Before we launch into the history of Google search engine update, let us take a brief look at the history of how Google itself came about. It began as a research project of Stanford University Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin in the year 1996. It was born out of an idea to explore the mathematical properties of the World Wide Web. They created a web crawler that explored this and originally used the Stanford University’s website with the domain google.stanford.edu. In 1997, the domain google.com was registered and in 1998, the company Google was formally incorporated.
This was followed by the filing of their first patent, receiving their first funding and then on, grew from strength to strength. That the word ‘Google’ has replaced the word ‘search’ for many so of us is a testimony to what they have achieved. ‘Just Google it’ is the commonly heard phrase whenever someone is asking for information. Google search engine started getting popular during the early 2000s, and that was when they began selling advertisements associated with the search keywords.
It is now a norm for websites to have their contents adhere to Search Engine Optimization guidelines. And these guidelines are mostly based on Google ranking factors that play an important part in a website being on top in Google search snippets.
Google Search Algorithm
The Google updates are nothing but an update of the underlying Google algorithm used by the search engine. The updates are done to ensure that search the engine remains highly effective in a fast-changing and ever expanding technological scenario. The algorithms, in turn, contain the famed Google ranking factors. Based on what the user searched for, the algorithm lists out the Google search snippets.
Though nowadays most of the updates are seen with endearing names the early Google updates did not have any specific names nor did they follow any naming conventions. When you look into the history of updates, the first named update was “Boston,” called so because it was announced in SES Boston. Also, the naming was done by Webmaster World users. The naming system continued thus without following any specific system. Occasionally Google itself announced the names as well.
Listed below are the most noted Google updates over the years.
Launched by Google in December 2000, their browser toolbar and the Toolbar PageRank (TBPR) led to what was called as the Google Dance. The Google dance was the term used to refer to the change of the website rankings based on Google ranking factors.
Boston – The next notable update was the Boston announced in February 2003. Initially, Google aimed at monthly updates, but later combined a few changes in algorithms into one update. However, when the updates became more frequent, the monthly periodicity was done away with.
- Cassandra – Launched in April 2003, Cassandra addressed basic link-quality issues as well as hidden text and hidden links issues.
- Esmeralda – This update, launched in June 2003, is attributed for heralding some major infrastructure changes.
- Fritz – Fritz launched in July 2003 put an end to the Google dance as by now the indexes were changing daily.
- Florida – Florida is said to be the update that put SEO industry into the picture as it grossly affected the way the SEO was implemented.
- Austin – Launched in January 2004, Austin continued along the lines of Florida, addressing issues with the SEO of the times, like deceptive on-page tactics that included invisible text and META-tag stuffing.
- Brandy – In this update of February 2004, Google brought in index expansion of massive proportions. This update also included Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI). The concept of link “neighborhoods” and anchor text relevance received increased attention.
The year 2006 did not see any major named update as such, though they did continue to make updates.
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- Allegra – Post this update, in February 2005, ranking changes were witnessed, though it was not very clear what exactly Google had updated.
- Bourbon – This update of May 2005 is speculated to have changed the way Google handled duplicate content and non-canonical URLs.
- Search history-based personalization – This very important feature was launched in June 2005. In this update, Google dug into the user’s search history to personalize the results shown. This month also saw Google allowing webmasters to submit XML based sitemaps using Webmaster Tools.
- September 2005 to October 2005 – During this period Google launched a series of updates including Jagger to address low-quality links, paid links, etc. This period also saw Google merging its maps data into Local Business Center (LBC).
- Big Daddy – In December 2005, Big Daddy, an infrastructure update was launched. This update is attributed to have changed the way redirects, URL canonicalization and few such other technical issues were handled by Google.
- Universal search – Launched in May 2007, Google changed their search results format vastly by bringing in Video, images, news and a few of other such stuff.
- Buffy – This update was launched to honor Vanessa Fox leaving Google. This was an accumulated list of updates released together.
Google Suggest – The most notable update of 2008 was the Google Suggest- which suggested searches in the drop down boxes when users started typing their search requests.
- Support for canonical tag – This was a joint announcement in February by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft that allowed sending of canonicalization signals by webmasters to search bots.
- Vince – The February 2008 update was mentioned as a minor one but was felt like a major one by SEOs, which had long-term implications favoring big brands.
- Caffeine – Google launched a preview of Caffeine update in August meant to give users speedy results. The algorithm was supposed to have been updated for larger indexes and faster rankings computed in real time. This update was rolled out across months and drastically improved the speed of listing the Google search snippets.
- Real time search – The Caffeine update was followed up by real time search update in December 2009 which allowed real time feeds like Twitter feeds, Google news and many such other sources into the search.
- Google Places – This was an update launched in April and allowed small businesses to place themselves on Google Maps to gain rankings. It replaced the LBC by integrating the places pages as part of the local search results.
- May Day – As the name suggests this update launched in May was mainly for impacting the long tail traffic.
- Caffeine – The final rollout of Caffeine happened in June, and Google reported a 50% fresher index as a result of this.
- Instant Previews – Launched in November, this update brought in a magnifying glass allowing users to have a quick look at the landing pages of the listed search snippets.
- Social Signals – December 2010 saw Google announce the much awaited social changes to accommodate the social media onslaught. It was confirmed that social media signals would be used in determining the rankings. This update made sure that SEO was thus applicable to the social media pages as well.
- Negative reviews – Google made a rare adjustment to its algorithm in December of 2010, reacting to the news about how the rankings were being based on negative reviews by e-commerce website DecorMyEyes.
Panda/Farmer – There were two pre-cursor updates to the Panda/Farmer update namely overstock.com penalty and attribution update. These were done to show the shift in Google’s attitude and sort out content attribution slightly better, respectively. Panda/Farmer was said to be a major update affecting content farms and websites with thin content. Google itself said that this update affected about 12% of the search results. This update ensured that the website content focused on quantity to quality if they wished to achieve better rankings.
- +1 Button – The +1 button update was done to counter competition from social media, allowing influencing of search results within users’ social circles. This update of March saw Google place a +1 button next to the search results links.
- The year 2011 also saw many minor upgrades to the Panda like 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, Panda Flux, 3.1, etc.
The year 2012, too, saw many updates including Panda 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7. 3.8, 3.9, Panda #20, 21, 22 and 23. The other notable updates of 2012 were:
- Search+ – Google used social data from Google+ in the search results in this update, along with a toggle button that allowed removing of personalization in searches.
- Venice – Launched in February, Venice update localized organic results.
- Penguin – This update launched in April 2012 was the most notable of the 2012 updates. Penguin was launched to counter spam that devalued websites with stuffed content meant to improve rankings.
- Knowledge Graph – Announced in May, Knowledge Graph was a major push for semantic search. Knowledge panels are providing more supplemental objects, people, place or things made the keyword even more vital in searches. This was later supplemented through an update called Knowledge Graph Expansion in December as well.
- Exact Match Domain (EMD) Update – In September Google announced a change to the way they handled EMDs affecting the rankings of many sites through devaluation.
Google continued with the Panda updates in 2013 with Panda #24, #25 and Panda Dance. A few Penguin updates like Penguin 2.0 and 2.1 as well as many other unnamed updates were also announced.
Humming Bird – Announced in August, this is said to be a core algorithm update for improved effectiveness of search engines for voice queries. This was mostly meant for the mobile queries and affected the mobile SEOs.
Payday Loan 2.0 and 3.0 – Launched in May and June respectively, these updates were meant to target spam based queries.
- Authorship Photo Drop– All authorship photos from the search results were dropped in this June update.
- Pigeon – This is said to be an update that majorly affected the local results through different handling and interpretation of local cues. This was announced in July.
- HTTPS/SSL – In August Google announced that websites that are secure would be given preference boosting their rankings.
- Pirate 2.0 – Launched in October, this update was meant to counter software and digital media piracy and affected many sites.
- Pigeon Expands – In December 2014, the Pigeon update hit the UK, Canada, and Australia as well, whereas it was rolled out earlier, in July, in the United States.
- Mobile Friendly – As part of this April update, Google announced that mobile friendly sites would be treated differently in their rankings. This was followed up with a Mobile friendly update in May 2016 as well.
- Quality – In May, Google made a core algorithm update that impacted quality signals, though nothing more was revealed on this.
- RankBrain – In October Google announced that machine learning was the 3rd most influential of the Google ranking factors, part of their algorithm. They revealed that it had been in use for a few months already.
Apart from this many other unnamed updates have been observed by Google trackers though nothing much is officially available on these.
- Ad words Shakeup – In February Google removed right column ads and brought in the top blocks with four ads for commercial searches. This major change implicated organic as well as paid searches.
- Penguin 4.0 – This announcement in September suggested that Penguin was now real time and a part of the core algorithm. This was followed up by the actual updates in two phases till October.
Google continues to provide updates to offer an unparalleled user experience coupled with high quality search results. All this is done, taking into account the fast paced changes that keep happening on the World Wide Web and related technologies. Every attempt by the errant website to try and manipulate the rankings has been addressed by Google through their continuous updates.
Intrusive Interstitial Penalty – This update announced in January was meant as a punishment for those websites with aggressive interstitial ads and pop-ups spoiling the mobile user experience.
This is very much in keeping with the high ethical standards followed by their algorithm through the years. Watch out for further Google updates and innovations that are likely to roll out soon. You never know what comes next!