The most important updates in Google’s history

To remain successful within this field, it is important to stay abreast of the latest developments and insights. I have been around within this profession for a while myself (about 11 years). In this article, I tell you what (in my opinion) are the most important updates in the history of Google were during this period (and before).

Google’s most important updates

Google has released numerous updates over the years. These updates have affected search results and the way SEO is done. I will go straight to the most important updates that have taken place.

  1. Florida (2003): the Florida update was one of Google’s first major updates. The goal of this update was to improve search results by combating spam and black-hat techniques.
  1. Panda (2011): the purpose of the Panda update was also to improve the quality of search results. It did this by penalizing websites with low-quality content and spammy techniques.
  1. Penguin (2012): the Penguin update was aimed at combating black-hat SEO techniques. These include buying links and applying excessive keyword density.
  1. Hummingbird (2013): the Hummingbird update focused on improving Google’s semantic search capabilities and understanding natural language searches(1).
  1. Mobilegeddon (2015): the Mobilegeddon update aimed to improve search results for mobile users. It did this by penalizing websites with inadequate mobile experiences.
  1. RankBrain (2015): RankBrain was a major update in the evolution of machine learning and AI in Google’s search results.
  2. BERT (2019): This update focused on improving Google’s understanding of complex, conversational searches and the context of words in a sentence.
  3. Core Web Vitals (2021): This update emphasized the importance of page speed, responsiveness, and visual stability as ranking factors.
  4. Google Core Update (2024): Google removed more than half of the index and became a lot tighter on content quality.

These are somewhat older updates, but they have all had a huge impact on the way Google views websites.

The impact of updates from Google on the components of SEO

Different updates affect SEO and its components differently. Below are the updates that greatly impacted content and link building.

The update with the most impact on content

Google’s 2013 Hummingbird update probably had the biggest impact on SEO content writing of the somewhat older updates. The update focused on improving Google’s semantic search capabilities. The goal was to better understand search queries in this way and improve the relevance of search results.

Google’s last update that had a huge impact on content was the April 2024 Core Update. This update resulted in more than 45% of content being removed from Google. To say the least, this has had a huge impact on the findability of many websites.

The update with the most impact on link building

When it comes to link building, the Penguin update from 2012 has exerted the most influence. This update focused on combating black-hat SEO techniques. An example is buying links rather than obtaining them naturally.

With the Penguin update, Google began penalizing websites with backlink profiles with too many spam websites. In this way, the search engine forced companies to build a network of natural and quality backlinks. The update led to a shift from quantity to quality in link building. Since then, the emphasis has been on natural backlinks from relevant and trustworthy websites. (3)

Common trends within Google updates

Several common trends can be found in Google’s updates over the past 5 years. Below I have listed some of these trends:

Focus on user experience: Google’s updates increasingly focus on improving the user experience. Google is getting better at using user metrics in determining the quality of a Web site.(4)

Natural language processing: Google has invested heavily in the development of AI in recent years. This makes the search engine better at understanding natural language (better than other search engines).

E-E-A-T: It is increasingly important to prove that you are the person of choice to write about certain topics. Anyone can write anything and everything with AI these days, but are you really the person with a lot of experience within a field? Just show it to Google.

From what I can tell, Google is increasingly committed to these things. The bottom line (and this is a fun part) is that Google is getting better and better at punishing bad content and prioritizing quality content. So you are increasingly rewarded for providing value to the searcher within Google.

Conclusion

Make sure you future-proof your website and don’t lie awake during every Google update. There is even a profit to be made here: when a competitor loses certain positions in Google, there is a gap that you can fill with your website.

Go for quality in everything you do. Content, technology and link building. Do it as naturally as possible and Google will reward you for it.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
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I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 16 January 2024. The last update of this article was on 17 May 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.