A Short History of Major Google Updates


Marija Dubretic
May 5, 2020


Many of us in the SEO world have experienced it: the cringe, the scoff, the scowl when you mention that you work in SEO. It’s not the reaction we deserve, but given SEO’s notorious reputation, it’s the one we expect. And while we’re not entirely thrilled with this response, we’re well aware of why this is the case..

Back in the late nineties and early 2000s when Google was barely on the map, and other search engines like AltaVista and Excite reigned supreme, SEO was a virtual No Man’s Land. Rules and policies around search engine optimization weren’t strictly applied, if applied at all. SEO experts would do anything and everything to get their page ranking higher and give a quick fix to a site’s rankings, with little regard to search engine’s guidelines. Back then, it was a more of an “ask for forgiveness, not permission” style of doing things, and it worked pretty well - until Google caught a whiff of what was going on.

Around 2003, Google put forth one of the most important Google updates for its time called Florida. This update weeded out some spam-y black hat techniques like keyword stuffing and cloaking. This move encouraged sites to provide authentic, high quality content rather than getting ranked through sneakier tactics.

Image taken from Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-is-%E2%80%98Keyword-Stuffing-%E2%80%99-in-SEO

By the 2010’s, Google had hit its stride and was slowly but surely improving its algorithms and enforcing stricter rules and penalties - like website removal - for anyone caught doing Black Hat SEO in breach of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. But there was one nuisance that kept cropping up — content farms. This is when a team  of inexpensive, usually freelance writers create content that is SEO-optimized but provides very little value to the site or niche. It’s not technically spam or duplicate content, but it’s usually repurposed, making it easy, quick, and cheap to reproduce. In 2011, Google implemented an update called Panda that created a much more complex algorithm that could detect content farms and content farming content, which again was meant to keep sites in line by encouraging relevant, strong content on the web.


Panda was the first big update that caused a major shakeup in the SEO world. Listed below are

Penguin - April 2012

Image taken from https://www.affiliatemarketertraining.com/google-penguin-algorithm/

Next came the Penguin update in 2012. It’s purpose was to penalize sites for containing spam-y and unnatural links, many of which came from link farms and web catalogs. However, sometimes sites don’t have control of their site backlinks, especially if they purchased the URL after it was already established. Google recognized this and create the Disavow Tool, which lets a webmaster invalidate certain back links they no longer want linking to their site.

Hummingbird - August 2013

Image taken from https://www.dotcominfoway.com/google-hummingbird-update-what-it-means-for-you-and-seo

The infamous Hummingbird update came next in 2013. It relied heavily on the concept of the Knowledge Graph, which was basically a revolutionary way of interpreting search queries. Before the update, Google wouldn’t have been able to use context clues to understand a search query; it could only understand very literal text. What it became able to do was understand the searcher’s intent, not just the literal interpretation of a search term. This meant that Google could crack down on keyword stuffing and keyword over-optimization as it expanded its ability to interpret related search terms and synonyms.

Pigeon - July  2014

Image taken from https://allbloggingtips.com/google-pigeon-update-all-you-want-to-know

The Pigeon update of 2014 focused on improving the way local businesses compete for rankings. It combined some methods between the algorithms used for local searches and the more traditional algorithms, which forced local sites to focus on natural link building in order to create a stronger organic web presence. It also improved Google’s ability to calculate a business’ location and directions. One of the most noticeable changes was moving from listing the top 7 sites in a local business search result to just 3, which streamlined the page but made these 3 spots extremely difficult for most businesses to consistently rank in.

Mobile April - 2015

Image taken from https://8ms.com/2015/03/24/google-mobile-friendly-algorithm-april-update

The Mobile update of 2015 caused one of the biggest shake ups in the SEO world. Nicknamed “Mobilegeddon”, this update specifically aimed to address the growing use of smartphones for search queries by penalizing sites that lacked a mobile or responsive versions of their site. Mobilegeddon made sure that sites with a mobile or responsive version of their page would be rewarded in the search rankings.

Fred - March 2017

Image taken from https://dfylinks.com/what-is-the-google-fred-update/

The Fred update came in early 2017 and like earlier updates, it focused on enforcing better web content by penalizing sites that are clearly designed to generate ad revenue. “Low quality content” was again the theme, but this time with a desire to clean up sites heavy on affiliate links and ads.


Medic August - 2018

Image taken from https://www.seroundtable.com/google-medic-update-26177.html

Google’s most recent update, termed the Medic update by Barry Schwartz from SEO Roundtable came out in August 2018 and focused on creating a better user experience on YMYL sites, or in other words “Your Money Your Life”. These sites are usually focused ontopics that give readers information that can potentially improve their happiness, security, and well-being. Since many of these websites give advice on people’s health and finances, the consequences of false or misleading information has become much greater. Google wanted to ensure that the information on these sites was well-researched, relevant, and accurate, especially as more and more people relied on personal medical and financial information from these sites. Therefore, Google reasoned that these sites would have to try a lot harder to prove their content was worth its rankings.


The theme here seems clear — throughout its many updates, Google has encourages sites to focus on building an organic web presence by creating relevant content, acquiring  natural links, and avoiding spam-y, manipulative tactics. While many agencies had to totally remodel their way of conducting SEO, each new update and implemented algorithm has paved the way for SEO to become more credible, authentic and to leverage a more scientific approach rather than a shotgun one.


And you know what?

Not a single one of our clients (and there's been over 200 by now) has ever, to our knowledge, been penalized from the work we've done for them! We don't lose sleep worrying about the next update and whether one day all our clients will be calling us to let us know that their site has disappeared from Google. This is because we have our own scientifically-tested methods that are safe, transparent, and efficient.

This is why it’s easy for us to proclaim that we’re taking back the word SEO and redefining it as a useful, valuable, and ethical practice of digital marketing.

At High Voltage SEO, our philosophy includes the following tenets:


  • Testing everything we do. High Voltage conducts scientific experiments that allows us to confidently say what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Creating our own proprietary processes and tools. Page Optimizer Pro, for example, was developed in-house at HV and is a comparative on page SEO tool that uses competitor’s data to assess how to properly optimize your pageReporting on the right metrics and showing over time whether what we're doing is working or not. Beware that some agencies take advantage of their client’s lack of understanding of SEO metrics by showing something that looks impressive but actually isn’t.
  • Showing the exact work we are doing and how it fits into the client’s budget. Here’s a recent article about the average SEO rates in 2019. It’s important to us that you know exactly where you’re money is going. For example, we’ve created a point system that helps us allocate time and track every dollar spent. That’s why we’re happy to share every step of the way with you so that you can see your company’s hard-earned dollars working in real time.



Smart, scientifically-backed SEO that includes accountability and transparency is what we strive for. It’s our mission to educate, not blindfold or cheat our clients. With this mission in mind, we’re changing the way SEO is perceived. SEO isn’t a dirty word, and we’re thrilled to be at the forefront of the changing reputation.


About the author 

Marija Dubretic


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