“SEO is an umbrella term for a large number of tactics and strategies all intended to help your website, video, images and other digital assets rank high in the search engine result pages for the keyword phrases that are the most important to your business for conversions.”
– Jenny Stradling, Eminent SEO CEO
With search engine optimization constantly evolving it can be hard to keep track of all of the changes. Google makes frequent algorithm updates, marketers test their ideas and new SEO strategies are always emerging.
A good SEO has to be prepared to handle these surprises in order to anticipate what happens next and stay ahead of the game. We have created a timeline of the Google algorithm changes and major updates to the digital marketing world to help you get up to speed on the evolution of SEO.
Google Reviews April 2023 Update
April 25, 2023
Google’s reviews system evaluates articles, blog posts, pages or first-party content written with the purpose of providing a recommendation, giving an opinion, or providing analysis. It does not evaluate third-party reviews (those posted by users in the reviews section of a product or services page).
Google Core Update
March 28, 2023
Google finishes the March 2023 core update, which began March 15.
Product Reviews Update
February 21, 2023
Google announced its product reviews update, considering more languages used across the globe.
Google Link Spam Update
December 14, 2022
Google announced the December 2022 Link Spam Update. This will take two weeks to roll out.
Google Helpful Content Update
December 5, 2022
December 2022 Helpful Content Update is live and will take up to two weeks to roll out.
Google Spam Update
October 19, 2022
Google announced the October 2022 spam update. Google references SpamBrain, an AI solution good at fighting “behaviors that attempt to narrowly avoid violating quality guidelines but are still manipulative in nature.”
Google Core Update
September 12, 2022
Released the September 2022 core update. The rollout could take 2 weeks to complete.
Google Helpful Content Update
August 18, 2022
Released the August 2022 helpful content update. The rollout was complete as of September 9, 2022.
Google Product Reviews Update
July 27, 2022
Google announced the July 2022 Product Reviews Update. It finished rolling out Aug 2.
Google Core Update
May 25, 2022
Google’s May core update was released and took about two weeks to fully roll out.
Google Product Reviews Update
March 23, 2022
Google releases March 2022 product reviews update with additional ranking criteria. The new product reviews update looks for in-depth analysis, actual product use, unique information and comparable product coverage. This product reviews update finished rolling out on April 11, 2022.
Google Product Review Update
December 1, 2021
Google releases its newest product review update (the first major one since April). The update was finished rolling-out the week of the 21st.
Google Core Algo Update
November 17, 2021
Google announces a large, core algo update that is estimated to take up to two weeks. Google provides advice on how to recover from core updates.
Google Spam Update
November 3, 2021
Google begins rolling-out a spam update on November 3. Google referenced its own Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Volatility in the SERPs
September 4, 2021
Recent volatility in the SERPs inspired Google specialists to speculate an unannounced algo update. However, there’s some speculation that rather than an official update, it’s just “growing pains” related to Google attempting to provide better results. For example, SERPs may change due to the seasons, day of the week, weather, etc.
Link Spam Update
July 26, 2021
Google posted a blog post about qualifying sponsored links and announced a link spam update. Site owners could get penalized for not being forthright about sponsored and affiliated links on their site. This update is in effect for all languages.
Google Core Update
July 1, 2021
The July Core Update went live as announced via Twitter. Google on core updates: “One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.”
Google Core Update
June 2, 2021
June’s core update was announced at the beginning of the month.
Google Page Experience Update
April 19, 2021
Here comes the Page Experience Update, which takes a closer look at Core Web Vitals, mobile UX, and site security. Search experts suggest webmasters use a mixture of free and paid tools to check a site’s CWV.
Google on this update: “the page experience update will consider several page experience signals, including the three Core Web Vitals metrics: LCP, FID, and CLS (as well as Chrome’s recent fix to CLS). In addition, the Top Stories carousel feature on Google Search will be updated to include all news content, as long as it meets the Google News policies. This means that using the AMP format is no longer required and that any page, irrespective of its Core Web Vitals score or page experience status, will be eligible to appear in the Top Stories carousel.”
Google’s Product Reviews Update
April 8, 2021
Google announced the product reviews update, better promoting content that does a good job at reviewing goods and services. From Google: “From this, we know people appreciate product reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products. That’s why we’re sharing an improvement to our ranking systems, which we call the product reviews update, that’s designed to better reward such content…”
Google Passage Ranking
February 11, 2021
Google announced news of passage ranking for US/English-based queries. This update features Google’s ability to not only index pages, but parts of pages, in order to serve a user with the very best answer for the context.
Google Core Update
December 3, 2020
Google announced a core update.
Google Core Update
May 4, 2020
Google gave us a second core update of the year, reported to be quite significant.
Google Rearranging Featured Snippets
February 5, 2020
Google announced a rearrangement regarding featured snippets. This raises lots of discussions regarding click-through behavior and branding.
Another Google Core Update
January 6, 2020
Another year’s entry is met with another core update. Happy 2020!
Make Way for Google’s BERT
December 9, 2019
Make way for BERT, the natural language processing algorithm, introduced across 70 languages.
Google’s algorithm is updated to better support BERT
October 25, 2019
Google’s algorithm is updated to better support BERT, which aids in interpreting natural language searches and context.
Another core update from Google
September 24, 2019
Google blessed us with another core update. And, while the update seemed to do a good job at mixing up the SERPs, Google gave us very little information to speculate.
Google rolled-out the Site Diversity Update
June 5, 2019
Google rolled-out the Site Diversity Update, citing that SERPs would change in cases where sites had two more more organic listings.
Google indexing issues
May 26, 2019
Google confirmed another indexing bug but now has it fixed.
Google dropped pages from the search index
April 6, 2019
About 4% of URLs fell from page one and then soon recovered.
Google rolled-out a core update
March 13, 2019
Google rolled-out a core update, the third major one since speaking the updates into existence.
Google Rolled out the “Medic” Core Update
August 8, 2018
Google rolled-out the “Medic” core update. It’s name represents the health and wellness vertical, which is disproportionately affected by the update.
Google Broad Core Algorithm Update
August 1, 2018
“On July 31, 2018, changes to Google’s core algorithm were implemented, and Google confirmed these changes and the possibility of search volatility the very next day. Google also admitted that this algorithm update could be considered a ‘big’ update — meaning search results and rankings could be expected to fluctuate wildly. Many ‘white hat SEOs’ have noted that this update seemed to yield positive results to those websites that follow Google’s quality guidelines, and overall do things ‘the right way.’ Websites that utilized ‘black hat SEO’ cheats and link/SEO schemes seem to have been hit very hard by this update.”
Google Updates Guidelines for Search Quality Raters
July 1, 2018
“While much of the indexing and ranking happens automatically through Google’s core algorithm, Google also relies on real people — called ‘Search Quality Raters’ — to review search engine results pages (SERPs). In July of 2018, Google updated the guidelines that these raters follow when reviewing the serps. Not only do these new guidelines reflect what Google considers as ranking factors, but offers insight into what websites must do to be considered ‘quality’ content and service providers.”
GDRP Privacy and Data Regulations for European Union Customers Goes Into Effect
May 25, 2018
“The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set new rules for how websites and businesses use and store private and personal data on citizens of the European Union. Heavy fines are a concern for companies found breaching GDPR, and even though this only applies to privacy data on EU citizens, it forces businesses small and large to take a closer look at how data is used and stored from all customers, regardless of where they are located.”
Mobile First Update
March 26, 2018
“Google began its mobile-first indexing in March of 2018. Starting at this time, Google began migrating sites that follow the best practices for mobile first indexing. Put simply, those websites that followed the guidelines set by Google have a better chance at ranking well than sites that do not follow Google’s recommended guidelines.”
Google Featured Snippet Drop, Jump in Knowledge Panels
November 29, 2017
Over a period of a few days from October 27-31, there was a substantial drop in Featured Snippets. This co-occurred with a jump in Knowledge Panels, as Google seemed to add many panels for broad terms and objects (“travel”, “toilet”, “web design”, etc.). Some of these panels disappeared around December 15.
Source: Knowledge Graph Eats Featured Snippets, Jumps +30% (Moz) and Is the featured snippet bubble bursting? (SEL) and https://www.eminentseo.com/blog/google-knowledge-panel-rich-snippets-updates/
Google Crack Down on Addiction Treatment Ads
September 1, 2017
Around September of this year, Google placed new restrictions on advertising keywords related to searches for addiction treatment. This had a tremendous impact on addiction treatment centers around the country that relied on Google AdWords campaigns as their primary digital ad source.
Google Intrusive Interstitial Penalty
January 11, 2017
Google started rolling out a penalty to punish aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience. Google also provided a rare warning of this update five months in advance. MozCast showed high temperatures from January 10-11, but many SEOs reported minimal impact on sites that should have been affected.
Sources: Google warns it will crack down on “intrusive interstitials” in January (SEL) and Official: Google Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty Now Rolling Out (SER)
Google’s New Mobile-First Index
December 26, 2016
Google Possum Update
September 1, 2016
“Possum” is the name given to an unconfirmed but documented update which appeared to most significantly impact Google’s local pack and local finder results. Because the update was never officially confirmed by Google, local SEOs have been left to hypothesize about the potential update’s purpose and concrete effects. One study of 1,307 businesses suggested that Possum affected 64% of Google’s local results.
Sources: https://moz.com/learn/seo/google-possum and https://searchengineland.com/study-shows-googles-possum-update-changed-64-local-serps-261761
Facebook Blocking Ad Blocking Extensions
August 11, 2016
Facebook states that they will start blocking the use of ad blocking extensions, specifically Adblock Plus and Adblock. In response to this, these ad-blockers began to block Facebook’s blocking in a back-and-forth “war.”
June 14, 2016
Snapchat, a popular messaging app, begins to include advertisements between user’s “stories”
Google Expanded Text Ads
May 24, 2016
Following on from February, when right-hand column ads were removed to make mobile and desktop SERPs look the same, Google is now set to expand text ad limits for the first time since their launch. Called expanded text ads, there will soon be 2 headlines, of 30 characters each, 1 description line of 80 characters and an automatically generated domain in the display URL (you can still customize the path). This increases the number of characters in the headline and description fields from 95 to 140 and will roll out in the coming months.
Google AdWords Shake-up
February 19, 2016
Google made major changes to AdWords, removing right-column ads entirely and rolling out 4-ad top blocks on many commercial searches. While this was a paid search update, it had significant implications for CTR for both paid and organic results, especially on competitive keywords.
Sources: Four Ads on Top: The Wait Is Over (Moz) and Google AdWords Switching to 4 Ads on Top, None on Sidebar (SEM Post)
February 1, 2016
In an attempt to speed up pages, Google also introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in 2016. AMP are designed to instantly load content and mostly has been adopted by news media and publishers.
Google Announces RankBrain
October 26, 2015
Google made a major announcement, revealing that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months, contributing to the 3rd most influential ranking factor. *Note: This is an announcement date – we believe the actual launch was closer to spring 2015.
Sources: Google Turning Its Lucrative Web Search Over to AI Machines (Bloomberg) and FAQ: All About The New Google RankBrain Algorithm (SEL)
Yahoo Google Search Deal
October 20, 2015
Yahoo reached an agreement with Google that provides Yahoo with additional flexibility to choose among suppliers of search results and ads. Google’s offerings complement the search services provided by Microsoft, which remains a strong partner, as well as Yahoo’s own search technologies and ad products.
Native Gmail Ads
September 1, 2015
Native Gmail ads arrive in AdWords for all advertisers
The Year of Mobile
January 1, 2015
Finally we had the Year of Mobile – the point at which mobile searches overtook desktop search for the first time on Google. And while this is true in terms of raw search numbers, it’s also true that search intent is quite different and conversion rates remain much lower on mobile devices.
October 30, 2014
HTML5 offers great benefits for development and marketing
Google HTTPS/SSL Update
August 6, 2014
After months of speculation, Google announced that they would be giving preference to secure sites, and that adding encryption would provide a “lightweight” rankings boost. They stressed that this boost would start out small, but implied it might increase if the changed proved to be positive.
Google Pigeon Update
July 24, 2014
Google shook the local SEO world with an update that dramatically altered some local results and modified how they handle and interpret location cues. Google claimed that Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s).
Source: Google “Pigeon” Updates Local Search Algorithm With Stronger Ties To Web Search Signal (SEL)
Pinterest Promoted Pins (Ads) Beta
March 1, 2014
Pinterest, a creative image sharing platform, launches it Promoted Pins service which allows for additional advertising in a user’s feed.
October 1, 2013
Instagram, a popular image sharing platform, releases its feature of having sponsored posts appear on user’s feeds.
Google Hummingbird Update
August 30, 2013
Announced on September 26th, Google suggested that the “Hummingbird” update rolled out about a month earlier. Our best guess ties it to a MozCast spike on August 20th and many reports of flux from August 20-22. Hummingbird has been compared to Caffeine, and seems to be a core algorithm update that may power changes to semantic search and the Knowledge Graph for months to come.
Sources: FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm (SEL) and Some Reports Of An August 21/22 Google Update (SER)
Google “Payday Loan” Update
June 11, 2013
Google announced a targeted algorithm update to take on niches with notoriously spammy results, specifically mentioning payday loans and porn. The update was announced on June 11th, but Matt Cutts suggested it would roll out over a 1-2 month period.
Source: Google Payday Loan Algorithm: Google Search Algorithm Update To Target Spammy Queries (SEL)
Google Knowledge Graph
May 16, 2012
In a major step toward semantic search, Google started rolling out “Knowledge Graph”, a SERP-integrated display providing supplemental object about certain people, places, and things. Expect to see “knowledge panels” appear on more and more SERPs over time.
Source: Introducing the Knowledge Graph: things, not strings (Google)
Google Penguin Update
April 24, 2012
After weeks of speculation about an “Over-optimization penalty”, Google finally rolled out the “Webspam Update”, which was soon after dubbed “Penguin.” Penguin adjusted a number of spam factors, including keyword stuffing, and impacted an estimated 3.1% of English queries.
Sources: Another step to reward high-quality sites (Google) and The Penguin Update: Google’s Webspam Algorithm Gets Official Name (SEL)
Google Search Terms Removed
October 1, 2011
When Google moved to secure search it was a blow to publishers, who began losing data about the search terms used to reach their sites.
June 28, 2011
After a number of social media failures, Google launched a serious attack on Facebook with Google+. Google+ revolved around circles for sharing content, and was tightly integrated into products like Gmail. Early adopters were quick to jump on board, and within 2 weeks Google+ reached 10M users.
Source: Introducing the Google+ project: Real-life sharing, rethought for the web (Google)
Google Panda / Farmer Update
February 1, 2011
A major algorithm update hit sites hard, affecting up to 12% of search results (a number that came directly from Google). Panda seemed to crack down on thin content, content farms, sites with high ad-to-content ratios, and a number of other quality issues. Panda rolled out over at least a couple of months, hitting Europe in April 2011.
Source: Google’s Farmer/Panda Update: Analysis of Winners vs. Losers (Moz)
December 1, 2010
Google and Bing confirmed that they use social signals in determining ranking, including data from Twitter and Facebook. Matt Cutts confirmed that this was a relatively new development for Google, although many SEOs had long suspected it would happen.
Sources: What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count? (SEL) and Google Webmaster Video Reconfirms Use Of Social Signals (SEL)
Facebook overtook Google
July 1, 2010
Facebook overtook Google to clinch the biggest share of consumer attention online. Despite Google’s intent-driven advertising model, Facebook’s ability to grow its active user base (1.94bn monthly active users by 2017) has resulted in it becoming a twin force of online advertising alongside Google.
Google Caffeine Rollout
June 8, 2010
After months of testing, Google finished rolling out the Caffeine infrastructure. Caffeine not only boosted Google’s raw speed, but integrated crawling and indexation much more tightly, resulting in (according to Google) a 50% fresher index.
June 2, 2010
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft jointly announced support for a consolidated approach to structured data. They also created a number of new “schemas”, in an apparent bid to move toward even richer search results.
Source: Google, Bing & Yahoo Unite To Make Search Listings Richer Through Structured Data (SEL) What is Schema.org? (Schema.org)
April 20, 2010
Although “Places” pages were rolled out in September of 2009, they were originally only a part of Google Maps. The official launch of Google Places re-branded the Local Business Center, integrated Places pages more closely with local search results, and added a number of features, including new local advertising options.
Sources: Introducing Google Places (Google)
April 13, 2010
Twitter launches Promoted Tweets, which allows advertisers to pay for tweets to be shown in a user’s feed.
Bing and Yahoo partnership begins
December 1, 2009
Google and DoubleClick
September 18, 2009
Google launches its own ad exchange platform with DoubleClick.
Introducing Rich Snippets
May 12, 2009
Rich Snippets give users convenient summary information about their search results at a glance.
February 15, 2009
Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo jointly announced support for the Canonical Tag, allowing webmasters to send canonicalization signals to search bots without impacting human visitors.
Sources: Learn about the Canonical Link Element in 5 minutes (MattCutts.com) and Canonical URL Tag – The Most Important Advancement in SEO Practices Since Sitemaps (Moz)