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The Top 10 Google Updates of All Time
Monday, August 22, 2011
For anyone involved in SEO and online marketing you will no doubt be familiar with terms like "Google Dance", "Florida", "Vince", "Big Daddy" and more recently Panda. These are all terms that describe the ever changing landscape of the Google SERP. Many of these terms are reflective of something that many site owners and webmasters have come to expect, the Google algorithm update.

Google make updates to their algorithms all of the time. Depending on who you talk to they make anywhere from 400-500 changes a year. Perhaps that is why they are still the dominant search engine in North America and throughout other markets across the globe.


Even though Google is the dominant player in Search, they are in danger of losing market share if their results continue to suffer. Over the past twelve to eighteen months we have seen a number of large algorithm changes that have dramatically altered the results that we see in Google. For better or worse Google continues to make regular updates to their algorithms.

We thought we would compile our list of the top ten Google algorithm updates of all time. This is our opinion so you can agree or disagree, but these updates are the ones that we feel have had the greatest impact on Google search results and on Search in general.  Algorithm updates can be great for some sites and not so great for others.  We have discussed tools to diagnose the impact of Google Algorithm updates, but sometimes you really need to ride out the storm when it comes to algorithmic changes.  For many impatient webmaster or site owners they simply cannot understand this.  Algorithm updates have to run their course.  Your tactical manipulation to try and rank number one for (insert key phrase here) will often fail miserably.  The fact is you shouldn't be trying to game Google and you shouldn't be entirely reliant on traffic from Google 65% market share or not.  However being smart about your online strategy means that being present in Google should be a definite part of your online initiatives.

Make no mistake Google will continue to make algorithm updates and changes.  They have a difficult task ahead of them in trying to sort the World's information.  If you are doing things correctly, your site make not be impacted by an algorithm update, but if you are employing questionable tactics you might be in for some hard times. 


Top 10 Google Algorithm Updates of All-Time

#10.  Google's Jagger Update - October 2005 - Google continued to make a series of algorithm updates surrounding link farms, low quality links, reciprocal links and the ever discussion-worthy paid links.  The Jagger Update also looked at some canonical issues and according to SEJ, the Jagger Update consisted of three elements: "The first was to deal with manipulative link-network schemes, sites generated with scraped content and other forms of SE-Spam. The second was to allow and account for the inclusion a greater number of spiderable documents and file types. The third was to allow and account for new methods of site acquisition beyond the use of the spider Googlebot."

#9.  Google Austin Update - January 2004 - in the aftermath of the Florida Update, Google's subsequent algorithm update "Austin" continued to focus on spam tactics such as link farms, white on white/invisible text, and over optimization of meta tags (keyword stuffing).  Again a number of sites were impacted, but in the end Google took a huge step to cleaning up its index.

#8.  Google Brandy Update - February 2004 - Ever notice how Google tends to have a lot of updates in the months of February and October?  This particular update focused on Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), increased focus on anchor text relevance and link neighborhoods.  This update also placed less emphasis on tag optimization.

#7.  Google Vince Update - February 2009 - this update could easily rank higher as I think that this update had a profound impact on what we now see in Google's search results.   While Google downplayed this as a minor update, many others did not feel the same ways as big brands were seeing favorable results.  In October 2010 this became even more evident as brands continued to see further preferential treatment.  Where "pizza hut" previously had two rankings for a branded search, they now owned the SERP with as many as eight listings.  Again Google attempted to downplay the update suggesting that this was not a brand push.  This has had a dramatic impact on directory-type sites that previously enjoyed rankings for various branded terms.

#6.  Google's Big Daddy Update - December 2005/January 2006 - more of an infrastructure update, Google's Big Daddy may have been one of the first major algorithm updates to look at duplicate content issues as a large part of this update focused on redirects (301/302's) and URL canonicalization.  Google's Matt Cutts touched on Big Daddy here.

#5.  Google Universal Search Update - May 2007 - this was a Google update that I really liked as it meant that we would be experiencing a rich search results page with things such as news, images and video populating Google's search results.  Gone were the ten blue links (for now).  Other engines followed and blended search was born.  Danny Sullivan dubbed this Google 2.0, but the results page would begin a series of changes that would make it a so-called richer experience.

#4.  Google MayDay - April / May 2010 - this update focused on long-tail keyword traffic as many webmaster noticed a drop in their long-tail rankings and associated traffic.  This update would be the preview to what we would see with the Google Panda Update.  There were a lot of sites hit by MayDay and there was certainly a lot of discussion about the Google MayDay Update, but MayDay was only a sample of what was yet to come.  MayDay began Google's quest for higher quality sites to display in their search results.   Google told Vanessa Fox that "that it was a rankings change, not a crawling or indexing change, which seems to imply that sites getting less traffic still have their pages indexed, but some of those pages are no longer ranking as highly as before.."

#3.  Google Caffeine - June 2010 - what Google began testing in August 2009 became a live update in June 2010.  Caffeine was an infrastructure change that would allow Google to crawl the Web more efficiently resulting in their index growing from billions of pages to billions possibly even trillions more.  We are still experiencing the ramifications of Caffeine as Google continues to clean up their index.  As SEOmoz suggests, "Caffeine not only boosted Google's raw speed, but integrated crawling and indexation much more tightly, resulting in (according to Google) a 50% fresher index."  Google called Caffeine a more robust foundation that would allow them to provide a richer search index.  Hmm well perhaps richer and more spammed if you ask many in the industry.

#2.  Florida Update - November 2003 - this was a big one.  I remember being asked my thoughts on the Florida Update as I was starting my career at Enquiro.  I remember thinking that this was going to be huge, I just wasn't sure how much of an impact it would have on the Search industry and on how websites would be performing in the search results.  This was a good update as tactics such as keyword stuffing were no longer acceptable and as a result many sites dropped off of the face of the search landscape.  The Florida Update caused millions of pages and sites to be dropped from Google’s results.  Danny Sullivan had a good review of the Florida Update only weeks after it occurred.  Looking back it was an obvious effort to improve relevancy for the sites that were being listed.  Or was it?  A number of commercial sites suffered.  These are sites that you would expect to see when doing generic "head-type" keyword searches.  In the end however, the Florida Update was necessary for the progress of the Google Search Engine.

#1.  Google Panda Update - February 2011 - ongoing - We have written numerous times about the Google Panda Update.  This one made the top of our list based on the sheer volume of search results (and sites) that were impacted.  When initially released Google stated that this update would impact nearly 12% of Google's search results.  Twelve per cent?  Are you kidding me and that was just the first phase of Panda.  The Panda Update stems from a lot of the poor quality results that were showing up in Google really as a result of Google's infrastructure update Caffeine.  Google's index grew exponentially and as a result, I'm not sure if Google was prepared for all of the spam results that would now be part of their index.  With all of the low quality content, syndicated and duplicated content out there, it was only a matter of time before Google cracked down on the quality of their search results.

I was in Las Vegas attending PubCon in November 2010 listening to Matt Cutts touch on webspam and that Google will be tacking measures to deal with a renewed interest in spam.  Little over a month later the algorithm updates began... starting with the "Farmer Update" and then leading into Panda.  Google's search results will never be the same again.  The thing with Panda was the high number of "innocent" sites that were caught in the crossfire.  There were a lot of complaints, in fact people are still complaining of the devastation that their sites and businesses have suffered as a result of Panda.

So what is the best way to deal with an Google algorithm update?  Sometimes it simply means waiting and riding out the storm.

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posted by Jody @ Monday, August 22, 2011  
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