A Recent History of Google Algorithm Updates and What They Mean

Google is the number one search engine by far. The next closest competitor only has roughly 15% of the search volume. Why is this significant? Because the majority of customers searching for goods and services are going to utilize the Google search engine. With all of its popularity, scrutiny is sure to follow.

In the infancy of Google's existence, businesses would deploy sketchy tactics to show up on the top of Google search results. A few of these strategies are known as cloaking, keyword stuffing, poor quality content, paid backlinks, and link farms, just to name a few. Google had to design a way to confront these black hat tactics. A black hat tactic is the process of going against Google's guidelines to bolster a site's rankings in search results.

One of the Google's methods for tackling these black hat tactics is through algorithm updates. Algorithm updates started as early as the year 2000. And it has continued through 2019. Most recently, we've seen two major core algorithm updates: one in March and the other in June.  The three most infamous algorithm updates are Panda, Penguin, and Pigeon. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look into the history of these three major algo updates.



At its core, the Panda update focuses on thin content, content farms, and low quality content. It was first introduced to us in February of 2011 and Google continued to update it through 2015. So what can be done if you were affected by the Panda update? Here a few suggestions that continue to be worthwhile, even eight years later.


  1. Long Form Content: Most digital marketing experts consider the minimum word count for long-form content to be 700 words. Typically long-form ranges between 1,500 words to 2,000 words.

  2. Expanded List Blog Posts: Brian Dean of Backlinko is considered the founder of this method. What he does is take you through a step-by-step process using text and lots of images to help keep the reader engaged.

  3. Stop Buying 100 Links for $5: This one may seem simple; however, it's worth noting  that buying links in bulk is not going to get you ranked anymore. Rather, it is smart to invest in a marketing agency to help with backlink building.



The Penguin update was first introduced to us in April of 2012. It was initially rolled out to fight spam, unnatural links, over-anchoring on money keywords (dentist in new york city), and it's still part of the core algorithm for Google. Moz unveils their top ranking factors every year, and backlinks are typically number one. This will give you a sense of how impactful this algorithm update was and still is to companies trying to vie for the top spot in search. If you were hit by the Penguin update, how would you recover? Here are a few tips to help out.


  1. Time: Before updates affected sites in real time, time was your best and worst enemy. If you were hit by an algo update, you wouldn't be able to recover fully until Google released another major update. Thankfully, Penguin 4.0 was introduced in the fall of 2016 and made the algo updates in real time.

  2. Disavow Links: There is a tool in Search Console that allows you to discount spammy backlinks. It is called disavowing. There are questions as to whether it is still necessary to disavow backlinks; however, if you want to cover all of your bases, then go ahead and do this.

  3. Blogger Outreach: When building your backlinks, try to keep it as white hat as possible. Blogger outreach is when you create a great piece of content on your website and then promote it, hoping to receive organic backlinks from industry leaders. This is probably the most white hat approach to backlink building. You typically earn your best links this way as well.



The final algorithm update we'll cover today is the Pigeon update. This algorithm update, which launched in 2014, focused mainly on local SEO. Google claimed the Pigeon update created closer ties between local and core algorithms. User location plays an important part in one of the ranking factors for local search. So how do you adjust to this algorithm update? Similar to traditional SEO ranking factors, you want to invest effort into your on-page SEO and your off-site SEO.


  1. SEO Audit: Run an SEO audit of certain pages on your website to ensure there's appropriate keyword density for the keywords you want to rank on. For example, is “dentist in Rochester” in your title tag H1 and marketing copy?

  2. Reviews: Are you generating reviews for your website? Google My Business reviews are one of the top ranking factors for local SEO.

  3. Backlinks: How many backlinks do you have, and what is the quality of those backlinks to your domain? The relevancy of backlinks is always going to matter. Think of backlinks as a vote for you being an expert in the industry.
  4. Name, Address, Phone Number: This one may seem obvious; however, it is important to ensure there is a consistent NAP throughout your local citations. Anytime a business moves, remember to go back and update your name, address, and phone number.



These are only a few -- and the most well-known -- of the Google algorithm updates that have been released throughout the years. A few that we didn't mention but are worth reviewing at some point are the Hummingbird, Possum, and Fred updates. We're honestly not sure how Fred got lumped in with all these animals. The good news is there is always a path to recovery if you are ever strongly hit by one of the algorithm updates. A good first step is to consult with a local digital marketing company that lives and breathes this industry. Remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and continue to build strong, relevant backlinks.