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Google’s history is filled with significant changes in its search engine functions. These alterations significantly affect website visibility in Google’s search results and influence strategies to improve online presence.

Here, we are exploring critical changes up to December 2022. These changes have shaped how we find information online and have made a big difference to the websites we see when we search.

Google continues to evolve its algorithms, so staying informed about the latest news and trends is crucial for anyone who wants their website to appear prominently in Google search results.

What is Google Update?

A Google update refers to changes Google makes to its search algorithm, the formula it uses to rank websites in search results. These updates aim to improve the quality and relevance of search results for users. It involves changes to its search algorithm, affecting how websites rank, content priorities, and SEO practices.

These updates are evolutionary in digital marketing and can significantly influence a website’s search visibility. Staying informed is crucial for SEO professionals and website owners to adapt and maintain rankings.

Difference between core update and minor algorithm update

A core update and a minor algorithm update differ primarily in their scope and impact on search results. 

Core updates are significant, broad changes to Google’s search algorithm, typically significantly impact search rankings and can lead to noticeable fluctuations in website visibility and traffic. These updates occur a few times a year and aim to improve search results’ overall quality and relevance.  Google declares such updates early and provides guidance to help professionals adapt to the changes.

Whereas minor algorithm updates are more specific changes, typically targeting particular issues or aspects of search results. These updates occur more frequently and aim to adjust ranking factors, refining how Google deals with specific types of content or spam in its search results. These updates need to be noticed by most users and website owners.

Here is a list of Google Updates since Boston 2003:

Boston (February 2003)

Boston Google search algorithm update was released in February 2003 and focused on improving search results by emphasizing factors like title tags and anchor text. The Boston update was first named the Google Algorithm update and was initially planned as a monthly update but later changed to narrower interval updates.

Impact on SEO:

  • The Boston update helped improve the overall quality of Google search results, giving websites more importance to providing high-quality content.
  • The update allowed the algorithm to identify tactics like spamming the articles with keywords. 

The Boston update led to future updates that improved Google’s search algorithm even more. 

Florida (November 2003)

The Florida algorithm update that Google rolled out in November 2003 significantly impacted search engine optimization (SEO) and how websites ranked in Google’s search results.

It was named Florida because it was launched around the time of the PubCon Florida conference in November 2003. Google aimed to improve the quality of search results for users while designing this update.

Impact on SEO:

  • Before the Florida update, SEO was easy. Many websites use tricks like stuffing keywords to rank higher on search engines. The new update comprises complex and sophisticated algorithms that improve the search and show results matching your desire.
  • Many websites that used spammy techniques saw a significant drop in their rankings.
  • The update targeted over-optimized websites and prioritized ethical and best practices for optimizing websites. Websites with helpful, well-written information got better rankings.
  • The Florida update moved SEO from quick tricks to long-term plans. SEO  professionals had to create good content, build ethical links, and consider users.

Overall, The Florida update transformed SEO, shifting from spammy tactics to user-focused content.

Bourbon (May 2005)

In the ever-evolving landscape of search engine optimization (SEO), the Bourbon update, like previous ones, showed how Google keeps improving its search algorithm to make search results more accurate and relevant for users.

The Bourbon update aimed to improve the quality and relevance of search results by tackling duplicate content and spammy SEO methods, aiming for higher quality and relevance.

Impact on SEO:

  • The Bourbon update focused on making Google better at indexing web pages accurately by removing duplicate or very similar content. It pushed web admins to prioritize unique and valuable content.
  • Google implemented measures to punish websites that automatically copied content from other sites.
  • The update Decreased the impact of spammy SEO methods and encouraged ethical, sustainable practices.
  • It also led to the popularity of long-tail keywords in SEO.

The Bourbon update reflected Google’s commitment to delivering users more accurate, relevant, and high-quality search results.

Big Daddy (December 2005)

The Big Daddy update was a milestone in Google search engine history as it enhanced Google’s ability to understand and rank web pages based on their quality and relevance. The update was first rolled out for SEO professionals to get feedback on the algorithm change.

Impact on SEO:

  • The update helped users to build a concise structure for their website.
  • Big Daddy emphasizes prioritizing factors like website navigation, meta titles, and interlinking.

Unlike other Google updates, Big Daddy didn’t affect Google’s search engine immediately; the effects were visible gradually over a period of time.

Universal Search (May 2007)

Google implemented the Universal Search update to remove the traditional 10-list result page with every Google search. With this update, Google users can ignore the news and other irrelevant pages and easily search for solutions to their queries.

Impact on SEO:

  • The Universal Search update provides users with more accurate, relevant, and diverse SERP by integrating results from all Google verticals. 
  • It allowed suggestions of various options for Google search, such as news and videos for local search results.

Before the Universal Search update, the Google search engine allowed only ten links on the result page whenever a user submitted any query. This update shook things up, making search results more diverse and robust.

Caffeine (June 2010)

Google came up with a Caffeine update in June 2010 to improve Google’s search results speed and freshness. It was a significant update that completely renewed Google’s index. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The Caffeine update resulted in up to 50% fresher search results than their previous index.
  • The update emphasized the importance of website performance.
  • It results in a better user experience by enabling Google to index more content.

The Caffeine update was crucial in Google update history as it allowed the search engine to crawl and store data more efficiently and provide fresher results for web searches.

Panda (February 2011)

The Panda update focused on ranking low-quality sites lower on Google’s SERP.  Low-quality sites that copy content from other websites, sites that provide irrelevant or low-value data to users. Panda update impacted Google’s ranking by up to 11.8%

Impact on SEO:

  • Due to this update, more high-quality, unplagiarized, and relevant content were produced.
  • SEO tactics like keyword stuffing were no longer working as the Google search engine prioritized high-value content.

The update identified content that used black hat SEO tricks and articles that used spamming, thin, low-quality content.

Penguin (April 2012)

The Penguin algorithm update aimed at identifying websites that used webspam and manipulative link-building tactics. This update analyzed if the backlinks a website got were genuine or a tactic to trick Google’s search engine. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The update aimed at identifying black hat SEO tactics of link building.
  • The update prioritized backlinks from authentic sites and ranked websites with low-quality backlinks in Google searches.

The update, also known as the webspam algorithm update, made sure the websites ranking high on SERP have backlinks from legitimate sites.

Hummingbird (August 2013)

The Hummingbird Google algorithm update was released in August 2013 but announced by Google on 26 September 2013. It completely changed the core algorithm of Google. The Intention behind this is to meet users’ queries and the most relevant results. Google tried to increase the accuracy of the Google knowledge that is based on the Knowledge Graph. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The update showed the matched keywords on the top of the web pages. 
  • The phrases of the article got the importance in the updates as the Hummingbird algorithm had yet to focus on long conversational articles. 

The update reduced the time wastage of users. They showed the matched keyword of the query first to increase the user experience much better than the previous one.  

Pigeon (July 2014)

The Pigeon update was introduced in mid-2014 to improve the accuracy of local search results. The update impacted local business analytics data and provided searchers with the most relevant and accurate results.

Impact on SEO:

  • The Pigeon update aimed to improve Google’s overall search capabilities. The Google search results had more Appearance and functionality for both Maps and Search. 
  • The customer’s review was treated as more favorable in this update. The pigeon algorithm update aims at the pages that have good reviews. 

The algorithm mainly increased the ranking of pages based on distance and location. 

Mobile-Friendly (April 2015)

On April 21, 2015, Google announced its Mobile-Friendly algorithm globally. It was the cultural shift of Google when they went mobile for the first time. The update enhanced the search results for mobile users to get high-quality and relevant results for their queries. The texts are easily readable on the mobile without zooming in. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The update affected the search ranking only for the mobiles. 
  • The algorithm was applied only on a one-page user’s visit, not the whole website. 
  • Google tried to figure out the problem of mobile users with this update. They needed more traffic on the pages that are mobile-friendly. 

The update prioritized the mobile users because users search on mobile devices more. The pages were developed to become visible to users. 

RankBrain (October 2015)

The RankBrain was a component of Google’s core algorithm, officially announced in October 2015. It used machine learning to determine the most appropriate results for the user’s search queries. The algorithm used various sources to feed their data and then calculate results via machine learning. The search results and ranking are typically based on the calculation. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The update showed user need results, which were previously based on keywords. 
  • The reputed brands rank higher on the webpage so that users can get a satisfied experience. 

This algorithm of Google focused on improving the user experience by analyzing the pages with machine learning. 

Possum (September 2016)

The Possum update of Google launched in 2016 and was the most significant update since 2014’s Pigeon. It aimed to improve the local search results by reducing spam. Even Businesses that fall outside of the city are moving up in the ranking on search results. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The update filtered out the duplicate contents based on the same addresses. 
  • The aim was to improve the physical location of businesses so that they rank up. 
  • Under this update, Google increased the city limits to take more business accounts to improve the benefits for locals. 

With these updates, Google allowed businesses to increase ranking even if they were not in the filtered location. The aim behind this update was that the best business should appear at the top of the result. 

Fred (March 2017)

Google rolled out its Fred update in March 2017. However, it took six months for some websites to regain the lost traffic during the algorithm update. The update monetizes those Websites that were using heavy ad placements or poor backlinks. 

Impact on SEO:

  • To improve the SEO experience for users, Fred disrupted many websites for using poor links or thin content. 
  • The update forced the websites to do SEO audits, making content easy to rank and read. 
  • Heavy ads containing websites got a penalty on search ranking. 

Fred was the crucial update for Google as they directly monitor the website. Websites that are affected by Fred need time to come up with various rectifications.

Medic (August 2018)

The Medic update affected web Pages related to finance, health care, and legality as Google focused on providing the most secure results for the user’s query. The contents went under scrutiny by Google search crawlers. It resulted in Google starting to punish low E-A-T and reward high E-A-T. The E-A-T refers to the quality of pages with more expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. 

Impact on SEO:

  • The update ranked the search results based on their E-A-T. 
  • Google focuses on users’ experience as they visit medical pages for serious and trustworthy information. 

Google prioritizes people’s safety and health in this update. They ensured that legitimate and relevant pages ranked high in the search results. 

BERT (October 2019)

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers; it is a significant natural language processing (NLP) model that Google introduced in October 2019. When you type something in Google, it wants the best results. BERT is like a language expert that Google uses to understand what you’re looking for, even if you need to use perfect words in your search. It helps Google find web pages that match what you want.

Impact on SEO:

  • BERT helped Google understand tricky language, things like words that mean the same. SEO professionals had to focus more on creating content that matched user intent, even if it didn’t strictly match specific keywords.
  • BERT rewards content that provides value rather than simply optimizing for keywords; it encourages website owners to focus on producing high-quality, informative, and contextually relevant content.
  • The update can grasp how words connect in a sentence, which is vital for figuring out challenging questions and indirectly influences what types of content are likely to rank well.
  • It significantly impacted voice search since it assists Google’s algorithms in understanding the natural way people speak in voice queries. Websites that adapt for voice search saw significant improvements.

BERT was a game-changer for Google’s search; it improved Google’s grasp of user intent and context. It prioritized user-focused, quality content over keywords. SEO strategies had to adapt accordingly.

Core Updates (2018 – 2021)

Google Core updates aim to improve Google search results and make them more valuable and relevant. Google makes thousands of core updates yearly to improve its search algorithm and improve it continuously.

Impact on SEO:

  • The core updates improve the quality of Google search results and ensure users get authoritative and relevant content.
  • Most of the core updates had a minor impact but contributed significantly to identifying authentic sites.

Past core updates are Core Update (17th November 2021, 1st July 2021, 3rd December 2020, 4th May 2020, 13th January 20202, 2nd June 2019) and Core Algorithm Update (2nd June 2021, 24th September 2019, 16th April 2018, 9th March 2018).

Google announced the Link Spam update on 14th December 2022 to improve Google’s search engine’s ability to find sites that sell or buy links for SEO. Google improved the AI-based spam prevention tool SpamBrain, to detect and remove those sites from ranking on Google search results.

Impact on SEO:

  • SpamBrain improvement helped Google’s search engine to neutralize spammy links.
  • The websites that used to sell or buy spammy links were dropped lower in SERP.

As a result of this update, the algorithm can easily detect websites that engage in link-purchasing practices and sites that distribute outgoing links. 

Google Algorithm Updates 2023

Google has rolled out multiple algorithm changes in 2023. These updates focused on improving Google’s ability to assess content, improve SERP results, and provide users with high-quality and relevant content.

Product Review Update, February 2023

The February 2023 Google Product Reviews update affected review-based websites. The update focussed on improving user experience and ensuring high-quality websites appear higher on SERP. The update was applied to these languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish. The update encouraged commercial websites to create high-quality content. 

Broad Core Update, March 2023

The Broad Core Update March 2023 update was the first significant update of this year, which affected all contents by updating Google’s ranking release history page. As a result of this update, all under-rewarded pages got a better ranking. The update didn’t affect any specific pages or sites. Google tried to improve how its system summarizes content, where previously lower-rewarded web pages can now rank better. The update targets all types of content across all religions and languages.

Review Update, April 2023

In April 2023, Google launched a review update, a significant algorithm update to improve user rankings and search results. The update was significant for businesses that rely on customer reviews. It was designed to analyze articles, blog posts, pages, or similar first-party written content that provides recommendations, opinions, or reviews. The update provided users with relevant and best information from product and service reviews.

Broad Core Update, August 2023

In August 2023, Google announced the broad core update, a comprehensive core change update, improving Google’s algorithm to assess content and rank it better, which improved overall search results. It ensured that people would get the most useful results. This update improved the Google search algorithm to rank content better on SERP results, identify high-quality websites under-rewarded earlier, and provide users with a better experience.

Helpful Content Update, September 2023 

In September 2023, Google introduced an advancement to its helpful content system. The update commenced on September 14, 2023, and concluded on September 28, 2023. It was designed to refine the classifier system that Google employs to access content usefulness.

The main objective of this update was to ensure that the content presented to users is relevant as well as valuable. Thus, it improved the overall user experience in the platform, which Google commits to delivering high-quality search output. 

Spam Update, October 2023 

In October 2023, Google implemented an enhancement to its spam detection system. The update went live on October 4, 2023, and aims to drastically lower the amount of visible spam that appears in search results. 

The primary emphasis was on tackling different forms of spam, such as cloaking, hacked content, auto-generated spam, and scraped spam. Although the update has a global impact, it is especially focused on enhancing spam detection in a number of languages, including Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, and Chinese, among others. 

Broad Core Update, October 2023 

In October 2023, Google made a substantial change to its search ranking algorithm. The third of its type to be issued by Google in 2023, this core update took place between October 5, 2023, and October 19, 2023.

 Particularly, the October 2023 Spam upgrade, which had been just released on October 4, 2023, was pushed out simultaneously with this core upgrade. This simultaneous deployment highlights Google’s dedication to enhancing the value and accuracy of its search results.

Final Words

From 2003 to now, Google has continuously updated its algorithm to improve its search engine and provide a great experience to its users. Each of the algorithm updates requires a different approach and techniques.

Pages that rank high on the search results get the most traffic. Google ensures the user gets the most relevant answers to their queries, and high-quality content ranks higher on SERP. 

You may also explore these SEO blogs and YouTube channels to conquer Google Search to stay up-to-date.

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  • Kritika Singh
    Kritika has a B. Tech degree in Computer Science and Engineering and worked as an Assistant Software Engineer for 1.5 years at Accenture. After that, she found her passion in content writing and copywriting and has worked with multiple businesses…
  • Narendra Mohan Mittal

    Narendra Mohan Mittal is a versatile and experienced digital branding strategist and content editor with over 12 years of experience. He is a Gold Medalist in M-Tech and B-Tech in Computer Science & Engineering.


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