to join the social media arena various times, but it wasn’t until the launch of Google+ that it appeared they were taking it very seriously. The platform was based on sharing content within social circles of users’ friends, co-workers, family, etc. and it was integrated with other Google services such as Gmail. Within 2 weeks of launch, Google+ reached 10 Million users.


Pagination Elements – September 15, 2011

Google introduced the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” attributes to enable easier indication of the relationship between component URLs in a paginated series. Using these attributes indicates to Google that you would like them to group component pages/URLs to the series as a whole, and to send users to the most relevant page of the series, typically the first page.


Ads Above The Fold – January 19, 2012

Websites with too much ad-space above the fold were punished with an unnamed Google update often referenced as “Top Heavy” by SEOs. This was done to improve the user experience on some websites after there were complaints of it being difficult to find the main bulk of content.


Penguin – April 24, 2012

Google rolled out a “Webspam Update” which affected certain spam factors including keyword stuffing. This update impacted around 3.1% of English queries and was dubbed “Penguin”. One month later, Google rolled out a targeted data update for Penguin which confirmed it was running outside of the main index, similar to Panda.


DMCA Penalty (“Pirate”) — August 10, 2012

Google began punishing sites that had repeated copyright violations, likely via DMCA takedown requests, dubbed the “Pirate” update.


Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update – September 27, 2012

The EMD Update is a filter Google launched that prevents bad quality websites from ranking well simply because they have good keywords in their domains. When this updates, previously affected sites that have improved content may recover, and others who previously missed being caught by the update may be finally penalized.


Panda #20 – September 27, 2012

On the same day as the EMD update, a major Panda update occurred. According to Google it affected 2.4% of queries.


Panda #25 — March 14, 2013

Panda #25 was released, which would be the last update before Panda was merged into the core algorithm.


Penguin 2.0 – May 22, 2013

Penguin 2.0 was speculated for months, yet arrived with only a small impact, some evidence suggests that this update was targeted to the page level.


“Payday Loan” Update – June 11, 2013

The “Payday Loan” update landed with a view to deal with spammy search queries such as “Payday Loan” and other spammed queries, it also affected unique link schemes and impacted roughly 0.3% of US queries, and up to 4% for Turkish queries.


Hummingbird – August 20, 2013

Google stated that Hummingbird was released to produce better results by focusing on the meaining behind conversational search phrases, for example “What’s the closest place to buy X from my home?”. The update will also power changes to semantic search and the knowledge graph.


Penguin 2.1 (#5) – October 4, 2013

Google has named this update Penguin 2.1 themselves, however it is the 5th iteration of the algorithm. Matt Cutts stated that it affected ~1% of searches, but lot’s of webmasters reported they were hit hard.


Payday Loan 2.0 – May 16, 2014

Google updated their ‘Payday Loan’ algorithm again, combating particularly spammy queries, this version of the algorithm affected English queries by about 0.2% to a noticeable degree. Google statements say that this update targeted specific sites.


Panda 4.0 (#26) – May 19, 2014

Google rolled out a major Panda update that officially affected about 7.5% of English-language queries. Matt Cutts announced that it started rolling out on 5/20, but Moz data suggests it was a little earlier than this.


Payday Loan 3.0 – June 12, 2014

Google updated it’s Payday Loan algorithm once more less than a month after the 2.0 update. Google statements say that this update targeted spammy queries.


Pigeon – July 24, 2014

Google released the Pigeon update to help provide more relevant, accurate and useful local search results. This update was said to bring the local and core algorithms closer together. Google did not state how many queries were affected.


HTTPS/SSL Update – August 6, 2014

Google announced they will give preference to websites using a secure SSL certificate and that adding encryption would provide your website with a small ranking boost.


Panda 4.1 (#27) – September 23, 2014

Google announced and released a significant Panda update which was estimated to impact around 3-5% of queries. This was the 27th iteration of the update.


Penguin 3.0 – October 17, 2014

Over a year after Penguin 2.1, Google released a Penguin refresh, it was claimed to roll out over the course of a few weeks. Only <1% of US/English queries were affected.


Pirate 2.0, October 21, 2014

Over two years after the release of the DMCA/Pirate update, Google updated it in an effort to combat piracy. This update was targeted to specific websites, causing major drops in rankings for a small group of websites.



Have we missed anything of note? Feel to free to leave a comment and we’ll update the post.


This post was written by Andrew Lambert

This post was written by Andrew Lambert

Off-Page / Content Team

Part of our busy content marketing and creative team. Andrew also contributes to our technical HTML SEO auditing services.

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