The source of most SEO and marketing headaches: the ever-changing Google search algorithm. But what is the history of Google updates and their search algorithm?

With the timeline infographic below, we’re here to put a little more sense into what Google’s thinking every time it updates its core algorithm. The running themes? High-quality content and great user experience. Without further ado…

The History of Google Updates to Their Core Search Algorithm:

We lay out the history of Google updates and their search algorithm in this infographic.

For Google’s latest update to its core algorithm, read more about the “Fred” algorithm update.

Not a visual learner? Here’s what you need to know:

The History of Google Updates to its Core Algorithm


This update was mainly targeted at sites with thin content and later confirmed by Matt Cutts. Webmasters see a drop in long tail keyword traffic.

New York Times calls out e-commerce site, DecorMyEyes, and finds that its high rankings were based on a large number of negative reviews. Google changed its algorithm and takes negative vs positive into consideration.


Google releases the Panda Update, which targets content forms, ad spam, and other quality issues. This update affects up to 12% of search results according to Google.

Google encrypts its search queries for privacy reasons. This does not affect rankings but it becomes extremely hard for search marketers to track organic keywords because some show up as “keyword not provided.”

After its release, Google continues to make many updates to Panda and rolls it out globally. They tweak the algorithm to restore sites that may have been affected falsely. They release seven more iterations of Panda by the end of the year, ending with Panda 3.1.


Google continues to make Panda updates throughout the year to refine the algorithm.

Alongside this, they take a step towards semantic search. Google rolls out its “Knowledge Graph,” an update to its search engines that provides instant results to users without having to click into a website.

Google's knowledge graph was a recent addition in the history of google updates.

Penguin is also released this year, affecting the search engines on the same level as Panda. Although it affects the search index, it is now clear to marketers that Penguin is a separate process, just like Panda was.

Google sends warnings through Webmaster Tools when it detects an unnatural number of backlinks. This results in manual penalties until users are able to clear their links.


Google expands its knowledge graph and begins using semantic markup like to determine additional search results like in-depth articles.

Google Hummingbird is released and is a core algorithm update that affects knowledge graph and semantic search.


An algorithm change is implemented to take care of spammy queries.

Google makes a change to the way local results are displayed through its Pigeon update. Pigeon integrated the local results with the rest of the search results while not fully assimilating with the core algorithm.

As part of their constant changes to their search algorithm, Google added the local search pack to the SERP in 2014.

Continuing its privacy push, the core algorithm start giving preference to secure sites. It prefers these secured sites over insecure versions and gives them a small bump in authority. The boost begins small but increases over time as Webmasters have the chance to react.


Google releases its mobile update, telling us that mobile rankings will differ based on mobile optimization. This update heavily penalized unoptimized websites in rankings and sometimes cut their search traffic in half.

Another quality update is speculated as released early in the year but Google never makes an announcement.


Google Panda is assimilated to the core algorithm. This makes it a permanent part of the search engine.

Google rolls out Penguin 4.0. This now makes Penguin filters real-time instead of requiring manual input. Penguin also only targets pages instead of whole websites.

Google’s new local search update, dubbed “Possum”, is being tested to see if it can help local search results to make sure it serves the correct listings in a given area.


Continuing its efforts to reward sites that provide valuable content that helps users, Google rolls out an update in March, dubbed “Fred.” The “Fred” algorithm update impacts many ad-heavy sites with low-quality content focused on revenue generation.

The core algorithm continues to evolve so Google can serve its customers with quality content. Expect major updates in the next few years before Google solidifies its search engines.

In the meantime, sign up for Conductor 30|30 — our monthly webinar that updates you on search, social, and content marketing in the last 30 days – in 30 minutes.

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