The Google search engine is still being updated

Google updates

Google Updates: Brief explanation

Google Updates is usually used to refer to updates to the Google search engine's search algorithm. These updates change the sorting criteria of the search engine and thus significantly determine which content and technical requirements a website must meet in order to achieve a good search engine ranking.

Detailed explanation:

The search engine provider Google repeatedly changes the parameters on the basis of which it sorts the search results on the search results pages (SERPs). For this purpose, Google rolls out so-called Google Updates at irregular intervals and thus changes its search algorithm. The algorithm and the updates define which criteria a website or blog has to meet in the best possible way in order to appear at the top of a certain search query. High-quality content or a natural link profile are two of the factors that are increasingly coming into the focus of the search engine due to updates in the search algorithm and must be optimized by the website operator.

As a rule, Google Updates have distinctive code names that are assigned directly by Google or that result from the (planned) effects of the update. The most important Google updates include Panda (named after the Google engineer Navneet Panda), Hummingbird (named after the characteristics of the hummingbird: precise and fast) or the Mobile Update, also known as Mobilegeddon (due to the previously suspected devastating effect on mobile non-optimized websites).

Why are there Google Updates?

From the beginning, Google changed and improved its search again and again. In this way, the company tries to give users the right answers to their questions more quickly and easily. With the help of Google Updates, Google continuously optimizes the search algorithm and adapts it to new ideas and circumstances.

Over time, Google adjusted its search engine more and more specifically to the behavior of users and developed new ideas on how websites can be rated in a meaningful and structured manner. The factors that decide which website ranks better and which one disappears from the SERPs changed or confirmed, new factors were added, old ones were discarded - and every time Google changed its search with updates.

For example, after previous updates, the search engine preferred more up-to-date content or orthographically correct content. And the search results pages have also continued to develop thanks to Google Updates. In the meantime, searchers often no longer have to leave Google's search pages, but receive the information they are looking for directly in the SERPs.

Google search query with the keyword "Old Hillary Clinton"
On average, Google refines its search engine several times a day by the search engine provider tweaking its algorithms. However, the company usually only announces that the search has been changed for major updates. In addition, Google usually only provides superficial information about the exact effects of a Google update. Only in its general guidelines does the company provide information on how website operators should design their pages in order to optimize them for the search engine.

Google Updates and SEO

Almost every update poses new search engine optimization challenges for website operators. In the past, the algorithm changes sometimes required fundamental changes to the structure or content of a website. In addition, Google repeatedly tries to take action against unfair methods with the updates that SEO experts used in the past and in some cases still use today. For example, websites that operate link building using “illegal methods” such as buying links or illegally copying content can be penalized by Google with a downgrade or exclusion from the search results pages. A well-known example of this is the Panda Update, which downgraded many websites in 2011 that offered inferior or duplicated content on their pages.

Nevertheless, SEO experts keep finding ways and means to get websites up in the ranking with methods that violate Google's guidelines. In addition to focusing on better usability, Google tries to prevent these methods, which are often referred to as black hat SEO, with its updates.

Google avoids revealing too much about its practices. Since the company usually only publishes little information about what exactly causes an algorithm change and which ranking factors have an influence, many SEO experts (after an update becomes known) deal with the analysis of the changes and factors. They interpret the changes in the search results and analyze websites in order to obtain further information on the ranking factors.

What are the most important Google updates?

According to Matt Cutts, Google's former head of web spam, Google adapts its algorithms very often, often without announcing the exact changes. In recent years, however, there have been some updates that have brought about profound changes and should therefore be highlighted at this point (in alphabetical order).


With the rollout of Caffeine in June 2010, Google completely redesigned its search algorithm. Caffeine was described by Google itself as a new type of search index, which at that time not only provided 50% fresher search results, but was also much more extensive than the previous index. To do this, the new algorithm continuously updated the web index in order to do justice to the increasing complexity and volume of the content.



The so-called Freshness Update in November 2011 ensured that current content was given an advantage in Google searches. As a result of the update, an article on the 2016 Olympic Games should rank better today than an article on the 2012 Olympic Games if a user searches for "Olympia".


Hummingbird Update:

The Hummingbird Update is a profound update of Google's core algorithm. The basic search algorithm was replaced in the 3rd quarter of 2013 in order to make the search engine fit for semantic searches: The algorithm should learn to understand the semantic meaning behind search queries in order to output better results.


Mobile Friendly / Mobile Update / Mobilegeddon:

With the mobile-friendly update, Google optimized the search results of its search query with regard to mobile search queries. The mobile update should, among other things, ensure that pages that are optimized for mobile displays receive an advantage in the ranking. According to Google, the update had an impact on a large part of the websites indexed by Google. Since many website operators feared profound effects, it was often referred to as Mobilegeddon in advance.


Panda update:

The Panda Update is one of the most popular updates in the online marketing industry. The panda first appeared in early 2011 and hit a lot of websites negatively. However, according to Matt Cutts, the update should not be regarded as a penalty. It favors a lot more sites with high quality content over sites with too much advertising, duplicate content, or poor quality content. To date, Google has repeatedly rolled out Panda updates or adapted the existing algorithm changes. The last official Panda update was Panda 4.2 in July 2015.


Penguin update:

With the help of the Penguin Update, Google is taking action against webspam and overly optimized websites in particular. For example, the penguin downgrades pages that engage in keyword spamming or have unnatural link structures. According to Google, the changes affected around 3.1% of the English-language search results and 3% of the German ones. After the first Penguin update in spring 2012, the company rolled out further versions and refinements up to Penguin 3.0. Google later switched to integrating the update as a continuous update, i.e. continuously optimizing it.


Phantom Update / Quality Update:

SEO experts and website operators keep seeing noticeably strong movements in the SERPs without Google confirming an update. In May 2013, one such event was therefore given the name Phantom Update. At the time, Google gave no information about the existence or the effects of the changes. Such an incident also occurred in May 2015, which experts dubbed Phantom 2. Google later confirmed an update related to website quality but did not provide any details. It was then also referred to as Quality Update. Many experts now suspect that Google rolled out further phantom updates, around December 2015 or May / June 2016.


Pigeon update:

The Pigeon Update in July 2014 aimed at optimizing local search results, presumably initially in the USA. However, the changes were later rolled out to other countries.



With the rollout of RankBrain, Google took a big step towards machine learning and artificial intelligence. RankBrain became an important part of Google's search algorithm in 2015. It is primarily used to better understand search queries - especially new ones - and their meaning. RankBrain learns independently from the analyzed search queries.

Future updates

All indications suggest that Google's future updates will continue to refine the algorithm in the direction of semantic search. Since search habits will change and conversational search, for example, will probably find increasing application due to the increased use of smartphones, smart homes and other networked devices, Google must react to this. In the future, voice search with all its peculiarities will therefore play an increasingly important role. But the topics of artificial intelligence and machine learning are also becoming increasingly important in order to be able to output the right content in a more targeted manner in the future. Google will therefore probably continue to follow the path that it has taken with RankBrain at the latest.


Google is constantly and continuously innovating and improving its search algorithm. Because the company always wants to show its users the most relevant website, the best blog or the right online shop for their search queries. In the course of time there have been smaller and larger updates that set new quality standards for websites, discarded old standards or even punished misuse. Some updates brought fundamental changes to Google's search algorithm. The most important updates include Panda, Penguin, RankBrain and the new core algorithm Hummingbird.

Since Google usually only provides sparse information about the exact effects, experts analyze the updates (after they become known) and try to derive necessary changes for their website design from them. Time and again, when optimizing their websites, they also (deliberately) violate Google's guidelines and try to achieve a better ranking using unfair methods.

In the future, Google will probably optimize its search engine with regard to semantic and language-related search queries and accordingly use artificial intelligence for analysis. With new search habits, increasing scope and greater complexity of the content, the topic of machine learning is also moving ever more to the fore. Google has already taken a big step here with its RankBrain update.

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