Search engine algorithms are the backbone of how we discover information on the internet. These sophisticated systems analyze and rank web pages, giving users the most relevant and authoritative content for their queries. They function as keyword matchers and assessors of a variety of factors like page quality, user experience, and content relevance. Ultimately, these algorithms control what gets seen and what doesn't.

Google's Role in Shaping Online Search

Google’s algorithms are always evolving. They reflect and adapt to changing user behaviors, technological advancements, and the ever-growing internet. Google’s approach to search algorithms impacts how businesses and content creators strategize their online presence.

The Biggest Google Algorithm Updates in the Last 20 Years

Over the past two decades, Google's algorithm updates have consistently reshaped the SEO landscape. Each update has refined how search works, making it more user-friendly and intuitive. Here are the most significant changes that have happened over the past 20 years.

1. Florida Update (2003)

The Florida Update was a seismic shift in SEO, targeting manipulative tactics like keyword stuffing. It marked the dawn of a new era where quality content began to trump over-optimized, spammy practices.

2. Panda (2011)

Panda aimed to weed out low-quality content and content farms. This update prioritized high-quality, user-focused content, affecting a significant portion of search results and changing the way content creators approached SEO.

3. Penguin (2012)

Penguin cracked down on link spam and unnatural backlink profiles. It penalized websites with dubious link-building strategies, pushing for more organic and credible backlinks, and cleaning up the web from manipulative link practices.

4. Hummingbird (2013)

Hummingbird revolutionized search by focusing on the meaning behind queries rather than individual keywords. This update enhanced Google's ability to understand the intent behind searches, making results more relevant and precise, especially benefiting conversational and voice search.

5. Mobilegeddon (Mobile-Friendly) (2015)

With the surge in mobile internet use, the Mobilegeddon update ensured mobile-friendly websites received a ranking boost. It emphasized the importance of responsive design and a seamless mobile user experience, encouraging webmasters to optimize their sites for mobile users.

6. RankBrain (2015)

RankBrain, an extension to the 2013 Hummingbird update, introduced machine learning into Google's algorithm. This update helped Google better understand complex queries and provided more relevant search results by analyzing past searches. It became one of the most critical factors in ranking, highlighting the importance of high-quality, user-centric content.

7. Medic (2018)

The Medic update significantly impacted health, wellness, and YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) sites. It stressed the importance of expertise, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) in content, ensuring that users receive accurate and reliable information on crucial topics.

8. BERT (2019)

BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, enhanced Google's understanding of natural language. This update allowed Google to comprehend the context of words in a query better, making search results more accurate and relevant for complex and conversational queries.

9. Page Experience Update (2021)

The Page Experience Update introduced Core Web Vitals, focusing on user experience metrics such as loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability. It emphasized a more holistic view of user experience, beyond just content quality, encouraging sites to improve overall usability.

10. Helpful Content Update (2022)

This update targeted content created primarily to rank in search engines rather than to help users. It promoted high-quality, user-first content, reinforcing the principle that content should be valuable and engaging for real people, not just search algorithms.

11. Ongoing Core Updates

It’s not over yet – Google's regular core updates continually refine the search algorithm to better evaluate content quality and relevance. These updates highlight the need for websites to maintain high standards of content, user experience, and E-E-A-T principles to stay competitive in search rankings.

Each of these updates has pushed the SEO community to innovate and adapt, ensuring that the web remains a valuable, user-friendly resource.

Responding to Google Algorithm Updates: Symptoms and Strategies

Recognizing the Symptoms

When Google releases an algorithm update, websites might experience a range of symptoms indicating how the update has impacted them. Some common signs include:

  • Fluctuations in Search Rankings: One of the most immediate effects of an algorithm update is a change in your website’s search rankings. This could be a rise or fall in rankings for various keywords.
  • Changes in Website Traffic: A significant change in organic search traffic, either an increase or decrease, often accompanies a shift in rankings.
  • Alterations in SERP Features: You may notice changes in how your website appears in search results, such as the presence or absence of rich snippets, featured snippets, or local pack listings.
  • Variation in Engagement Metrics: Metrics like bounce rate, average session duration, and pages per session might shift, indicating changes in user behavior and the relevance of your content to the audience.

How to Respond

Our Head of SEO Trent Howard outlines six critical steps to take in the event of a suspected algorithm update in “The SEO’s Algorithm Emergency Response Guide”

1. Gather trusted industry reports
2. Assess bottom-line impact on rankings and traffic
3. Investigate the SERPs
4. Review page-level ranking factors
5. Review domain-level ranking factors
6. Roll out a communication and execution plan

Core Algorithm Updates

March 2023 Core Update

The March 2023 Core Update was a big change in Google's algorithm. Core updates are significant because they entail comprehensive modifications to Google's search algorithms and systems. These updates are designed to enhance the overall relevance and quality of search results. For websites, this can mean noticeable changes in search rankings. The best response to such updates, as advised by Google, is to continue focusing on producing high-quality, relevant, and user-centric content.

September 2022 Core Update

The September 2022 Core Update followed Google's tradition of regularly refining its search algorithms to better meet user needs. Like other core updates, it impacted a wide range of factors that determine how websites are ranked in search results. These updates often necessitate a review and adjustment of SEO strategies, as they can significantly influence a website's visibility and traffic.

May 2022 Core Update

The May 2022 Core Update was another critical adjustment in Google's continuous effort to improve search quality. These updates are a reminder of the dynamic nature of Google's search algorithms. They demand constant vigilance and adaptability from SEO professionals and website owners. Staying abreast of these changes is crucial for maintaining competitive search rankings.

November 2021 Core Update

The November 2021 Core Update was another significant adjustment in Google's algorithm. Core updates like this often bring broad changes to the search engine's ranking processes, impacting a wide range of websites and industries. These updates are a reminder of the ever-evolving nature of search algorithms and the need for constant vigilance and adaptability in SEO strategies. As with other core updates, the focus remained on providing high-quality, relevant, and user-focused content.

Each of these core updates underscores the importance of aligning with Google's guidelines and focusing on creating content that genuinely serves the user's intent. It's essential for digital marketers to not only react to these updates but also anticipate and integrate best practices in content creation and SEO strategies proactively.

Product Reviews Updates

February 2023 Product Reviews Update

In February 2023, Google released an update specifically targeting product review content. This update emphasized the importance of providing in-depth, insightful reviews rather than superficial information. Google aimed to reward content that offers original research, thorough analysis, and useful insights – characteristics of expert and enthusiast reviews. This update highlights the growing significance of quality and depth in reviewing content for better search rankings.

September 2022 Product Reviews Update

The September 2022 Product Reviews Update continued Google's focus on enhancing the quality of review-based content in its search results. This update further clarified what Google considers to be high-quality review content. It underscored the need for reviews to be detailed, include evidence of product testing, and offer comparative analysis with similar products. This shift reinforced the importance for marketers and content creators to invest in creating comprehensive and informative review content.

March 2022 Product Reviews Update

The March 2022 Product Reviews Update was one of the earlier steps in Google's efforts to prioritize high-quality review content. This update was a clear signal to content creators that merely aggregating product specifications or providing thin content was not sufficient. Instead, reviews needed to be well-researched, demonstrate expertise and provide valuable insights to the reader. This update was a pivotal moment for businesses relying on product reviews, pushing them to elevate their content strategies.

These updates to product reviews are part of Google's broader goal to ensure that users find genuinely useful and reliable content in their search results. For businesses and digital marketers, adapting to these updates means focusing on creating high-quality, in-depth, and user-centric product reviews.

Helpful Content Updates

December 2022 Helpful Content Update

The December 2022 Helpful Content Update was a significant move by Google to further refine its search results. This update specifically targeted content that seemed to prioritize search engine rankings over user value. Google aimed to promote content that genuinely helps and informs the user, rather than just serving the algorithm. The key takeaway for content creators and digital marketers was to focus on creating content that addresses the needs and questions of users, offering real value and insights.

August 2022 Helpful Content Update

Earlier, in August 2022, Google introduced the Helpful Content Update as a part of its commitment to enhance user experience. This update was designed to reward content that provides a satisfying, informative, and helpful experience to users. It discouraged practices like generating content en masse with little regard for quality or user engagement. The update was a clear message to website owners and content creators: prioritize the user's needs and experiences in content creation.

These Helpful Content Updates emphasize Google's dedication to ensuring that the content ranking high in search results is not just SEO-friendly, but also genuinely useful and engaging for users. For businesses and marketers, these updates serve as a reminder to align their content strategies more closely with user intent and satisfaction.


Staying informed about Google's algorithm updates will give you a step-up when designing your SEO strategies. These updates, ranging from core changes to specific aspects like product reviews and user experience, dictate the dynamics of online visibility and search rankings. 


What is a Google Algorithm Update?

A Google Algorithm Update is a change or modification to the complex set of formulas and processes Google uses to rank web pages in search results. These updates can affect how websites are evaluated and ranked, impacting their visibility and traffic.

How Often Does Google Update Its Algorithms?

Google continuously updates its algorithms, with minor changes happening daily. Major updates, such as Core Updates, occur several times a year and often come with significant impacts.

How Can I Tell if My Site Is Affected by an Update?

You can tell if your site is affected by monitoring your website's analytics for significant changes in traffic or rankings. Tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console can provide insights into these metrics.

What Should I Do if My Site is Negatively Impacted?

If your site is negatively impacted, review Google’s guidelines and assess your website's content quality, user experience, and SEO strategies. Focus on improving these areas in line with Google's recommendations.

How Can I Prepare for Future Algorithm Updates?

To prepare for future updates, focus on creating high-quality, relevant content, ensure a good user experience, and stay updated with Google's guidelines. Adapting to a user-first approach is key.

Are Algorithm Updates Retroactive?

Algorithm updates can be retroactive, affecting both new and existing content. It's crucial to continually monitor and update your site to align with the latest guidelines.

Can I Recover from a Drop in Rankings After an Update?

Yes, recovery is possible. It involves identifying areas of improvement, making necessary changes, and waiting for Google to re-crawl and re-evaluate your site.

How Important are Keywords in Light of Algorithm Updates?

While keywords remain important, their relevance has shifted from mere frequency to context and user intent. Quality content that seamlessly incorporates keywords is key.

Do Algorithm Updates Target Specific Types of Websites?

Some updates may target specific types, such as those with low-quality content or spammy backlinks. However, most updates aim to improve overall search quality and user experience.

Where Can I Find Official Information About Algorithm Updates?

Official information about algorithm updates can be found on Google’s Search Central Blog, Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, and through their social media updates.