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The History of Google’s Main Algorithm Updates

There’s a reason why Google has managed to climb to the top of the ladder in the search engine market and retained a permanent number one spot. They know how to adapt to the constantly changing Internet trends, and they have no qualms about scrapping months of work if it means improving the overall state of their system in the long run. The algorithm that determines search result rankings, one of the most critical ingredients to Google’s secret sauce, has gone through some major changes over time. It’s interesting to look back through history and explore how it’s evolved, and it can be quite insightful for those with an active interest in modern technology.


In 2011, Google responded to the rising trend of spammy sites producing low-effort content in an attempt to get ranked highly in the search engine’s results. The Panda update was somewhat controversial among webmasters and content producers, as some saw it as too punishing. However, the long-term results seem to be positive.


The Penguin update in 2012 not dissimilar to its predecessor, Panda, but it also specifically targeted sites that manipulated their link organization. This was a more complex issue to tackle, but it arguably brought significantly better results to the table and made things fairer for legitimate content producers. Around that time, Google also started to pay much more attention to the issue of spam in their search results as a whole, launching a number of smaller updates that collectively reorganized the playing field.


Around 2015, Google really started to focus on using machine learning, and AI became a much more prevalent driving force behind the evolution of their search engine. The RankBrain update was intended to allow Google to “understand” search queries better and deliver more appropriate results. Some users complained about the effects of the update, but it doesn’t seem to have impacted anyone’s searching experience negatively in any measurable ways. Companies like Click Intelligence have adapted to these changes quite well, while others have fallen behind by relying on traditional analytical techniques.


The most recent major update (that we know about) was launched in early 2017 and was once again targeting spammers and low-effort content producers. Some speculate that this was the result of growing attention towards Google News from spammers and sites focused on generating ad revenue, but of course, due to Google’s traditional secrecy, it’s hard to know what exactly prompted this update. Fred seems to have filtered out many sites that mainly focused on promoting content for affiliate marketing.

This is far from the full picture, as the real number of updates to Google’s search algorithms is impossible to know as the company doesn’t reveal such data publicly. However, it’s not hard to see how search results keep changing over time and how certain trends tend to get pushed to the top while others are “silenced.” Whether this is good for us as a community is hard to tell, but hopefully, Google knows what they are doing and what direction they need to push their trends in, but at least they have a lot of data to work with.