8 major Google algorithm updates, explained

Of the many updates to Google’s algorithms that were introduced in the last decade, here are the ones that changed SEO forever.

Google claims to update its search algorithm thousands of times a year. In most cases, Google’s algorithm updates are too small to be noticed. But every once in a while, Google makes such a fundamental change that it forever disrupts the way we do SEO.

In this post, we count eight of the most important changes to the search algorithm. We’ll see why these updates were introduced, how they work, and what adjustments we had to make in response to our SEO strategies.

Let’s see before we start if you are already interested in an algorithm update. All you need to do is launch Rank Tracker, synchronize it with your Google Analytics account and switch to organic traffic.

Go through the dotted lines in the graph to see if the algorithmic updates match changes in your site’s traffic.

1. Panda

Dangers: duplicate, illegal or restricted content; user-generated spam; unnecessary keywords.

How it works: Panda’s algorithm update assigns a so-called “quality rate” to web pages. This score is then used as a ranking factor. Initially, Panda’s effects were moderate, but in January 2016, it was permanently incorporated into Google’s central algorithm. Since then, regular updates have appeared, so Panda’s fines and remedies are now faster.

Customize: Regularly perform site checks for duplicate content, restricted content, and redundant keywords. For this, you need a website crawler, such as the SEO PowerSuite website editor.

With the new Content Editor module of WebSite Auditor, you can avoid possible penalties and create pages without the risk of accidentally adding keywords. The content editor analyzes the pages of its main competitors and offers SEO recommendations based on content that has already been successful in Google Search.

And if you want to see if your content has been duplicated elsewhere on the Internet, use a plagiarism check like Copyscape.

2. Penguin

Dangers: spam or irrelevant links; super optimized anchor text link.

How it works: The goal of Google Penguin is to lower the ranking of sites whose backlinks look unnatural. This update is already being done with low-risk links, such as the purchase of links from link farms and PBNs.

Customize: To avoid the consequences of updating Google Penguin, you should monitor the growth of your link profile and check it regularly with a backlink manager like SEO SpyGlass. In the dashboard overview, you will find a progress diagram to expand your connection profile. Watch out for unusual nails – this could be the result of a negative SEO attack from your competitors.

The statistics that we know Penguin takes into account are included in the SpyGlass SEO risk message formula. Go to the Thin Risk tab and sort the list of backlinks from highest to lowest risk. Associations with a risk greater than 50% should be investigated. If it is malicious, add it to the file to delete it, download it and send it to the Google Reject Links tool.


Dangers: unnecessary keywords; low-quality content.

How it works: The Hummingbird algorithm helps Google better interpret queries and provide results that match the searcher’s intention (as opposed to the individual terms in the query). Although keywords remain important, the Hummingbird algorithm allows you to rank a page for a search, even if it does not contain the exact words that the searcher entered. This is achieved through the use of natural language processing based on latent semantic indexing, repetitive terms, and synonyms.

4.Customize: Expand your keyword search and focus on the concepts behind your keywords. Look closely at related searches, synonyms, and repetitive terms. Good sources for these ideas are Google searches and searches, as well as extensive Google suggestions. You can find someone built into the keyword tracking module.

Dangers: lack of a mobile version of the page; little usability on mobile devices.

How it works: These and subsequent updates to mobile search (2018, 2020) have changed the law

5. RankBrain

Dangers: lack of specific relevance of the consultation; surface content; Bad UX.

How it works: RankBrain is part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. It is an engine learning system that helps Google understand the meaning of searches and provides the best search results in answer to these questions. Google considers RankBrain the third most important ranking.

While we don’t know the exact formula behind this major update, it’s generally accepted that RankBrain is responsible for changing the user’s search results on Google. In fact, Google goes beyond searching for someone and considers the broader context, such as synonyms, implied words, and personal search history.

Customize: Optimize your pages for relevance and integrity using competitive analytics. With the Website Reviewer’s TF-IDF tool, you can discover comprehensive lists of relevant terms and concepts used by many of your major competitors. Find a way to add these terms to your content and your search relevance will increase dramatically.

6. Doctor

Risks: lack of authority on YMYL sites; weak E-A-T signals.

How it works: The Google Medic update has negatively impacted medical sites, as well as other sites related to life-changing decisions (finance, law, education). While not explicitly confirmed, Google representatives suggested that the update implement some of the E-A-T (authority, authority, trust) signals from the quality assessment document.

Adaptation: There is currently no proven recovery strategy to update the doctor. Some SEOs suggest hiring special copywriters to make your website trustworthy, others say the solution is to build units for your brand. But if we stick to the facts, the only reliable way to increase the authority of your website is to increase your backlink profile. An effective approach would be to use a backlink agency like SEO SpyGlass and borrow backlink ideas from your competitors.

7. Bert

Risks: poorly written content; lack of attention; lack of context.

How it works: This Google algorithm update uses technology processing technology to better understand search queries, interpret text, identify entities and entity relationships. We’ve seen the Panda, Hummingbird, and RankBrain updates move away from keywords, and the BERT update is the culmination of the effort, allowing Google to understand far more nuances in search and search results.

Personalize: We’ll finally see the day when Google really rewards good writing. Like never before, it’s important to look for a meaningful copy. This means you need to relax with quiet words and apply a writing style for exhibits. It’s also a good idea to look for entities when making a copy – relevant entities can help you create a context for your content.

Read this guide on how to use entities in SEO for more tips.

8. Important updates

How it works: In 2017, Google rolled out the Top Updates list as Google’s Top Updates. Since then, there has been even less transparency about what these updates are and what parts of the research they want to improve. The SEO regularly checks the rankings after the update and tries to determine exactly what has changed, but there is rarely a definitive observation. Google’s major updates are likely just improvements from previous Google updates or perhaps interlinked service packs.

Customize: Since the effects of major Google updates are often unknown, you can do one thing to track the SERP history for the keywords you are targeting. Once updated, you will be able to see which of your competitors rose or fell in the rankings and you can estimate the contributing factors.

To track SERP history, start with rankings, go to Target Keywords> Ranking Tracking> SERP Analysis, and click SERP Data Capture.

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