A Quick Guide to Googles Algorithm Updates

The past two years have seen an increase in the number of updates to Google’s search engine ranking algorithm, and these updates have had a huge effect on rankings and the SEO industry. If you are working on a website which has been hit by an update and has lost its ranking and traffic one of the first things you should do is determine exactly what updates have caused your ranking declines. To help you do this I have put together a quick guide to all of the major updates and exactly what the update aimed to do.

  • Attribution Update – aimed to reduce spam levels in Google’s search results by devaluing sites that copied or scraped content from other sites. Introduced: January 28th 2011.
  • Austin – named after the headquarters of http://www.webmasterworld.com/ WebmasterWorld this update was one of Google’s earliest updates which aimed to stop sites with spammy unrelated links from ranking. Introduced: January 23rd 2004.
  • Big Daddy – this was an infrastructure update instead of an algorithm update in which Google changed the way they crawled and indexed websites and how it handle canonicalisation and redirects. Introduced: December 2005.
  • Boston – the first documented algorithm update announced a SES Boston combined algorithm change and major index refreshed. Introduced: February, 2003.
  • Caffeine – a major infrastructure change which increased crawlspeed and rankings in almost real time. Helped sites with fresh content get indexed and ranked quicker. Introduced: August, 2009.
  • Cassandra – Cracked down on hidden text and links, and links from co-owned domains. Introduced: April, 2003.
  • Dewey – A big shuffle in rankings but with little information on what was changed, some suspected that Google;s own properties were the benefit of this algorithm change. Introduced: April, 2008.
  • DMCA Penalty – Google announced they would start penalising sites with copyright violations as determined by DMCA takedown requests. Introduced: August 10th 2012.
  • Dominic – this was an unknown algorithm update which changed the way that Google counted and reported backlinks. Introduced: May, 2003.
  • Esmeralda – was likely a major infrastructure change at Google which introduced ‘everflux’ and meant that Google’s search results updated continuously to keep results as relevant and updated as possible. Introduced: June, 2003.
  • Exact Match Domain (EMD) – this update devalued websites with an exact match domain which were previously given a ranking boost. Introduced: September 27th, 2012.
  • Florida – one of the frst major algorithm updates that killed many early tactics such as keyword stuffing. This update also likely affected Partial Match Domains. Introduced: September 27th, 2012.
  • Freshness Update – an algorithm change that rewarded fresh content which affected time-sensitive search results. Introduced: November 3rd, 2003.
  • Hummingbird – this update pushed Google’s Knowledge Graph further into the search results with Google’s aim to move towards question based search terms as opposed to keyword based. Introduced: August 20th, 2013.
  • Jagger – a series of updates which targeted low quality and reciprocal links as well as a first attempt at tackling link farms. Introduced: October 2005.
  • May Day – this update targeted long tail search keywords and sites that were ranking with little content. Introduced: May 2010.
  • Nofollow – in partnership with Yahoo & Microsoft the ‘no follow’ tag was introduced to help webmasters clean up spam links such as blog comments. While no immediate search results were affected this algorithm change had a long term affect on the way Google ranked sites. Introduced: January 2005.
  • Page Layout – an algorithm change that targeted sites with too many ads above the fold.  Also called the Top Heavy update this layout aimed to improve the quality of sites in the search results. Introduced: January 19th, 2012.
  • Panda – one of the major updates to Google’s search ranking algorithm which was also named the Farmer update unofficially. Targeted site content predominantly with sites with thin content, high ad to content rations and content farms targeted. Rolled out frequently after it launched and is now a rolling update. Introduced: February 23rd, 2011
  • Parked Domains – corrected a data error which caused some domains to be considered ‘parked domains’ and not rank well. Introduced: April 16th, 2012
  • Payday Loans – an update whch targeted notoriously spammy niche’s including payday loans and porn. Introduced: June 11th, 2013.
  • Penguin – a major update which changed the way that links were valued including some links harming a sites rankings where in the past they were simply ignored. This update affected a lot of websites that had engaged in SEO for years. Ths update also introduced the possibility of Negative SEO and led to the link disavow tool. Introduced: April 24th, 2012
  • Social Signals – Google and Bing both confirmed they were now using social signals to help rank sites including data sourced from Twitter & Facebook. Introduced: December 2010
  • Venice – this update gave locally focused sites a boost for local location specific searches. Introduced: February 27th, 2012
  • Vince – this update was the start of a push by Google to favour big brands in the search results. It is likely that unlinked brand name mentions had an affect on search results from this point. Introduced: February 2009

Now that you know all the updates, it is time to analyse your website traffic and determine exactly what you have done wrong so you can fix it. To do this you need to look at exactly what date you lost traffic and then try and match it to the dates an update occured. There is a great solution to help you do this fast if you use Google Analytics, called AlgoSleuth which uses Google Docs to overlay your website traffic with each of the updates helping you easily diagnose problems.

Algosleuth overlaying Analytics traffic data with dates of Major Google Updates

Algosleuth overlaying Analytics traffic data with dates of Major Google Updates

Duncan Jones

About The Author - Duncan Jones

I am a data-driven digital marketing specialist from New Zealand and im passionate about helping businesses and marketing professionals improve their digital marketing results. I have a focus on performance marketing, insist on tracking everything and love optimising & improving campaigns for clients across a huge range of industries. You can find me on LinkedIn here or you can contact me here.

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