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Since 1998, Google has been the go-to search engine, and its dominance has become so strong that the name itself has become a verb. Want to know something? Google it! A lot has changed in 25 years, not least our internet browsing habits, but through it all, Google has evolved too, adapting the way that it presents users with the information they need the most as quickly as possible. How do they do it? Enter the Google Core updates.

Google Core updates are something we’re all too familiar with here at 427 as we navigate each one for our clients. Here, we’re going to explain what Google updates are, what form they can take, and we’ll walk you through the Google update history that you didn’t know you needed.

What is a Google update?

Google updates are major adjustments to the algorithms that it uses to rank websites in the results pages; an algorithm is essentially a tech problem solver, in this case, it solves a searcher’s query by presenting them with a web page likely to answer it effectively. Whilst Google makes constant small tweaks and changes to their algorithms on a constant basis, the announcement of an update signals a major shift that could impact your rankings.

What are the different types of algorithm updates?

Not all Google algorithm updates are the same - they can be slotted into one of the following categories:

Core updates

Core updates are, in Google’s own words, designed to ‘deliver on their mission to present helpful and reliable results for searchers’. In essence, they aim to make the life of searchers even easier.

Link spam updates

Links can sometimes be found by Google to be ‘spammy’, which basically means unwanted and annoying. Link updates aim to update algorithms to ignore these links, essentially ensuring that they no longer count towards rankings.

Spam updates

Google is always on the lookout for spam, and a spam update means that they’re improving the systems they use to do that. For example, they stay alert to spam in many different languages, weeding out content that is, again, unwanted and annoying.

Product reviews updates

These updates focus on the algorithms used to reward content that is providing a thorough, helpful, transparent and truthful opinion on products, in line with its helpful content guidance.

Helpful content updates

Talking of helpful content updates - these updates further ensure that content that satisfies a user’s search is prioritised on the SERPs. Content that genuinely helps the user and is clearly written to be ‘person-centred’ gets a big thumbs up. These help feed into Google's E-E-A-T guidelines.

Page experience updates

It’s not just the content on a page that can affect the user experience, it’s how the page works as a whole that matters, and it’s what a page experience update focuses on. The friendliness of a site for mobile users, page load speeds, and intrusive interstitials (that’s pesky pop ups to you and I) are amongst the elements of a page experience that are taken into account.

Why are Google updates necessary?

As user’s expectations change with the evolution of technology, the way they look for information needs to keep up, which is why Google updates are a vital part of keeping their search crown firmly in place. The more information there becomes available, the faster and more thoroughly Google will need to search through it, hence the need to constantly update the systems they use to do this.

Google Core updates

One of the Google updates that you’ll see us talk about a lot is core updates, which are big algorithm shifts that you could see affect your rankings. These big updates have been made periodically for some time, and have some fairly unusual names. Here, we’ve put together a selection of historic Google updates:


Whilst updating their algorithms wasn’t a new thing to Google, Florida was the first named major update in 2003, and it’s one that changed SEO significantly. It was rolled out in November of that year, just before the Christmas season, and focused on link analysis, seeking to identify ‘spam’ techniques used on webpages, such as keyword stuffing, and penalising them in the rankings. This had a huge impact on a vast number of sites at a time of year when they were banking on the traffic.


Google’s next major update was Jagger (so called because Matt Cutts, who was Google’s Head of Web Spam at the time, was nicknamed ‘The Mick Jagger of Search’) and it was all about link building. This algorithm change sought to recognise unnatural link building strategies, such as reciprocal links between irrelevant sites. It also targeted duplicate content across multiple domains, and websites using CSS to hide text and keywords.

Big Daddy

Announced in December 2005, Big Daddy was an infrastructure update that took a good 4 months or so to roll out. It enhanced the Google algorithms ability to understand and organise web pages on the SERPs, with an emphasis on improving the quality of the results pages.


A quick change with a big impact; Vince was rolled out swiftly in January 2009, and almost overnight, bigger brand domains got the top spots for broad keywords with high search volumes. This is an early example of the way Google has ultimately gone, rewarding domains with relevance, quality and trust.


In August 2009, the Google Caffeine update was announced, and it was to be one of the most significant algorithm changes in Google’s history. It was, in fact, a completely new indexing system, and in June 2010, it was rolled out following a ‘developer review’; such as its suspected impact. This new system was cut out for the huge increase in information available on the web compared to when Google’s old indexing system was created. Caffeine saw different crawlers sent out, looking for the freshest information that it could index accordingly.


February 2011 saw Google double down on what is known as ‘black hat’ SEO techniques - i.e. those that aren’t used with the user in mind, only the improvement of rankings. ‘Content farms’ had become increasingly prevalent, whereby low quality content was pumped out designed only for search engines, and to attach to ads in order to make lots of money. The Google Panda update was a huge algorithm shift towards person-centred content, rewarding high quality sites with relevant, helpful information with higher rankings.

Freshness algorithm

If you didn’t know already, Google loves fresh content, and this update enhanced Google’s ability to understand time in relation to a search query. Google was able to then, where relevant, present content that was trending, regularly occurring, or subject to frequent updates, thus improving the user’s experience.

Page layout algorithm

Hate scrolling down to see content? So does Google - they want relevant info ‘above the fold’, which is the point at which you have to scroll to see more. That’s what the page layout algorithm targeted. Launched in January 2012, it encouraged websites to provide a better user experience for those landing on it - no static ads above the fold!

Venice update

Local intent was in the spotlight for the Venice update. Whereas previously, Google Places was used to show area-specific content, but in 2012, the SERPs began to show you results based on your IP address, or the area that you’d manually set. This meant that smaller local businesses could rank for keywords providing they were in the vicinity of the searcher.


As another swipe at manipulative link-building techniques, the Google Penguin update was rolled out mid-2012, and waged war on link spam, ignoring links that weren’t pointing to relevant, authoritative and natural places. Crucially, though, it was an algorithm update that only focused on links pointing TO the site being crawled, not the links on that site in particular.


2012 really was the year for Google updates - EMD, or Exact Match Domain was released during this year too. An exact match domain is a domain that includes a keyword. For example, ‘seo agency in Sussex . com’. The EMD update targeted exact match domains that were in fact spammy, and had little to do with the keyword they included, or contained poor quality content.


In 2013, Google went after spam sites, specifically ones that appeared in queries for things such as payday loans, adult sites, and casinos. This update to their algorithms was, helpfully, named ‘Payday’ for obvious reasons.


Announced in September 2013, Google Hummingbird was a huge update with a subtle impact, and has since been dubbed a ‘core algorithm rewrite’. It was a huge upgrade in natural language search, being more precise about what a user needs from their query, making conversational queries recognisable to their algorithms, such as ‘how to X’.


Another update for local SEO, Pigeon rewarded bricks and mortar establishments such as shops with higher rankings if their organic presence was strong, as opposed to only being prioritised in the search if they were well known. Google’s location and distance ranking parameters were also enhanced as part of the update, to ensure users got what they were looking for in their local area.


The clue is in the name - this April 2015 update allowed the algorithm to zone in on whether your site displayed well on a mobile device or not. This was not simply a page that fitted everything into the screen (and therefore being pretty difficult to see), but instead rearranged the content in a way that flowed on mobile - and this was done to meet the expectations of a rising number of searcher’s using Google on the go.

Quality Updates

This name wasn’t ever made official thanks to the ambiguity of the update itself, which was rolled out in 2015. However, it’s largely understood that this update worked to further relegate low quality, unhelpful sites whilst rewarding websites with relevant, person-centred content that gave users a positive experience online. This meant ad spam, poor or thin content, and mass produced ‘content farm’ style activity would all see your rankings plummet.


Google uses the RankBrain algorithm to determine user intent, and the 2015 update saw it go from simply seeing characters as representing entities, to actually reading and understanding them, as well as taking into account user location in order to serve results that were actually relevant to them.


March 2017 will be remembered by SEOs worldwide for a major update that once again sought to improve the quality of results being shown to users. This meant that sites with lots of (or deceptive) ads, poor or thin content, low-quality or aggressive links, and more saw their rankings drop significantly.

These are, of course, just a small sampling of the many Google updates we have since over the years. 2023 alone saw 4 core updates, the most recent being the November 2023 Core Update, along with numerous small algorithmic changes.

How do I know if a Google update has affected my website?

Our advice would always be to know your analytics. Keeping track of your website’s performance using tools like Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console means you’ll be able to see any drops, and can correlate them with any Google updates that have gone live.

From there, you can educate yourself on what the Google update means, and take steps to improve your website in accordance with it. In general though, you can’t go wrong with doing everything you can to improve the user experience, from helpful, insightful content, to quick-loading, mobile-friendly pages.

Need help with your SEO?

On top of everything else you need to do in the course of running your business, getting involved with your SEO may be one marketing activity too much for your schedule - we completely understand. However, we KNOW how instrumental SEO is to your online success, so it’s our pleasure to take the responsibility of your rankings off your hands. We handle both on-page and behind the scenes SEO, working with you to understand your goals and working towards getting your rankings to match them.

Give us a call or drop us an email today to understand how we could help your business survive any Google update. In the meantime, have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! See you all in 2024!

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About Chris Simmons

Chris is our onpage SEO Specialist at 427 Marketing, having joined the team in early 2023. He works with our content team to cover the 4 pillars of SEO; content, onpage SEO, technical SEO and offpage SEO. Prior to joining the 427 Marketing team, Chris spent almost 10 years applying his SEO and content skills across several different industries in marketing agency and inhouse roles including tool hire, auctioneering, health care within the NHS and high end luxury retail in both B2B and B2C capacities. His passion for writing, content, UX, technical and on page SEO has expanded our content offerings, helping provide reliable advice about all things SEO to 427 Marketing.

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