The History of Big Google Algorithim Updates – Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, Hummingbird and beyond

Andy Holland

Google loves to tinker with the search algorithm, making edits to it between 500 and 600 times a year. Most of the changes that they make are minor tweaks, but occasionally Google pull off something huge, such as Google Panda or Google Penguin that completely modify how search works.

If you work in SEO, or you are in charge of your website, it can be helpful to know when these changes came in, allowing you to see how they impacted on your Google ranking. If you know when the changes occurred, it can help you to work out what you need to improve to appear higher up on Google.

The first named update was Boston, way back in 2003. This improved the algorithm and allowed Google to analyse backlink information. This was the start of Google really starting to come down heavily on manipulative backlinking practise, a fight which continues today.

The change to comment links came in with the NoFollow Attribute update in January 2005. This fought comment spam allowing webmasters to add rel=“nofollow” to links from site visitors on comment sections, meaning that webmasters could control whether links had credit. Microsoft and Yahoo were also on board with this update.

2011 was a big year for SEO. Panda was one of the biggest updates that Google ever rolled out. It changed the algorithm and targeted low quality content and link farms. It affected 12% of all searches and affected SEO forever. It removed lower quality sites and poor quality, spammy links and replaced them with higher-quality sites at the top of Google. Panda has gone through a number of updates as well, ensuring that they keep ahead of websites that provide poor user experience, keeping them off the front page. In fact, as I write this we have confirmation of a Panda update – that Search Engine Land is calling 4.1. We’ll see the fallout from this over the next few days and weeks.

One thing that Google was determined to do was to combat black hat SEO. To fight this, they released Google Penguin which was rolled out in 2012. It targeted sites that were doing keyword stuffing and participating in link schemes, sending them to the bottom of the pile while moving those who were complying with Google’s publisher guidelines upwards. It affected 3.1% of searches in English. Panda was named after one of the Google engineers.

Hummingbird came in August 2013, and changed the way that Google responded to individual users. Targeting more local results or results based on a user’s online activity and profile, these changes also brought in synonym analysis, allowing Google to work out what users wanted in a more conversational way. This update was aimed at the increase in users who were doing long tail searches or searching using Google voice.

All of these updates are continuously upgraded and amended to allow Google to fight web spam and to provide users with the best possible experience. Currently there mostly seems to be incremental upgrades of existing algorithms. Could it be long before a new animal arrives at the zoo?