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A Cheat Sheet To 13 Major Google Updates From The Last 10 Years

As most SEO’s can attest to, Google is continuously updating their algorithm and making slight changes daily. However, a couple times each year, we see a major update roll out from Google. Updates such as these are utilized to make large changes in how Google understand content, and/or how they can better understand the users need – after all Google SERPs are it’s product, so its no surprise that refining it to meet user needs is an ongoing process.

Below you will find a cheat sheet to the 10 most recent updates that impacted the largest data sets, impacted the most rankings, and reverberated through the SEO community over the last decade.

Google BERT Update

Launch Date: October 21, 2019

Target: Natural Language Usage

Summary: BERT is a true revolution in how Google processes language and queries. The update is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing. In laymen’s terms, it gives Google greater ability to determine context in its users queries and provides better interpretation of those queries—and better results.

Learn more about the Google Bert Update

Google Fred Update

Launch Date: March 8, 2017

Target: Websites That Violate Google Guidelines

Summary: Fred isn’t actually a singular update but is a catchall term used by the SEO experts to refer to all of Google’s unnamed updates. Fred targets sites that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines by having a disproportionate amount of ads, as well as sites that seems to know the tricks of SEO but don’t actually provide quality content.

Learn more about the Google Fred Update

Google Possum Update

Launch Date: September 1, 2016

Target: Local Search

Summary: As the Fall of 2016 approached, the use of mobile devices for search was growing more than ever.  Google realized this, and Possum was born, making local search more nuanced and relevant than ever. The goal of the Possum algorithm update is to give users more relevant local options when they input a query.

Learn more about the Google Possum Update

Google RankBrain Update

Launch Date: October 26, 2015

Target: Better Understand New Search Queries

Summary: RankBrain is the only live artificial intelligence (that we know of) that Google uses in its search results. The core algorithm update processes queries that are unknown to Google or are new queries that no one has ever searched for before. In fact, roughly 15 percent of all Google searches entered each day are brand new searches.

Learn more about the Google RankBrain Update

Google Mobile Update

Launch Date: April 21, 2015

Target: Poor Mobile Experiences

Summary: The Mobile update is all about creating the best experience for user’s on mobile devices. For this reason, the huge triggers for this algorithm update are poor mobile usability. If a site doesn’t have a mobile version, or if a site does have a mobile version, but it’s hardly useable, your rankings will feel it.

Learn more about the Google Mobile Update

Google Pigeon Update

Launch Date: July 24, 2014

Target: Local Search Results

Summary: With the rollout of Pigeon, Google was able to provide more useful, relevant, and accurate local search results to its users. Building on the PandaPenguin, and Hummingbird updates, Pigeon’s focus is specifically on local queries. Unlike Panda and Penguin, Pigeon is not a penalty-based update, but is a core change to Google’s algorithm.

Learn more about the Google Pigeon Update

Google Hummingbird Update

Launch Date: August 22, 2013

Target: Query Understanding

Summary: The goal of Hummingbird wasn’t to punish sites. The whole purpose of the update was to offer more nuanced results based less on exact keyword match and more on semantic understanding of a query.

Learn more about the Google Hummingbird Update

Google’s Payday Loan Update

Launch Date: June 11, 2013

Target: Spam Websites and Spammy Queries

Summary: One of the main goals of the Payday Loan update was to reduce the attention given to spam sites or websites with a high spam rate, as well as spammy queries.

Learn more about Google’s Payday Loan Update

Google Penguin Update

Initial Launch Date: April 24, 2012

Target: Link Spam

Summary: If you’ve got spammy or annoying links or an unnatural amount of anchor text, or anchor text that’s deceptive, Google’s users will be annoyed. And the team at Google will do anything to prevent that from happening, hence the creation of Penguin.

Learn more about the Google Penguin Update

Google’s Exact Match Domain Update

 Initial Launch Date: September 27, 2012

Target: Exact Match Domain Spam

Summary: For a long time, EMDs ranked really well in Google’s SERPs simply due to the fact that their domain name exactly matched the user query. But the Exact Match Domain update has put an end to that.

Learn more about the Google EMD Update

Google Pirate Update

Launch Date: August 10, 2012

Target: Pirated Content

Summary: The pirating of songs, films, video games—essentially any form of digital media or entertainment—is a massive issue. Though Google can’t go through every page on the internet to ensure no pirated material is out there, the Pirate algorithm update targets sites that violate the copyright guidelines set in place by the DMCA.

Learn more about the Google Pirate Update

Google Top Heavy Ad Update

Launch Date: January 19, 2012

Target: Ad Heavy Websites

Summary: This update hit websites that had excessive advertising above the fold. Your website user wants information, and they want it without scrolling through ads to get to it. When a Google user comes to your site through the SERPs only to be bombarded with ads there’s going to be a problem.

Learn more about Google Top Heavy Update

Google Panda Update

Launch Date: February 23, 2011

Target: Low-value Content

Summary: Panda targets content quality concerns. When a site exhibits multiple triggers such as thin content, unoriginal content, high ad content, poorly written content, the Panda update sniffs it out.

Learn more about the Google Panda Update