Who has not dreamed of one day infiltrating the offices of Google and finding the solution to understand all of their algorithms?
These algorithms decide whether your website or blog posts will rank first or last in the search results. They can make your business prosper or lead to its loss if its SEO is penalised.
Of course, you can notfind information about the entire algorithm of Google. This secret is too well kept.
However, some parts of Google’s algorithm are regularly updated. Also, knowing these algorithms will allow you to acquire a global vision of SEO, analyse the impact that some of these updates have and perhaps also understand a little better what your webmaster reallymeans or your SEO expert when they talk about penguins or pandas!
In addition, if you have noticed a sudden change in the traffic of your website or its rankings, there is a good chance that an update of a Google algorithm has had a positive or negative impact, on your site.
Use this list of Google algorithms and updates, sorted by deployment date, to understand the logic of SEO:
Google Algorithms and Updates
This might surprise many, but Google’s ranking is not basedon a single algorithm. In fact, several algorithms work in parallel.
All of these algorithms are used to improve the quality of search results to provide the best possible experience for users. Indeed, since the behaviouron the Internet evolves, the algorithms adapt themselves: new algorithms are created or modified according to the needs and the behaviourof the users.
The names of the algorithms are not always easy to remember, and one often wonders how some of them were chosen. Besides this mystery, this list will allow you to have a clear overview of the main algorithms of Google and their updates since 2010:
Introduced in June 2010,Caffeine is a redesign of Google’s indexing system. The Caffeine algorithm allows you to crawl and then index a page instantly. Before the implementation of this algorithm, Google could index a set of pages, only after extracting, analysingand understanding its contents.
With this new system that makes it quick and easy to index, Google is now able to provide 50% more content, andarticles in its search results than before the algorithm was implemented.
The Panda algorithm is a search filter; introduced in February 2011,it penalises the rankings of websites whose content is of low quality. Panda essentially aims to fight against content sites, created solely for SEO and spam.
The Panda algorithm is regularly updatedto allow previously penalised sites to recover their SEO after improving the quality of their content, or on the contrary, to punishsites that no longer comply with Google’s guidelines.
In its first deployment, Panda had a significantimpact on the configuration of search results by altering 12% of SERP’s in the United States!
After the 4.2 update, the quality of the content became a ranking factor of SEO and the integration of Panda to the main algorithm of Google was confirmedon January 2016. Google now no longer announces the updates of Panda: This algorithm is constantlytaken into account to define the ranking of a website in the pages of search results.
3. Top Heavy – Excess Advertising
The top Heavy algorithm was deployed in January 2012, to penalise the rankings of sites unusually overloaded in advertisements, especially above the fold. However, this minor update had only a 1% impact on search results.
The Penguin algorithm is the bane of webmasters; each update was very actively discussed on the web and caused waves of panic and questioning on social networks. Experts will be able to confirm, with each fluctuation of the SERP’s, the SEO community panicked fearing a new update of the algorithm.
Like Panda, this algorithm is also a search filter that was first introducedin April 2012. It penalises the rankings of websites that do not comply with the guidelines of Google, regarding thecreation, purchase or networks of links.
Webmasters penalised by Penguin had to clean up their portfolio of links by disavowing the contentious links. If this cleaning has been donecorrectly, they could hope to recover their original rankings at the next update. However, this tedious backlink clean-up is not so simple: months or even years are sometimes necessary before we can hope to escape the penalties of Google’s Penguin.
On September 23, 2016, when the 4.0 update was released, Google announced that this update would be the last. In a similar way to Panda, the Penguin algorithm has been added to Google’s core algorithm and is now working in real time.
Now, the monitoring of the link portfolio must be constant to ensure a healthy link profile, which is not likely to penalise the rankings of individualpages.
However, the addition to the main algorithm of Google is good news because webmasters will no longer have to wait for a new update to be able to recover their rankings. Indeed, almost two years elapsed between the penultimate update of the algorithm and the deployment of Penguin version 4.0.
The Pirate algorithm is a search filter, deployed in August 2012. It aims to remove pages from search results, sites that have received complaints of copyright infringement, sent via Google’s DMCA system.
This filter is regularly updated to remove pages that offer illegal downloading of movies, series or music.
6. Exact Match Domain (EMD)
The Exact Match Domain algorithm was launchedin September 2012. It makes it possible to prevent low-quality sites from being ranked in the first page of search results just because their domain name corresponds to a request that is highly searched for by Internet users.
For example, before implementing this algorithm, by taking “www.cheapmarketingsoftware.com” as a domain name, there was a good chance that the homepage of this website would be ranked in first position for the query “cheap marketing software”, even if the content of its pages did not necessarily meet the needs of users. The deployment of this algorithm has made it possible to avoid such situations.
This algorithm was deployed in June 2013. It aims to improve the quality of search pages by deleting the results for queries highly assimilated to spam (online gaming sites, drugs, adult content, loans, counterfeiting and so forth).
Hummingbird was launched in September 2013. This algorithm is one of Google’s most important: it has had a substantial impact on the way we formulate our searches. Google chose to name this algorithm Hummingbird because thanks to him, the search became precise and fast.
Thanks to this algorithm, Google can understand a query or a sentence as a whole and no longer according to one or a few keywords. The proposed results are therefore of much better quality, and the research could become more human, thanks to the understanding of conversational search.
Since the implementation of this new algorithm, it is possible to obtain precise answers for requests such as: “Which is the nearest bakery” or “Who is the doctor on duty today”. This type of search was unthinkable before. Could hummingbird have opened the door to artificial intelligence and voice assistants such as Alexa or Siri? Perhaps.
The Pigeon algorithm was deployed in July 2014, in the United States and in June 2015 internationally. This algorithm favours local search results to provide more accurate solutions to user queries. The changes made by this algorithm are visible on Google and Google Maps.
The Pigeon algorithm has had an impact primarilyon local businesses and businesses such as restaurants, bars or doctors’ offices.
10. Mobile Friendly – Mobilegeddon
This algorithm had an even greater impact than those of Penguin or Panda, and it was even renamed “mobilegeddon” by some SEO experts: the Armageddon of mobile compatibility.
This algorithm was deployed in real time and page by page: a site could thus maintain good overall rankings, even if some of its pages were not adapted to the mobile format.
Since 2015, mobile compatibility is a priority for Google and a significant ranking factor. In fact, in November 2016, Google announced that it wouldlaunch its Mobile-first index in 2017.
What is Mobile-first index? Until now, Google has been ranking websites based on their desktop version. However,the behaviour of users change, andthey spend more time surfing the internet on a mobile device than on a computer. Google has therefore decided to take into account the mobile version of a website, at the expense of the desktop version to perform its SEO.
If your website is not mobile-friendly, it’s time to make some changes. Check the mobile compatibility of your site by using Google’s free mobile-friendly test.
Rankbrain, launched in early 2015, is actuallypart of the Hummingbird search algorithm.
Rankbrain is rather particular and mysterious because it is an artificial intelligence that would be able to understand the meaning of similar queries but formulated differently.
For example, this artificial intelligence could understand over its learning, that the queries “Barrack” and ”MariMichelle Obama” should provide a similar answer that is “Barrack Obama.”
In the extension of Hummingbird, Rankbrain aims to interpret and understand the most abstractsearches of Internet users. Most importantly, Google claimed that Rankbrain was one of the three most important SEO factors (with the qualityof content and links).
Rankbrains learning is appliedto all searches, but it is doneoffline: Google feeds it with historical research files so that it learns to make predictions. These predictions are then tested and applied if they prove to be correct.
You did not think a simple Google search involved all that work up front, did you?
12. Quality or Phantom
In May 2015, the SEO community was panicking because many webmasters noticed significant changes in the SERPs. However, when members of the Google team, in charge of the quality of the search engine, had been harassed on Twitter (as is very often the case), they replied that they had no update to announce.
The webmasters,convinced that something was happening, decided to name this update Phantom, due to the lack of response from Google but there were obvioussigns of change.
A few weeks later, Google confirmed that an update was deployedand that it concerned the quality of the content on websites. The Phantom update was renamed Quality by Google. However, Google never wanted to specify how this update was different from the Panda algorithm.
Periodically, updates are noticed by SEO experts but denied by Google. There are therefore several versions of the Phantom algorithm, named for lack of a better name, Phantom 1, 2 or 3. However, their importance, mechanism and scope remain unknown.
13 – Google doubles the length of descriptions
In November 2017, Google doubledthe number of characters displayed in a website’s meta description from a limit of 160 characters to a limit of 320 characters.
With this update, Google continues to promote complete sentences and descriptions that contain enough information to provide context to readers. It is possible that the search engine does not take into account your meta-description tag and cut or complete some information.
Reminder: Meta-descriptions do not count in search engine rankings but are still essential to encourage your visitors to come to your site and improve Click-Through rate (CTR).
You now know a little better all the elements that can influence the rankings of your website. However, this list is not exhaustive, I could also mention algorithms like Big Daddy, Florida or Bourbon but it seems useless to go back before 2010 because the internet has changed so much!