Google uses various algorithms to run its search engine, determine factors that rank each website page and implement filters to make changes to search results.

Google is the top search engine in the world, and to keep its engine running properly, it constantly updates its algorithms. The algorithms are the primary way that Google finds, ranks, and returns search results to queries.

There are essentially three tiers of Google algorithm updates:

  • Minor updates – These are small changes to the algorithm, which occur more or less constantly. These aren’t even really announced by Google.
  • Core updates – These are typically announced, but can still be thought of as tweaks to the existing ranking algorithms.
  • Major updates – These are large, branded changes to the search algorithms. Often this involves a total change of approach in terms of how sites are ranked.

What’s tricky is that algorithm updates don’t really come out on a regular time table. Some algorithms can boost a website’s rankings while other websites may become penalised.

Recent changes have involved site factors that impact mobile users, and not all algorithms run the same way on Google for mobile vs. desktop.

Featured image on SEO basics: Google algorithm changes

For a full list of all recent and historical google search algorithm changes check out our article: Google Algorithm Updates.

Benefits from Recent Google Algorithm Changes

In the last several years, the updates named Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and Pigeon have made changes that affect SEO. One of the most significant changes was to laser focus more attention on what the customer is searching for.

Returning better matches in search results in order to satisfy the user helps maintain user loyalty to Google.

Improved rankings for in-depth content is another benefit. That improvement means that searchers will find better content to answer their questions when they search. Longer, more detailed articles gain in rankings over poorly written short articles.

Panda was the algorithm that featured this change most readily. Therefore, posting longer articles offers more opportunities to rank well. Part of the reason is that a longer article offers more space to add in variations of your keyword in a natural manner.

Previous to the Panda update, content farms often ranked for many keywords with thin content. Many of those content farms have gone out of business in the last few years.

Evergreen content that is valuable to the reader is treated well by Google and can maintain its ranking for a long time as long as it is updated and does not become obsolete.

Fresh content will boost your site ranking on Google. However, the freshness quotient is only good for a while until you need another addition of fresh content again.

Sites that update and add fresh content on a regular basis will be ranked better in Google than sites that only sporadically add new content. Sites often post as often as once a week and some of them even post daily to keep their content fresh.

Brand awareness has slowly become a factor in Google ranking. If you are a brand or support a brand, writing for brand keywords will help your ranking as long as you are not keyword stuffing.

coding to represent the google search algorithm
The algorithm is responsible for the way Google finds, ranks and returns the results. Credit: Ilya Pavlov

Specific Google Updates

Each time Google changes their ranking algorithms, the job of an SEO specialist changes slightly. To illustrate this, here are some of the major algorithm changes from the last few years.

Really, there have been innumerable updates to Google’s ranking algorithms over the years. Some of the most well-known algorithm changes include:

  • BERT (2019),
  • Your Money or Your Life (2019),
  • Fred (2017),
  • Hummingbird (2013),
  • Penguin (2012),
  • Panda (2011).

Again, these are simply the most well-known algorithm updates. There are countless other iterations. Each of these changes a different facet of the way Google ranks pages. Some even undo previous updates.

To get a feel for how algorithm changes can impact your search rankings, here’s an overview of how some of the major changes have altered the picture of SEO.


The Google BERT update fundamentally changed SEO
The Google BERT update fundamentally changed SEO. Image credit: ProfileTree

BERT launched in 2019, with the view to making Google respond better to the way users actually use language. Specifically, this meant going beyond focusing solely on keywords, and more towards how search queries work semantically.

In part, this was aimed at preparing Google for the rise of smart speakers and voice search.

In terms of the job of an SEO professional, this has a number of big implications. It’s often said that BERT was the final nail in the coffin of keyword stuffing. Instead, the context of how search queries became much more important.

Essentially, this requires SEO writers to put considerably more effort into the value they provide for their readers.

Similarly, BERT put a great deal more emphasis on featured snippets. These are rich text elements which appear at the top of Google results pages to answer user queries.

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)

In the same year, Your Money or Your Life content also came to the fore. While this might sound like a threat, it’s actually an important framework for creating content which performs well on Google.

Essentially, YMYL content is anything which can impact the reader’s health, safety, finances, or any other serious aspect of their life.

Here, Google’s algorithm changed to privilege content which has a positive impact on users’ lives. Similarly, if your content is written by someone who clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, it will perform poorly.


Google Panda Update infographic
The Panda Update greatly shifted the priorities of SEO towards providing value for users. Image credit: ProfileTree

Beginning in 2011, the Panda algorithm was put into place to target thin content, poor quality sites and little to no SEO power. Panda made webmasters look at SEO in a whole new way, requiring in-depth content with solid quality and relevant links.

Google demoted spammy sites and boosted quality sites to give the customer better results when they searched. The main target of the first Panda wave was content farms.

Since the original rollout, Panda has been updated many times, each time with a focus on improving search with valuable and relevant content.

The ultimate result of Panda was the need for sites to add original, fresh and relevant content that proved valuable to their readers.


Sites can receive penalties from updates. Some penalties are due to the algorithm change, but others can be applied manually.

Duplicate content is one issue that can lead to a penalty. If your content is the same on more than one site, you can be penalised by the algorithm. You can check for duplicate content with this Duplicate Content Tool.

If you find duplicate content, you can revise one of the pages or add a no-index tag to one of them so the search engine spiders will ignore it.

The Penguin algorithm focuses on links. Inbound links and outbound links should be valuable and relevant to your content. If your inbound links are from content farms or irrelevant sites, then they may be dragging you down or will in the future.

To see what inbound links you currently have, you can use the tool Open Site Explorer. Enter your URL, then click on linking domains. You can see if any toxic links show up on your list.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the rate of single-page visitors vs. those that visit more than one page on your site. A high bounce rate can indicate the visitors are not finding what they need on your site. However, bounce rates vary by industry.

More important than bounce rate is whether your conversion rate is growing. A good rule of thumb is if your bounce rate is above 60%, you should work to reduce it.

Methods of improving bounce rate include better reader engagement, improved navigation and more precise keywords.

Return Visitors

Repeat visitors show Google that visitors like your site, find it valuable and want to come back. If you are having trouble getting return visits, you can offer a reward to return visitors. A reward can be a coupon, free content or a link to something they find useful.

One good practice is to examine your Google Analytics account for where visitors are coming from. You may discover that some websites refer visitors that tend to return, while other sites refer to visitors that bounce. In most cases, organic referrals offer visitors with better retention.

Site speed can be a factor in visitor retention. Site speed is also a factor for SEO. Visitors that have to wait too long to view a website will get impatient or bored and go somewhere else.

In the era of user experience or UX, a fast-loading site offers a much better experience for the user.

Create content that solves a problem and helps people. Tutorials and guides are very beneficial in this regard.

Reduce boilerplate content because it is boring and has little value to your readers.

Avoid keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is frowned upon by Google and annoys your visitors.


The Penguin update was designed to focus on incoming links. Its first run was in 2014, and it ended some very spammy link-building strategies. Link schemes, keyword stuffing, over-optimisation and unnatural links were all penalised by Penguin.

Essentially, it penalises black hat link-building strategies and aggressive link building including paid links and link exchanges. Link wheels which were very popular become taboo with Penguin.

If you have good quality content, then other sites will link to you naturally with relevance.

Anchor text can be an issue for Penguin. Watch for excessive use of keywords for anchor text in your content because it can trigger a Penguin penalty.


Hummingbird brought a new nuance to Google by adding context to the search results. Hummingbird uses over 200 ranking factors to determine the quality and relevance of a search result.

Again, Google focused on the user and not on the keyword specifically. Intent became part of the algorithm. Hummingbird uses long-tail keywords or phrases to determine search query matches.

It also uses language in a conversational manner or the way people talk in search results. One aspect of this algorithm is that people talk differently in different regions based on localisms and slang. Another way to look at Hummingbird is phrasing.

When you want to learn how to do something, it is likely you will search for “how to xxx.”

In conclusion, Google is routinely making changes to its search engine to improve the results for customers. Each change can mean that you need to update your site to comply with the new algorithm.

To avoid penalties, it is a best practice to stay aware of any new developments that could potentially cause your site to lose its ranking.

Specific Impacts of Google Algorithm Changes: Industry Examples

Understanding how Google algorithm updates impact different industries and niches is crucial for adapting your SEO strategy effectively. Here’s a breakdown of the effects of some key updates:

1. Mobile-friendliness Updates:

  • Impact: Websites not optimized for mobile devices saw significant ranking drops, impacting industries reliant on mobile users like e-commerce, local businesses, and news publishers.
  • Example: In 2015, Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update prioritized mobile-friendly websites, drastically affecting travel and hospitality websites with non-responsive designs.

2. Core Web Vitals Updates:

  • Impact: Websites with poor loading speed, responsiveness, and visual stability experienced ranking declines, affecting various industries like content publishing, online education, and finance.
  • Example: The 2021 Core Web Vitals update significantly impacted news websites that prioritized fast content delivery over optimal loading speeds.

3. E-A-T Updates:

  • Impact: Websites lacking Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) faced ranking drops, particularly in YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) niches like healthcare, legal services, and financial advice.
  • Example: Medical websites without credible sources and clear author information witnessed ranking declines after E-A-T-focused updates.

4. BERT and Natural Language Processing:

  • Impact: Websites with content optimized for keyword stuffing suffered, while those focusing on user intent and natural language saw improvements, impacting various content-driven industries like blogs, news websites, and product descriptions.
  • Example: E-commerce sites with product descriptions packed with keywords saw declines, while those using natural language and addressing user queries thrived.

5. Product Review Updates:

  • Impact: Websites with unreliable or incentivized reviews experienced ranking drops, affecting e-commerce platforms, travel & hospitality aggregators, and product comparison websites.
  • Example: Google’s focus on high-quality, genuine reviews impacted review-heavy websites that incorporated sponsored or unreliable reviews.

Remember: These are just a few examples, and the specific effects of updates vary depending on the nature of the change and your industry. By staying informed about upcoming updates and analyzing their potential impact on your niche, you can proactively adapt your SEO strategy and maintain search engine visibility.

Aligning Your Content with User Intent: A SEO Powerhouse

In today’s search landscape, understanding user intent is no longer just a best practice; it’s an essential element for creating content that resonates with audiences and ranks well on Google. Here’s how focusing on user intent helps your content align with Google’s algorithm priorities:

1. Demystifying Search Queries:

Imagine someone typing “best running shoes” into Google. Are they looking for recommendations, comparisons, buying guides, or expert reviews? Understanding this intent allows you to create content that directly addresses their needs, increasing its relevance and click-through rate (CTR).

2. Google Prioritizes Satisfaction:

Google’s algorithm aims to deliver the most relevant and satisfying results for each search query. By understanding user intent, you can anticipate what information users are truly seeking and structure your content accordingly. This helps Google identify your content as a top contender for a specific intent, boosting its ranking potential.

3. Beyond Keywords, Embrace Meaning:

While keywords are still important, focusing solely on them can lead to keyword stuffing and content that misses the mark. Understanding user intent encourages you to delve deeper, considering the “why” behind the search query and crafting content that truly fulfills the user’s informational or transactional needs.

4. Diverse Content Formats for Diverse Intents:

User intent can manifest in various forms. Informational searches might require articles or blog posts, while transactional searches might benefit from product descriptions or comparison guides. Understanding the intent behind a keyword allows you to choose the format that best serves the user and aligns with Google’s preference for diversity and relevance.

5. Answering the Unasked Questions:

Going beyond the literal search query and anticipating related questions users might have demonstrates a deeper understanding of the topic and user intent. This allows you to create comprehensive and informative content that Google recognizes as valuable and potentially ranks higher.

6. Continuous Learning and Adaptation:

User intent is constantly evolving, mirroring search trends and user behavior. Regularly analyzing search queries, monitoring competitor content, and engaging with your audience helps you understand changing needs and adapt your content to continue meeting user intent effectively.

Remember: User intent is not a static target; it’s a dynamic force shaping user behavior and Google’s algorithm. By embracing this focus, you create content that not only satisfies users but also aligns with Google’s vision of delivering the most relevant and helpful search results. This translates to improved rankings, increased website traffic, and ultimately, a more engaged and satisfied audience.

Bonus Tip: Utilize tools like Google Search Console and keyword research platforms to analyze search queries, understand user intent, and identify relevant keywords for your content strategy.

Technical SEO: The Foundation for High-Ranking Content

While creating high-quality, user-centric content is crucial for SEO success, it’s equally important to build a strong technical foundation. Here are some essential technical SEO factors that contribute to good rankings:

1. Site Speed:

  • Impact: Page load speed is a critical ranking factor for both desktop and mobile searches. Slow-loading websites frustrate users and negatively impact ranking potential.
  • Optimization: Implement caching, optimize image sizes, minify code, leverage a Content Delivery Network (CDN), and ensure efficient server response times.

2. Mobile Responsiveness:

  • Impact: With the majority of searches now happening on mobile devices, having a responsive website that adapts seamlessly to different screen sizes is crucial.
  • Optimization: Use responsive design frameworks, test across various devices, and utilize Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to identify and fix mobile usability issues.

3. Structured Data:

  • Impact: Structured data provides search engines with rich information about your content, enabling them to display it more prominently in search results (e.g., rich snippets, knowledge panels).
  • Optimization: Implement relevant schema markup for your content type (e.g., articles, products, events) and use tools like Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to validate your implementation.

4. Website Architecture and Navigation:

  • Impact: A clear and logical website structure with intuitive navigation helps search engines crawl and index your content efficiently, while also improving user experience.
  • Optimization: Create a flat site structure with internal linking strategies to connect relevant pages, utilize clear navigation menus, and submit your sitemap to search engines.

5. Technical SEO Basics:

  • Impact: Adhering to basic technical SEO practices ensures your website is crawlable and indexable by search engines.
  • Optimization: Fix broken links, eliminate duplicate content, ensure proper robots.txt configuration, and utilize HTTPS for secure connections.

Remember: Technical SEO is not a one-time fix; it’s an ongoing process of monitoring, optimizing, and adapting to evolving best practices and search engine guidelines.

Additional factors:

  • Image optimization: Use descriptive filenames, alt text, and appropriate compression formats for images.
  • Internal linking: Strategically link to relevant internal pages to distribute link equity and improve information architecture.
  • Mobile page speed: Prioritize optimizing mobile page speed for optimal user experience and ranking potential.
  • Core Web Vitals: Focus on improving Core Web Vitals metrics like Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) for better rankings and user experience.

By focusing on these key technical SEO factors, you can create a solid foundation that empowers your high-quality content to reach its full potential in search engine results pages (SERPs). Remember, technical SEO is not just about ticking boxes; it’s about creating a user-friendly and search engine-friendly website that facilitates seamless navigation, information discovery, and ultimately, a successful online presence.


1. Why is it important to understand Google algorithm changes?

Staying informed about Google algorithm changes helps you adapt your SEO strategy to maintain good rankings and website visibility. These changes can impact your website traffic, conversions, and overall online presence.

2. How often does Google update its algorithm?

Google makes hundreds of algorithm updates every year, but not all are significant. Major core updates happen a few times a year, focusing on broad improvements and impacting various ranking factors.

3. How can I track Google algorithm changes?

Follow official Google Search Central updates, industry blogs and news sources, and SEO tools that monitor algorithm shifts and their potential impact.

4. What are the most important tips for adapting to algorithm changes?

  • Focus on user intent and create high-quality, informative content.
  • Prioritize technical SEO factors like site speed, mobile responsiveness, and structured data.
  • Build high-quality backlinks from relevant websites through ethical strategies.
  • Stay updated on industry best practices and adapt your approach accordingly.
  • Continuously monitor your website performance and refine your SEO strategy based on data and insights.

5. What resources can help me learn more about SEO and Google algorithm changes?


Understanding Google algorithm changes might seem daunting, but it’s not an impossible task. By staying informed, prioritizing user intent, focusing on technical SEO, and utilizing ethical link building practices, you can empower your website to navigate the ever-evolving world of search engine optimization. Remember, SEO is a continuous journey, so embrace ongoing learning, data-driven insights, and adaptation to achieve lasting success and thrive in the dynamic digital landscape.

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