Searchmetrics Glossary – The Dictionary of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing

Resources | Glossary

Google Updates

Google Updates are important events for webmasters and SEOs everywhere. These algorithm changes, filters, data refreshes or other alterations are often to blame when a website suffers a drop in ranking or SEO Visibility. This page provides an overview of all important Google Updates, going back to 2010.

Google Updates Overview

Short introduction to Google Updates

A Google Update, such as the Mobile Update or Phantom Update, is the term used to describe a change affecting how rankings are calculated by the search engine, Google. Some updates are major algorithm changes and others may be the application of filters of a refresh of the data basis that an algorithm runs on. The general aim of any update is always to improve the relevance and quality of the search results, with most changes focusing on one or more particular features, such as an optimization to fight search engine spam or to combat duplicate content.

Most updates are initiated manually and rolled out for Google’s individual country indexes. Some updates, like the Penguin Update or Panda Update, are already part of Google’s so-called “core algorithm”. They have become so integral to the search engine that they now develop continuously and automatically, and are no longer manually updated.

Each year, Google implements over 600 adaptations and updates to its algorithms. Most of these alterations take place unnoticed and are not announced within the search engine industry.

The most significant Google Updates take place when there is an adjustment to the structure and functionality of the algorithm. These have more of an impact a Data Refresh, which does not add any new features to the core algorithm, and simply updates the data used by the algorithm.

Google Updates since 2010

The table lists all important Google Updates since 2010. These are listed chronologically, starting with the most recent (as of June 2017).

Update Name Date first Rolled Out
Features Confirmed by Google
Fred Update 3rd March 2017 The update was not officially confirmed by Google. The name comes from Gary Illyes, who jokingly said that all updates would now be called “Fred.” Pages most affected were those with low-quality content without any real added value for users. The update is thought to have targeted excessive use of advertising banners, meaning it can possibly be considered an iteration of the so-called “Interstitial Penalty.” Yes and no
Phantom V Update February 2017 The heavy impact observed on rankings suggested that adjustments were again made to the Phantom Update. The update was not confirmed by Google. Nevertheless, the pattern of results pointed to this being a “Phantom.”

» Phantom V Analysis

Interstitial Penalty 10th January 2017 This update was supposed to primarily target pages that made aggressive use of interstitials and pop-ups because of their negative impact on user-friendliness. Yes
Penguin Update 4.0 27th September 2016 to 6th October 2016 This large update of the Penguin algorithm was carried out in several steps, lasting around two weeks. In the second phase, websites had the chance to escape the Penguin filter and regain rankings by having penalties removed.

» Penguin 4.0 Analysis

Mobile Update 2 12th May 2016 This update gave increased weight to websites’ mobile-friendliness when evaluating rankings for the mobile Google search. Websites that had not yet been optimized for smartphones at the time of the first Mobile Update had the chance of regaining rankings they had lost in the mobile SERPs.

» Mobilegeddon 2 Analysis

Phantom Update IV 10th May 2016 The pattern of this unconfirmed update was similar to previous Phantom Updates, with the traffic on a number of the same websites being affected. It is therefore assumed that this was the fourth iteration of this algorithm adjustment.

» Phantom IV Analysis

Google Core Update January 2016 Pages with high-quality, holistic content were the big winners for many keywords. But it was not just the amount of content that was decisive in determining rankings. far more, it was the question whether the content was relevant for fulfilling the user intent.

» Google Core Update Analysis

Phantom Update III December 2015 After a change to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, webmasters and SEOs across the world saw changes to their rankings. Various analyses found that the update primarily addressed user intent and content quality.

» Phantom III Analysis

RankBrain 26th October 2015 RankBrain is a self-learning system that is, first and foremost, supposed to deal with search queries that Google is not yet familiar with. Every day, more than 15% of searches made by users are new to Google.

» RankBrain Analysis

Panda Update No. 28
(Panda 4.2)
Mid-July 2015 The latest Google Panda came ten months after the previous one, again focusing on content quality, redundant, irrelevant content and spam. However, with long roll-out times (approx. 8 weeks) of updates, and (near-)simultaneous algorithm changes, it was not always clear for webmasters which updates were affecting their traffic.

» Panda 4.2 Analysis

Newswave Update Mid-June 2015 This update, which Google did not confirm, primarily affected search queries related to trending keywords and information-related keywords. Media websites benefited most from this roll-out.

» Newswave Analysis

Phantom Update II
(a.k.a Quality Update)
May 2015 While Google confirmed that changes were made to the ranking signals for website quality, no further details were provided. For this reason, this update was dubbed “Phantom.”

This second iteration of the Phantom Update (after the first in May 2013) caused extreme fluctuations in the SERPs, and led to some websites losing half of their traffic. The impact of this algorithm update was felt worldwide.

» Phantom II analysis

Yes and no
Mobile Update (#Mobilegeddon) 22nd April 2015 Google used this update to turn websites’ mobile-friendliness into a ranking factor for mobile search. It was the first update that Google explicitly announced before rolling it out.

» Mobilegeddon Analysis

Brand/eCommerce Update February 2015 A possible update to Google’s algorithms sent waves through the rankings of brand websites and online shops. The update focused on keywords with a high search volume.

» eCommerce Update Analysis

Pirate Update Version 2 (DMCS Penalty) 21st October 2014 This is an improvement to the Pirate Update. Above all, this is supposed to recognize and penalize copyright infringements better. Google confirmed this iteration.

» Pirate 2 Analysis

Penguin 3 October 2014 Google announced another Penguin Update, yet the changes caused by this latest one were neither obvious, nor did they seem to happen all at once. Overall, less than 1% of search queries were affected, over the course of several weeks, making the impact of this Penguin on websites’ traffic much less than other that of other iterations. Yes
Panda Update No. 27
(Panda 4.1)
23rd September 2014 In particular, pages lacking in content were affected. Google stated that the update affected up to five percent of all search queries.

» Panda 4.1 Analysis

HTTPS/SSL Update 6th August 2014 This update saw HTTPS encryption become a ranking signal. For Google, the update was an important step towards increasing security when using websites worldwide. It was not immediately clear how strongly this would actually influence rankings.

» HTTPS Update Analysis

Panda Update No. 26
Panda 4.0
19th May 2014 7.5% of English-language search queries were affected by Google’s Panda Update. The fourth generation of this algorithm again adjusted the quality demands placed on websites.

» Panda 4.0 Analysis

Payday Loan Algorithm Update 2.0 Estimated around 16th May 2014 This update improved Google’s capability of filtering out pages with spammy search queries from the search results. This was intended to greatly improve the user experience for people searching on Google. At the same time, it became more difficult for spam-heavy domains to achieve good rankings. Yes
Page Layout Update Version 3 (“Ads above the fold”) 6th February 2014 This update saw Google take a stricter approach towards websites with too much advertising “above the fold.” Such ads make for a vastly inferior user experience, so Google penalized the affected websites. No
Penguin Update 2.1 4th October 2013 The Penguin Update was adjusted, with a moderate impact on the search results. The first iteration of the second generation tweaked what was already well-known and did not cause too much havoc in the SERPs. Yes
Hummingbird Update 20th August 2013 The Hummingbird Update improved the semantic search and extended the Google Knowledge Graph. Since Hummingbird, Google to recognize relationships between search queries. This update can be considered the predecessor of RankBrain.

» Hummingbird Analysis

Panda Update „Recovery“ 18th July 2013 This update reduced the effect of past Panda Updates e.g. by removing formerly imposed penalties. This Panda was not included in the update numbering. Yes
Pay Day Loan Algorithm 11th June 2013 This Google Update targeted niche websites that are frequently affected by span, like pornography or credit sites. The update was announced on 11.06.2013. Yes
Penguin Update 2.0 22nd May 2013 The algorithm of this update was overworked and greatly improved, in order to advance the fight against link spam.

» Penguin 2.0 Analysis

Phantom I May 2013 The first version of what would become known the Phantom Update. Google did not confirm the precise nature of the algorithm change but the industry certainly felt the impact of this, and later Phantom Updates. No
Panda Update No. 25 14th March 2013 This was probably the last Panda Update before this algorithm was incorporated into Google’s core algorithm. Yes
Panda Update No. 24 22nd January 2013 According to Google, around 1.2% of all search queries were affected by this update. Yes
Panda Update No. 23 21st December 2012 This data refresh affected 1.3% of English-language search queries.  Yes
Panda Update No. 22 and Pony Update 21st November 2012 This update, which was confirmed by Google, seems to have basically been a data refresh. Nevertheless, it led to major drops in rankings for many websites.

» Pony Analysis

Panda Update No. 21 5th November 2012 This refresh affected 1,1% of English-language search queries. Yes
Page Layout Update No. 2 (“Ads above the fold”) 9th October 2012 Google did confirm this update but it is not clear whether it was simply a data refresh or something bigger. Yes
Penguin Update 1.2 5th October 2012 Only 0.3% of all search queries were affected by this Penguin Update. Yes
Panda Update No. 20 and EMD Update (Exact Match Domain Update) 27th September 2012 The EMD Update considerably lowered the importance of Exact Match Domains. Since then, the relevance of keyword domains is no longer as high as it used to be. Together with the Panda Update, implemented at the same time, this created noticeable changes in the search results. Yes
Panda Update No. 19 18th September 2012 As with the update carried out four weeks earlier, this data refresh only had a limited impact on the search results. Yes
Panda Update No. 18 20th August 2012 This update of the data basis for the Panda Update only had a small impact. Yes
Pirate Update (DMCA Penalty) 10th August 2012 The introduction of this update saw pages punished that are guilty of copyright infringement and e.g. offer pirated material. The assumption is that websites were affected who had previously been reported to Google via so-called “DMCA Takedown Requests.” Yes
Panda Update No. 17 24th July 2012 This data refresh caused movement in the SERPSs for several days. Google stated that around 1% of search results were affected. Yes
Panda Update No. 16 25th June 2012 This data refresh had a limited impact on the SERPs. Yes
Panda Update No. 15 8th June 2012 This Panda Update affected about 1% of all search queries. Yes
Penguin 1.1 26th May 12 This update was a data refresh for the Penguin algorithm, with Matt Cutts stating that it affected very few searches (<0.1%). Yes
Panda Update No. 14 27th April 2012 This update to the Panda algorithm was confirmed by Google, yet only had a slight impact on the search results. Yes
Penguin Update No. 1 24th April 2012 This update is also referred to as a “Webspam Update” because it targets webspam measures like keyword stuffing and first affected 3.1% of all English-language search results.

» Penguin Analysis

Panda Update No. 13 19th April 2012 This update was not officially confirmed and did not have a major impact. No
March 50 Pack Update + Tweaks to handling of anchor text 3rd April 2012 Google used this update to revise the way that anchor texts are evaluated. This update also saw optimization of the image search. The implementation of this update also affected search queries with local character. Yes
Panda Update No. 12 23rd March 2012 Google stated that this update affected around 1.6% of all search queries. Yes
Panda Update No.11 27th February 2012 This was a small adjustment to the Panda Update that did not create significant fluctuation. Yes
Page Layout Update (“Ads above the fold”) 19th January 2012 Following this update, websites are punished if they display too much advertising above the fold. This is seen as inhibiting the user experience. Yes
Panda Update No. 10 18th January 2012 This update was confirmed by Google, but it was not clear to what extent the algorithms were actually changed. Yes
Panda Update No. 9 18th November 2011 This was another in the series of frequent Panda Updates. Yes
Freshness Update 3rd November 2011 Google announced that this update affected 35% of all search queries. The adjustment to the algorithm dealt primarily with how up-to-date websites are.

» Freshness Update Analysis

Panda Update No. 8 5th October 2011 According to Google’s Matt Cutts, this update to the Panda Algorithm affected up to 2% of all search queries. Yes
Panda Update No. 7 28th September 2011 Google confirmed this iteration of the Panda Update, but gave no further details. Yes
Panda Update No. 6 12th August 2011 This Panda Update was rolled out worldwide on the same day, and did not just affect English-language search queries. The only languages not affected were Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Yes
Panda Update No. 5 23rd July 2011 This was another Panda Update confirmed by Google. Yes
Panda Update No. 4 21st June 2011 The fourth update to Panda (also known as 2.2) was confirmed by Google, continuing the trend of monthly updates. Yes
Panda Update No. 3 9th May 2011 The third Panda Update was more minor, the first to not be given full update status, and was named “Panda 2.1.” To avoid confusion, this article numbers gives each Panda Update a unique number, not distinguishing between major and minor. Yes and no
Panda Update No. 2.0 11th April 2011 The second Panda Update saw the algorithm change rolled out worldwide (for English-language queries), continuing to focus on low-quality content. Its impact also covered a more diverse range of websites, with estimated 2% of search queries affected. Yes
Expanded Sitelinks 16th August 2011 Google tested the roll-out of expanded sitelinks, which greatly increase the size and visibility of a result in the SERP, over a few weeks. Eventually, Google settled on maximum six expanded links for a result, each with the URL and short snippet. Yes Update 2nd June 2011 In an unusual act of cooperation, Google, as well as two other major search providers, Yahoo and Microsoft, made joint steps towards encouraging the use of structured data. Websites that use Schema markup can have more information shown on the SERP in the form of a Rich Snippet. Yes
Panda/Farmer Update 23rd February 2011 Originally dubbed “Farmer” because of its impact on content farms, this update would later become known as “Google Panda.” This was a serious attempt by Google to remove sites with thin or farmed content from the high positions in their search results, and give a boost to reputable, content-heavy sites.

» Panda/Farmer Analysis

Caffeine 8th June 2010 This was a major change to Google’s indexing structure to include news, blog posts and other updates in its search results faster. Google stated that Caffeine meant that “50% fresher results” were provided thanks to the rollout of Caffeine. Yes
May Day Update May 2010 This update was intended to improve the quality of search results. Mostly longtail keywords were affected. Yes