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Google Algorithm Update History

Google has a long history of updates that have caused major movements in the search rankings, improving the overall quality of results and enhancing user experience.

Let’s take a brief look at some of its biggest updates, we will be following these algorithms and reporting on the latest updates as they happen.


Google first introduced the Panda algorithm, also known as the Farmer algorithm, in February 2011. Panda was a major update to Google’s algorithm affecting 12% of search queries, and has continued to be updated over 30 times since its initial launch. There have been a number of minor and major updates to Panda, with the latest major update being Panda 4.0 released May 2014, and this was most recently updated to Panda 4.2 in July 2015.

Panda was implemented to prevent websites with poor quality content from reaching Google’s top search results. Panda is not updated in real-time, meaning webmasters have to wait until the next update to potentially recover from a Panda penalty if they have made the right changes.

Actions to take:

The Panda update is all about providing users with quality content. Thin content, duplicate content and low-quality content are all targets of Panda. If you think you have been hit by a Panda update, you should perform an audit of your content and develop a plan to improve your current content, and create quality content that will benefit your users.


Penguin was another major update to Google’s algorithm, first released April 24th 2012, causing dramatic changes in the search results. Similar to Panda, if a Webmaster takes the necessary steps to recover from a Penguin penalty, they must wait until the next update to recover. The last confirmed update to Penguin was October 2014, many SEOs and Webmasters have been waiting for over a year to recover.

Penguin targets websites that acquire backlinks in an unethical manner, such as link farms, using over-optimised anchor texts, paying for links, and comment spam.

Actions to take:

To recover from a Penguin penalty, you need to identify unnatural backlinks pointing to your website and remove them, if you are unable to remove these yourself, you can use Google’s disavow tool. This tool allows you to ask Google to ignore certain links that point towards your website.


You should only be using the disavow tool if you are confident and understand how it really works, or you could potentially cause more harm than good by disavowing links that are actually helping your website’s performance.


The Pigeon update was initially rolled out in the USA in July 2014, and expanded to the UK, Canada and Australia in December 2014. Pigeon aims to improve search results for local-based queries, for example ‘Hotels in Bristol’, providing users with more accurate, useful results.

Actions to take:

Business citations, NAP consistency and reviews all factors that affect local SEO, along with traditional rankings factors such as quality backlinks, content, and domain authority. Keep your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) information consistent across the web, including social media profiles, directory listings, and your Google My Business page. Seek out local and high-ranking directory websites, such a Yell, to add your business to and optimise your listing well. Include local based content throughout your webpages, and implement Schema mark-up to optimise your business address.


Google confirmed the Hummingbird algorithm in September 2013. Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird was an overhaul of the entire Google algorithm. The Hummingbird update introduced the importance of contextual search; understanding the entire search query and user intent to return webpages that match the meaning behind the search query, rather than matching webpages with keywords.

Actions to take:

Stop focusing on individual keywords and research conversational queries, related topics and synonyms, and longer search terms. Create quality content that meets a user’s needs, provides answers and delivers an overall enriching experience. Schema mark-up, on-page topic modelling, and content length, all play a part in meeting Hummingbird’s best practices.


The Mobile-Friendly algorithm, also known in the SEO world as Mobilegeddon, was released 21st April 2015, taking between a few days and a week to fully roll out. This algorithm is designed to give a boost to mobile-friendly pages in mobile search results only, and is not intended to have an effect on desktop search results.

Actions to take:

You can test how mobile-friendly your website is by using Google’s testing tool here, and implement the changes suggested to make your webpage mobile friendly. The update occurs on a page-by-page basis and in real-time, this means that if your website has pages that are mobile-friendly and pages that are not, the update will only benefit pages that are mobile-friendly, and not have an impact on the entire website.