What Are Google Algorithm Updates and How Do They Affect Your SEO?

Google consistently improves its algorithm and releases periodic updates that improve the ranking system. These updates can be minor or major (like AI) and tremendously impact your SEO.

This article will discuss a few of the notable Google algorithm updates thus far and the impact of major updates on your SEO in general.

Minor algorithm updates explained

Minor updates are small changes that Google makes to its algorithms as needed. These updates can be tweaks the search engine makes to ensure continuous improvement, guaranteeing a seamless user experience.

Compared to major updates, minor updates’ impact on your SEO is trivial. Generally, these changes may affect a few of the search queries you target. Still, they won’t require you to revise your SEO strategy or take drastic measures to ensure compliance with content quality guidelines.

While the rankings of many websites are unaffected by minor algorithm updates, their impact can be more significant in some cases.

Core algorithm updates explained

Google’s core algorithm updates encompass major changes in how the search engine processes users’ queries and shows the best-suited recommendations.

Unlike minor updates, Google’s major algorithm updates have a high impact on your SEO and may require you to make noticeable changes to your SEO strategy.

When these updates go live, you may see a significant drop or spike in your organic traffic, as major updates affect many of your targeted queries and the factors that dictate your current rankings.

So, these updates can be considered bad news for many but good news for a few that anticipated the changes and took preemptive measures.

Effect of core algorithm updates on Your SEO

Core updates are periodic changes Google makes to rank different websites. Whenever the search engine comes up with such updates, its ranking mechanism either drastically changes or is completely modified to offer a better experience to its users.

What is SEO

It’s a no-brainer that major algorithm updates significantly impact your SEO, as you may lose the rankings you’ve maintained thus far on different keywords. So, you might have to go back to the drawing board and develop a new and improved optimization strategy.

That’s not all. Core algorithm updates may also lead to search engine penalties if a website fails to meet certain criteria. 

For example, most marketers create content around relevant keywords to fuel their SEO. However, not all produce quality content. Some are tunnel-visioned by the content’s frequency, so their content provides little to no value.

Many websites were penalized when the Panda update rolled out because their content lacked topical depth and quality.

Did you know that Google has over 93% of the market share in the search industry, and around 91% of websites fail to attract organic traffic due to lacking backlinks?

This is one of the major reasons why many content marketers resorted to spamming, joining link farms, and building links on irrelevant sites back in the day to increase the backlinks representing their sites.

This was before Google took notice and developed its Penguin update that forced websites to maintain a clean backlink profile. After the update was rolled out, Google issued many penalties and revoked the previous rankings of websites that engaged in shady link-building practices.

This is the power of Google’s major algorithm updates and the impact they can have on your SEO strategy.

It goes without saying that each of Google’s major algorithm updates catered to different exploits in its ranking mechanism and came up with much-needed fixes that leveled the playing field for all.

Notable Google algorithm updates

Throughout many years, Google developed a series of minor and major updates to facilitate a hitch-free user experience. Here are a few noticeable ones you should know about:


Launched in 2010, Caffeine was a major algorithm update announced by Google with the core purpose of improving the agility and accuracy of the platform to determine the rankings of different web pages for targeted keywords.

With its new technology, Google has become faster and more efficient at crawling, indexing, and ranking websites. Google could now process data in real-time, instantly fetch content updates, and update its search results, facilitating users’ access to relevant information.


With its Panda algorithm update, Google announced to the world that quality content is one of the critical indicators that drive the search engine rankings of a site.

The core objective of this update was to weed out subpar sites with thin content from the rankings and replace them with more deserving ones.

This update gave meaning to the phrase “content is king” and is one of the reasons why 82% of businesses think of content marketing as a reliable growth strategy today.


Freshness was an algorithm update rolled out by Google in November 2011. It changed the way the search engine processed users’ queries and displayed suitable recommendations.

The core objective of this update was to ensure that the search engine shows relevant search results in response to different keywords, analyzing not just the queries but also the users’ intent behind them.


Penguin was rolled out in 2012 with the core purpose of identifying and dealing with subpar link-building concerns once and for all. This update targeted websites that leveraged black-hat SEO tactics to increase their number of backlinks for higher search engine rankings.

After this update, the search engine crawled all indexed sites and scored their respective backlinks.

The sites with a clean backlink profile weren’t affected by this update. However, the ones that had accumulated poor-quality links over time saw a significant drop in rankings or were severely penalized.


Venice was one of the core updates announced by Google. The search engine giant learned over time that people often look for solutions in their vicinity, as they’d be easier to consider or try out.

So, instead of providing users with recommendations from around the globe, Google decided that it’d be best to recommend solutions near them. Hence, the Venice update came out. And after the update, the search results were refined and localized per the user’s set location or IP address.


Pirate, also known as the DMCA algorithm update, was announced when Google decided to consider the frequency of DMCA takedown requests and use them as one of the key drivers that define its rankings.

The core purpose of launching this update was to identify and take action against websites that have committed copyright violations or published plagiarized content.


The Hummingbird update revolutionized how Google processed users’ queries and displayed the best-suited results. 

Google realized that instead of analyzing the keywords and showing results that were a word-for-word match, it’d be best to explore the meaning of the query and display results accordingly.

It’s one of the critical updates Google created that laid the groundwork for what we know as voice search today.


Pigeon was another localization algorithm update announced by Google that emphasized the importance of local SEO.

It improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters when analyzing users’ queries and helped the search engine provide users with personalized recommendations encompassing their vicinity.


In 2015, Google realized that most search queries came from mobile devices. And that’s when the search engine decided that mobile optimization would play a key role in determining the rankings of websites, giving an edge to ones that were already mobile-friendly.

Despite the update being fear-mongering, no drastic measures were taken by the search engine, such as imposing penalties. However, the update paved the way for a greater user experience as websites understood the importance of being mobile-friendly.


The RankBrain algorithm update was rolled out by Google when the platform started leveraging machine learning to process users’ queries. This update considered users’ previous searches and deduced a pattern that dictated how respective queries were processed.

Despite the algorithm’s undeniable influence on search results, there’s no way one could make optimization changes for it. However, consistently creating quality content would surely help.


Possum was another localization update announced by Google in 2016. The update improved Google’s local ranking filter and refined how the platform displayed results in response to the queries received.

This update ensured that the search results encompassed both the localization aspect and the way a particular search query is phrased.

This gave an edge to local businesses in their respective vicinities, especially the ones that generally didn’t get much organic traction. After the update, many of them started appearing in higher rankings on queries representing their areas of operations.


Fred was an algorithm update by Google that targeted black-hat tactics encompassing aggressive website monetization.

This was Google’s crackdown against sites that published poor-quality content and focused solely on generating revenue by bombarding the readers with excessive ads.

This update significantly affected the rankings of websites that prioritized generating revenue over facilitating users’ access to relevant information.


Google’s Medic algorithm update revolved around EAT (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness). It specifically targeted web pages with content that affected users’ physical or mental well-being in one way or another and expected the content produced to be of high quality.

While the encompassed update targeted different industries such as finance, health, legal, media, and more, a relatively high number of medical or health-related sites were affected by it, hence the name.


Google’s BERT algorithm update was powered by machine learning, where a neural network-based technique was used to dissect and analyze users’ queries for the sequence of keywords used to understand the context better.

It was a step up to comprehending queries as per the users’ intent and facilitated improvement in displaying appropriate recommendations.

Helpful Content Update

Google’s Helpful Content Update focused explicitly on the overall quality of the content produced by websites.

It favored websites that created people-focused content compared to the ones whose content was company-focused or explicitly designed to promote specific products or services.

The update had a noticeable impact on search results and affected websites with subpar quality or excessively promotional content.

Final Thoughts

Google is the market leader in the search industry for a reason. The platform evolves consistently to ensure a seamless user experience and effortless access to relevant content.

For this, Google has deployed other algorithm updates over the years as the platform strives to be better at helping its users make informed choices.

This article explored some of Google’s main updates and discussed how they can affect your SEO.

Tags: SEO.

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