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Google updates: 2003 to 2021 at a glance

Google Updates from 2003 to 2021

Google updates: 2003 to 2021 at a glance

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Google wants to provide users with ever-better results for their search queries and is therefore constantly working on the algorithm in the background. In the past few years, web search and, accordingly, search engine optimization have changed fundamentally. Get to know the most important Google updates and their consequences here.

What is the google algorithm ?

Google’s search engine algorithms determine the results you will get for each search term (or search query) entered. You work behind the scenes and filter the web content there, check indexed pages for relevance and quality (based on various ranking factors), and playout results that are particularly relevant to the search query.

What’s up with the Google updates?

The Google algorithm determines which results are returned for a search query. For this, around 200 ranking factors are analyzed in the background, for example, which keywords are used on a website or how user-friendly it is.

The Google algorithm receives a number of updates every year in order to meet the needs of users as well as possible. Mostly these are small changes, but in between, there are also large updates that change the search significantly. If you do not react to this, you risk losing ground in the search engine results (SERPs) – and thus also losing visitors and potential customers.

Google Core Updates: The heavyweights among the updates

From time to time, Google not only tweaks a few small screws in its algorithm but also adapts the criteria for the ranking considerably. Then there is talk of core updates.

Often they also change the demands on search engine optimization. Webmasters should therefore inform themselves regularly about core updates and their consequences.

The most important core updates of the past years can be found below:

What Google updates are there in the algorithm?

  1. Google Boston
  2. Google Florida
  3. Google brandy
  4. Google Jagger
  5. Google Universal Search
  6. Canonical tag update
  7. Google Mayday
  8. Google panda
  9. Google Penguin
  10. Google Hummingbird
  11. Google Pigeon
  12. Google Mobilegeddon
  13. Google RankBrain
  14. Google Snippet Length Increase
  15. Google Mobile-First Indexing
  16. Google Medic Update
  17. Google BERT
  18. Google Core Update May 2020
  19. Google Core Update December 2020
  20. Google Core Web Vitals

1. Google Boston

🏨 Introduction: February 1st, 2003

The Boston update was the very first update to the algorithm. With this update, Google expanded its index and introduced more regular changes to the algorithm. The Boston update did not bring any profound changes, but historically it is the starting point for developments over the next few years.

2. Google Florida

🌴 Introduction: November 1st, 2003

With the Florida update, Google took action against spam. Black hat SEO practices such as writing keywords in white on a white background should be stopped. Many websites were completely deleted from the index and lost their rankings. With the Florida update, the topic of search engine optimization gained significantly in relevance.

How to adapt your content to Google Florida:

  • Offer your readers high-quality content.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing, spam in the metadata and other black hat methods.

3. Google Brandy

🍸 Introduction: February 1st, 2004

Google Brandy brought about significant changes to the algorithm, especially with regard to the rating of pages. Since this update, Google has been paying attention to anchor texts. Semantically related keywords (LSI keywords) have now also been taken into account. As a result, websites could no longer only be found for the exact search term that was entered on Google, but also for similar terms.

How to customize your content to match Google Brandy:

  • Put links on anchor texts instead of building them raw into the text.
  • Write a keyword in the anchor text.
  • Use not only the main keyword on your site, but also synonyms of semantically related terms.

4. Google Jagger

🎤 Introduction: October 01, 2005

With Google Jagger, the search engine took decisive action against link manipulation. Paid links, links from farms, and links exchanged between two websites were from now on weighted less, which led to significant changes in the ranking.

How to adapt your content to Google Jagger:

Rely on organic link building instead of buying links or exchanging them with other websites.

5. Google Universal Search

🎥 Introduction: May 1st, 2007

Until May 2007, the search results consisted only of classic text snippets. Thanks to the Universal Search Update, images, videos, and news reports could now also rank. Local results were also highlighted. This update mainly took advantage of sites that used a lot of pictures and videos.

How to adapt your content to Google Universal Search:

  • Use pictures and videos on your pages.
  • Make it easy for users and Google to recognize your location.

6. Canonical tag update

➡️ Introduction: February 1st, 2009

This update was special in that Google did not roll it out alone, but cooperated with Microsoft and Yahoo. All three companies jointly decided to support canonical tags from now on.

This update was particularly useful for online shops and other websites on which a lot of content appears more than once. Webmasters could now determine which of the (almost) identical pages the crawlers should index.

How to adapt your content to the canonical tag update:

  • Avoid duplicate content.
  • If several of your pages are very similar, choose one that you want to be indexed. Set appropriate canonical tags.

7. Google MayDay

💐 Introduction: May 1st, 2010

The Mayday update was primarily intended to improve the quality of the search results. Pages that provided very little information lost out to those that looked at a topic in-depth or even holistically. In this context, long-tail keywords also gained importance.

How to adapt your content to Google MayDay:

  • Create high-quality content that is based on the search intent of your customers.
  • In your texts, shed light on all aspects of a topic that could be relevant to your customers. Go in depth.

8. Google Panda

🐼  Introduction: February 23, 2011

With Google Panda, Google declared war on inferior content. Duplicate content, keyword stuffing, and content farms have been severely punished since then. What is needed instead is unique content: unique, high-quality content.

In addition, each website was given an internal score, which should evaluate how well the content is likely to be received by users. This score then determines how high the respective website ranks in the SERPs.

How to adapt your content to Google Panda

  • Use a crawler such as Screaming Frog  or Botify to check your content for duplicate content . If you have many pages with identical or very short content (number of words), the tools will also help you with identification here. You can summarize or archive such poor quality content. 
  • E-commerce sites are particularly prone to duplicate content. Here you should use canonical URLs to signal to Google which version of the respective page should be prioritized in the SERPs.
  • Revise your content regularly so that it is up to date and shines with its correct spelling and grammar. The formatting should also be consistent.
  • Find out by analyzing traffic and conversion rate which content is performing poorly and remove it.
  • Orientate yourself to Google’s own guidelines for site creation in order to be able to offer your visitors unique and helpful content.

9. Google Penguin

🐧  Introduction: April 24, 2012

Google Penguin was introduced to counter black hat SEO. Specifically, it is about windy link-building methods. Google doesn’t want to see spam links or anchor texts overloaded with keywords, but rather links that really help the user community.

Before the update, the most relevant factor for the ranking was how many links led to a website. The quality of these links didn’t matter. Today, Google also rates how trustworthy and relevant links are.

How to adapt your content to Google Penguin

  • Stick to link building strategies from the white-hat SEO area.
  • In no case should you buy backlinks for your website . Rather, make sure that your content is good enough to be shared with pleasure.
  • If you hire an agency or a freelancer to do the link building, you should ask how exactly this is done. In no case should money flow between the agency and the person or organization linking to you.

10. Google Hummingbird

🐤  Introduction: August 20, 2013

With Google Hummingbird, the search engine began to understand human language better. Thanks to this update, Google recognizes semantic relationships better than before, can classify synonyms, and sort out pages that are still doing keyword stuffing. The aim is to better understand users’ search intentions and to output suitable search results.

A year earlier, Google had already presented the Knowledge Graph, which was further refined as part of the Hummingbird update. 

How to adapt your content to Google Hummingbird

  • Use not only a main keyword in your texts, but also synonyms and words that have to do with your topic in a somewhat broader sense. You can also answer frequently asked questions on your website.
  • Use tools like AnswerthePublic to expand the context of your keyword research.
  • Do a competitive analysis by entering your keywords and finding out what related content appears in the SERPs. At this point, also pay attention to which new features (such as the Knowledge Graph or Featured Snippets ) are displayed at this point.

11. Google Pigeon

🐦  Introduced: July 24, 2014 (US), December 22, 2014 (UK, Canada, Australia)

Local search was strengthened in 2014 with Google Pigeon. Since then, it has been easier for local companies to be present at a relevant point in the SERPs. Pigeon treats the local search as well as the organic – just with local references. 

Since then, for example, Google has taken into account where the searchers are and shows places that are nearby. The update also led to greater parallels between Google Maps and the classic Google search: For example, if users enter “best lawyer near me” in both services, the results should be similar

How to adapt your content to Google Pigeon

So make sure that Google can see where your business is located. Create content that is relevant to your region to improve your ranking chances. A Google My Business account can also help you with local SEO.

12. Google Mobilegeddon

📱  Introduction: April 22, 2015

The Google Mobile Update, also jokingly referred to as “Mobilegeddon”, introduced mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor. The focus was now on how well pages work on mobile devices.

From now on, websites that were optimized for mobile devices were preferred in mobile SERPs. Conversely, pages that were not responsive were penalized or even completely removed from the SERPs.

Mobilegeddon is another attempt by Google to ensure the best user experience (UX) for searchers. For this purpose, this update focused on individual websites (not entire websites) and checked whether these are responsive and can therefore be correctly displayed on mobile devices.

In the meantime, Google is already one step further: Since the mobile-first indexing, the mobile-friendliness of the entire website has been influencing the position in the SERPs.

How to adapt your content to Mobilegeddon

  • Make sure your website is optimized for mobile devices.
  • Use Google’s tool to test for optimization for mobile devices . It will show you how your page will be played on a mobile device and notify you if there are problems loading or displaying.

13. Google RankBrain

🧠  Introduction: October 26, 2015

The next update followed shortly after the mobile update: RankBrain is a component from Google’s algorithm that works using machine learning. After the Hummingbird update, Google RankBrain once again improved Google’s ability to understand users’ search intentions and to display the best and most relevant SERP results.

Many SEO experts believe that RankBrain also measures how searchers interact with search results and adjusts the ranking accordingly. Google itself stated that RankBrain was the third most important ranking signal.

How to adapt your content to Google RankBrain

  • Follow the same steps as you did for Google Hummingbird.

14. Google Snippet Length Increase

📃 Introduction: November 30, 2017

Google’s Snippet Length Increase update extended the length of the meta description in the SERPs. The number of characters allowed increased from 155 to 300 and thus almost doubled. This allowed webmasters to make the meta description more meaningful and helpful. This should make it easier for Google users to see whether a search result is relevant to them or not.

However, Google shortened most of the descriptions back to 150 characters in May 2018.

How to adapt your content to the Google Snippet Length Increase Update

  • Since Google has reintroduced its old limit of around 150 characters, you should stick to it to avoid your snippet being cut off in the SERPs.

15. Google Mobile-First Indexing

📲  Introduction: May 26, 2018

With the mobile-first indexing, Google once again emphasized the importance of websites that are optimized for mobile devices – and not without reason: As the company itself announced, most users now google from mobile devices.

If search results are displayed, Google draws its data from a single index. In this context, the Mobile-First Indexing Update means that this index is now increasingly being filled with mobile versions of the website content. What will change as a result of the update is primarily the indexing of websites and less their immediate ranking – however, it cannot be ruled out that this could also be influenced by the update over time.

Mobile-friendly is the order of the day, but Google also makes an exception: “It can also happen that we show users content that is not mobile-friendly or that loads slowly – assuming there are many other indications indicate that said content is the most relevant of its kind. “

How to adapt your content to Google’s mobile-first indexing

  • Make sure that your website is mobile-friendly and can be used from all mobile devices. If you have AMP pages and those that do not use the system, Google will prefer to index the mobile version of your non-AMP pages.
  • If you have different URLs for your mobile site, make sure that your mobile site displays the same content as your desktop site.
  • Ensure that structured data and metadata are used on both your desktop and mobile pages.
  • Check out Google’s best practices for preparing for mobile-first indexing .

16. Google Medic Update

🏥  Introduction: August 1st, 2018

The Google Medic Update represented another large-scale revision of the core algorithm. It had particularly drastic effects on pages from the health and wellness sector, which earned this update its nickname. But the update did not only affect these sectors; Other commercial websites came under Google’s shotgun as well.

This Google update took another look at the quality of websites: SEO specialists assume that since then Google has paid more attention to good loading times, suitable title tags, unique content, and a great user experience.

Unlike many other updates in this list, however, the Medic Update did not focus on a certain type of web content or publish a new part of the core algorithm. Still, Google made an official statement about it: “There is no panacea for sites that are performing poorly – except to focus on continuing to create great content. Over time, your content could then rise in relation to other pages. “

How to adapt your content to the Google Medic Update

  • Make sure that your off-page SEO and technical SEO are intact and that there are no fundamental issues.
  • Continue to produce helpful content that offers your target audience unique added value.
  • Stick to white hat link building strategies .

17. Google BERT

👴 Introduction: October 24, 2019

Google BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) was the biggest update since RankBrain. According to Google, it affects around ten percent of all search queries that should be better understood and answered as part of the update.

BERT is a technique that is assigned to Natural Language Processing (NLP), i.e. Computational Linguistics (CL). NLP forms the interface between computer science and linguistics. The subject of research is how natural language can be systematically processed by computers.

BERT is less about how results are ranked than about understanding the human language better. The update should enable Google, among other things, to record the relationship between individual words. The search engine should classify contexts and thus be able to react even better to the search intention.

For this purpose, a principle is used that is called “masking”. A word in a multi-part sentence is hidden (“masked”), whereupon BERT looks at the words before and after, i.e. examines the sentence in two directions (bidirectional). So BERT tries to find out what the hidden word is by looking at the context.


The student asks the [masked] if he wants to understand something better.

Long-tail search queries are particularly affected. BERT will probably also influence the voice search.

How to adapt your content to Google BERT

Follow the same steps as you did for Google Hummingbird.

18. Google Core Update May 2020

🚀 Introduction: May 4, 2020

In May 2020, in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, Google presented a new core update, which was primarily noticeable in a shift in the rankings in the SERPs. Danny Sullivan, press spokesman for Google, did not reveal what specific changes were made to the search algorithm. According to experts, however, the topic of EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trust) was an important part of the update.

Accordingly, websites that deliver high-quality and relevant content, maintain a meaningful backlink profile, and have a strong brand or a high domain age benefit from the update.

How to adapt your content to the Google Core Update

  • Make sure that your website, including all subpages, has a strong backlink profile
  • Make sure you also offer particularly high-quality and relevant content

19. Google Core Update December 2020

🚀 Introduction: December 3rd, 2020

In December, Google published another core update and again adjusted the search algorithms with regard to the EAT factors. The winners of this update included the business & industrial, Internet & telecommunications, and beauty & fitness sectors. In contrast, the areas of online communities, shopping, encyclopedias, and news lost their reach.

The December update also had a strong impact on EAT industries such as health, finance, and education, similar to the core update in May 2020. Websites with little content and a weak brand were no longer considered as much by the algorithm as a result of the update.

How to adapt your content to the Google Core Update

Follow the same steps as for the Google Core Update in May 2020.

20. Google Core Web Vitals

🚀 Launch: May 2021

The next big Google update has already been announced: From May 2021, the search engine wants to focus even more on the user experience. The importance of SSL certificates, mobile-friendliness, and the loading speed is strengthened. Disruptive interstitials such as pop-ups, on the other hand, have a negative effect on the ranking. What is completely new is that Google measures the so-called core web vitals. These consist of three key figures that officially become ranking factors:

  1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP). Here, Google measures how long it takes for the main content of the website to be visible to visitors. According to Google, there should be less than 2.5 seconds between calling up the page and the appearance of the content.
  2. First input delay (FID). This Core Web Vital is about how quickly users can interact with your site – for example, how quickly they can click buttons or fill out forms. The decisive factor here is the time that elapses from the click of the customer to the reaction of the browser. 
  3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). This value determines how stable the page is visually. If content shifts on the page while users want to read or click on it, this results in a negative rating.

How to adapt your content to the Core Web Vitals

  • Use Google PageSpeed ​​Insights to measure core web vitals.
  • Improve the loading speed of your website.
  • Avoid pop-ups that are not absolutely necessary.
  • Make sure your site is secure and has an https url.

Updates to the Google algorithm bring many opportunities

Let’s be honest: From a marketing point of view, it can be quite stressful and nerve-wracking to keep an eye on all the important Google updates and to react appropriately to them. But keep in mind that Google isn’t making the adjustments to annoy us. Ultimately, they should help improve the user experience and promote the publication of high-quality content.

This helps your customers just as much as you do yourself. So always make sure to produce high-quality content with added value – then Google will reward you with a good ranking.

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