Google’s Algorithm Updates

Google’s algorithms are complicated, and continue to get more complicated as Google tries its best to provide the most relevant content to its users on it’s search engine.

When search engines were first created, marketers were able to find ways to rank their clients sites using meta tags, or keywords.

Ex: <meta name=”keywords” content=”Goole AdWords marketing, Google SEO, Website Design”>

As Google evolved (and continues to evolve), they are primarily focused on finding the user the information they need. Google is progressively working on ways to stop people from cheating their way into the top search ranks.

Previously, algorithms would sometimes not change for months, and the same site would maintain the #1 position for a certain keyword. Then an update would be released, and things would change.

Now, Google makes over 600 changes to its algorithm in a year but only the major ones are announced. Here are some of the most noteworthy updates in order of their initial release dates. They are constantly being updated to improve the Google search engine.

Read here about Google’s algorithm updates by name and date:

Panda Update ( February 2011 )

This update was first introduced in February 2011. It is meant to stop websites that have poor quality content from making their way into the top search results.

Panda 4.1 (the 27th update) targets sites with “thin” content, or lack of content as well as sites with a large amount of duplicate content. Sites with this type of content are penalized by Google, and causes them to rank much lower which limits visibility and affects online reputation.

This update ensures that users are directed to higher quality, relevant websites that align with their search query. Users will have to sift through much less garbage sites and have a better online experience.


Top Heavy was launched January 2012. This was introduced by Google as a measure to prevent websites that were “top heavy” from ranking high in search. Top Heavy websites refers to ads displayed on web pages. This algorithm downgrades the ranking of a webpage with too many ads, or if the ads are deemed distracting for users.

This algorithm is periodically updated, with the last update being February 6th 2014. When a new update happens, websites that have removed excessive ads may regain their lost rankings.

Penguin Update ( April 2012 )

Released in April 2012, this algorithm update is aimed at catching websites that are spamming it’s search results, In particular sites that were buying links, or obtaining them through link networks that were primarily designed to boost rankings on Google. The algorithm penalizes any practices that violate Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Refreshed, Penguin 3.0 was released in October 2014. This update will affect around 1% of all English queries. Penguin 2.0 affected 2.3% of all queries.

Pirate Update ( August 2012 )

The Pirate Update is a filter that was introduced in August of 2012. This filter was designed to prevent websites with copyright infringement reports from ranking well in Google’s search results. Google will penalize websites that are repeatedly accused of copyright infringement.

This filter is periodically updated with the last update in October 2014. Many torrent websites were hit hard with the October update, saying that their search traffic dropped in half.

The Pirate filter may also catch new sites that escaped being caught before. It may also release “false positives” that were caught in previous updates.

Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update ( September 2012 )

The EMD update is a filter that was launched by Google in September 2012. This update prevents poor quality sites from ranking in search simply because they had words that match search terms in their domain names. Exact Match Domains are names that exactly match the keyword a website wants to complete for.

Ex: Search term: today’s weather report. Result:

When a fresh EMD update is released, websites with improved content may regain good rankings and new sites with poor content or that were previously missed, may get caught.

Payday Update ( June 2013 )

The Payday algorithm released in June 2013 is targeted at cleaning up search results to target “spammy queries.” Search terms that tend to be spammy in nature such as pay day loans, or pornographic related queries are targets. This update goes after unique link schemes, many which are illegal.

Payday update 2.0 focused on spammy websites, while the most recent update 3.0 released in June 2014 focuses more on spammy queries.

Hummingbird Update ( September 2013 )

The Hummingbird update is one of the largest changes to the algorithm in over 10 years. Released in September 2013, Google announced that this update would impact more than 90% of searches worldwide.

This update allows the search engine to do better at its job through an improvement in linguistics search. Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in queries ensuring that the whole sentence, conversation or meaning is taken into account rather than just focusing on particular words.

The name of this update comes from being precise and fast and is designed to better focus on the meaning behind the words because people communicate by conversation, not by keywords.

Pigeon Update ( July 2014 )

July 2014 Google released the Pigeon update. This new algorithm provides more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied closely to traditional web search rankings. This update improved distance and location ranking parameters.

The algorithm connects web search and map search in a more cohesive way. The update is aimed to increase the ranking of local listings in a search.

It was released in Canada, Australia and the UK in December 2014.