List of Google Updates for SEO (With Explanations)

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Running an online business?

If you are, you’ll need to invest in SEO. It’s how you’ll rank high on search lists, which is important if you want to gain visibility and credibility. Why manage a beautiful website if it gets buried on page five of the SERP results?

To prepare, you’ll need to understand the major Google updates for SEO. Don’t worry, we’ve already listed them right here for you. Read this breakdown below to learn more:

Google Sandbox

This is an unofficial update that people assume is a real thing. The company never confirmed nor denied its existence but it’s always possible that the search engine pushes new websites down the SERP intentionally.

Sandbox ensures that they go through the usual routes, over a few weeks, to build credibility. While a brand new site may contain truthful and useful information, this possible update serves as a kind of probation that sites need to break free from.

Google Panda (2011)

Over a decade ago, people used to cheat the system by plagiarizing content, stuffing keywords repeatedly on a page, and filling pages with too many ads. All of these problems stacked, ruining user experience (UX). 

Google Panda remedied this by penalizing websites that consistently practiced these bad habits.

For many, this is the first of the big major updates for Google’s algorithm. This was the turning point where Google’s updates started focusing on user intent and information relevance instead of word-to-word keyword matching.

Penguin (2012)

Penguin is like the younger sibling to Google Panda, again targeting tactics that try to outsmart the algorithm instead of focusing on providing relevant information to users.

This update, however, focused heavily on the quality of links. 

Link-spamming and the use of link farms decreased after this update came out. Google can now check where links come from and how a strong link gained its credibility. 

Hummingbird (2013)

This update altered how Google looked at keywords. There was now a stronger focus on the intent behind the words instead of solely relying on the search query. Google could now check relevance based on synonyms, similar searches, and semantic indexing. 

If someone searched “how does Google work,” the SERP list would no longer include irrelevant answers. You won’t see links that focus on “Google work” or “what is Google” anymore since those aren’t as relevant to the query.

Pigeon (2014)

It didn’t take long for the folks at Google to realize people want to locate local businesses. The Pigeon update made this a whole lot easier. It altered the algorithm to reward local business sites that have a strong SERP visibility. 

How do you work with this in mind? Make sure to sign up and claim your Google My Business account, fill up the local address and contact information, and make sure to optimize for local search queries. 

Don’t forget to check the information you put across the Internet. The phone number, address, and links you put on your website should be the same on Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, and any other platform. 

A stronger focus on local SEO rose from this update. Local brands no longer needed to exert too much effort on generic, wide-scale SEO. They could now focus on optimizing content for customers from their neighborhood, increasing visibility to the people who would search and visit their shops.

Featured Snippet (2014)

Also referred to as position zero, the featured snippet appears above the organic SERP list. The information featured is what Google’s algorithm calculated as the most relevant answer to a person’s query. 

How do you get into position zero?

The first step is to know specific questions your visitors and followers ask. This requires a lot of digging, from checking questions on Reddit to using analytics tools to discover trending keywords and topics.

You then need to create high-quality content that answers those queries and hope people will continue to share and link to your content. Doing this builds credibility and Google’s algorithm will identify your content as the go-to answer.

Mobile-Friendly Update (2015)

Keep in mind that most people access the Internet through mobile phones now. Gone are the days of relying solely on a laptop or desktop PC to get online. 

With this update, Google now prioritizes websites that cater to mobile users. You need a responsive website design and a UX that works for the mobile crowd. You’ll also need to restructure content, ensuring blog posts don’t look like daunting walls of text to a user on his or her phone. 

Achieve this by breaking the monotony. Keep paragraphs short and insert videos, infographics, memes, or photos in between segments.

Google won’t penalize a site that isn’t mobile-ready but it won’t prioritize it either. The algorithm might bypass you entirely, ignoring your website as if it doesn’t exist. 

This update got a follow-up in 2018.

RankBrain (2015)

RankBrain was originally a part of the Hummingbird update but received further refinements after a few years. The focus here is on user intent. The newer updates now helped Google identify the intent and meaning of a search based on user behavior. 

For example, if you searched local restaurants in the city and clicked a few links, went back, or went to SERP page two, Google will reassess the results. This is the reason why you can use the same keywords twice but get different results. Google now has a better understanding of what you’re looking for.

Bert (2019)

If RankBrain came out to further refine user intent, Google’s Bert update focused on better understanding the language people use when searching. It’s not a replacement for RankBrain but more like a companion update. 

The only way to prepare for this is to focus on quality content. Write for people, not bots. Don’t try to outsmart the system and focus on making relevant content that resolves issues people care for. 

This isn’t the end, however. Google is coming up with another core update. Read more here to better prepare for what comes after the Bert Google algorithm update.

Prepare For These Google Updates for SEO

These are the major Google updates for SEO and some tips on how to prepare for each of them. Over the years, these updates to the algorithm pushed for better relevance and search intent, ensuring people find the information they need. Gone are the days of relying on spamming and keyword stuffing. 

But why stop with SEO? If you liked this guide and found it informative, why not continue reading more of our in-depth content? We cover everything from marketing to business so feel free to dive into our library today.

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By Malik Kashi

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