SERP walkthrough of the decade!

SERP walkthrough of the decade!
August 3, 2020

2 Min Read

The keyword “Google algorithm update” has a search volume of 2.4K in India alone and a whopping 11.4K search volume globally. But why does such a huge search volume for this keyword exist? Search engine marketers are always on toes on the latest updates on Google algorithms. The reason for this massive search volume is due to its uncertainty after each update rolls out. Google is always on the move for making changes to its system to make search results better & more relevant for its users. The search engine giant rolls out hundreds of core algorithm updates every year and makes slight changes which usually go unnoticed every now and then.

In this article, we have enlisted all the major changes made by Google and the impact it has had on search rankings. These are the confirmed ones that occurred in the past 10 years. 

Read on …


May Core Update – 4 May 2020

On this day, the official Google Search Liaison twitter handle said that it is releasing a broad core algorithm update. About an hour and a half later news came from the same source that the update was underway and it would completely roll out in a period of 1-2 weeks.

This came after a major core update that happened just 3 months back in January 2020.

The May Core update was an “absolute monster” according to Mordy Oberstein from RankRanger and shared a chart comparing the May and January 2020 core updates in terms of rankings volatility for the terms it tracks. According to him, “the January update was a very big update but the May update had slightly edged it out”.

Many were affected and many benefited from this update across various niches compared to any other typical core update. Google says that there is no quick fix if your website has been hit by a core update. And the reason it happens is not due to serious SEO issues but it’s just that there may be some better websites than yours out there which could get ahead of you.

Featured Snippet De-duplication – January 22, 2020

Google’s Danny Sulivan duly announced on twitter that webpages in a Featured Snippets position will not appear twice on Page 1 organic listings. This was a major change for all search listings worldwide.

Previously, it was a common sight that webpages ranked twice for the same keyword – one with featured snippets and the other without it. Now, a website only gets one opportunity to rank on Page #1.

Featured Snippet was introduced back in 2014, and it was referred to as Position Zero by many folks which allowed you to rank twice with the help of your Featured Snippet. This update put a halt to this practice and said that Featured Snippets would rank as one of the ten web page listings. 

seoClarity shared data saying that 28% of duplicate listings appeared in the 2nd position of search results before the release of this update. The industries affected due to this update was mainly the Automobile and Finance. However, we quoted Mark Traphagen of seoClarity telling Search Engine Journal that –

January Core Update – January 13, 2020

This update was similar to the May broad core update and took 2 weeks to complete like many others. Many verticals were hit due to the update as described by Mozcast, the top seven categories had a temperature that passed 100°F.

While this was not on par with the 2018 Medic update, it had similar temperatures with the previous core temperatures.


International BERT update – December 19, 2019

The algorithm was first introduced in October 2019 which was initially applied to only languages apart from English. The Natural Language Processing update was launched for the English language which aimed to better understand the natural language and the context in searches and match queries with relevant results. It was the largest change in the system after RankBrain was released and 1 in 10 search queries were affected by it. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. For more information, head to the Google AI blog

Here is an example of how the update has benefited the users

September 2019 Core Update – September 24, 2019

Google’s public liaison Danny Sullivan had pre-announced it on twitter that it would be a global update and took several days to fully roll out.

Gary Illyes of Google had spoken of a term at PubCon called “baby algorithms” which is explained as there may not be a solid E-A-T algorithm but many algorithms named baby algorithms that interpret parts of E-A-T.

GSQi pointed out that Google’s Algorithms have been more critical of health and medical websites since the Medic algorithmic update and that the industry has been witnessing major fluctuations in traffic due to the core update.

Google’s John Mueller was quoted as saying from the webmaster video hangout – “Where in the past it was really hard for us to judge kind of the quality of the medical or medically-oriented site. And over time our algorithms have gotten better in that regard.”

Video Courtesy: Google Webmasters

Site Diversity Update – June 6, 2019

Google had announced a site diversity update that aimed to show more diverse results from different domain names.

This came from the observation that how its top search results listings showed 4-5 results of the same domain. Now, the search results will have not more than 2 listings of the same domain in the top results.

Danny Sullivan from Google also tweeted that it is about the main web search listings and things like featured snippets and map listings are excluded.

June 2019 Core Update – June 3, 2019

This core update had limited details revealed by Google Search Liaison which affected a large number of sites. 

The SEO community had reverted on twitter to Barry Schwartz about the impact this update had on their website. While some of them saw positive results in traffic flow, some saw negative results.

Indexing Bug – May 23, 2019

Google had confirmed an indexing issue in a tweet from its Webmasters account and took 2.5 days to resolve the same. There were observations first made by Search Engine Land of new content not being indexed. We quoted them saying that there was an issue in the Google’s indexing queue being backlogged and having to clear out. 

De-Indexing Bug – April 5, 2019

Google suffered from de-indexing issues that dropped pages from its search index and went around for a week when it finally confirmed that it has been resolved. It also had indexing issues with Google News. This issue had affected major websites ranking on top results. About 4% of URLs had dropped off from page 1 results and most of them had recovered later.

It was not clear what caused the issue(Google did not reveal it) but it took a substantial amount of tie to fix it.

March Core Update 2019 – March 12, 2019

This was a broad core search ranking update but there is no concrete data on its impact on verticals but Google Search Liaison stated on twitter that “there is no fix for pages that perform less well but to remain focused on creating quality content. Over time, it will rise compared to other relative pages.”


“Medic” Core Update – August 1, 2018

This broad core update had a massive impact on search rankings which rolled out for a week. Marie Haynes in her blog said it had majorly affected the (Your Money or Your Loss) Sites. Also, the medical niche was affected to a great extent by this update.

Chrome Security Warnings(Full Site) – July 24, 2018

Chrome 68 began marking all non-HTTPS as “not secure”. It relied on users installing the latest version of Google Chrome and upgrade the HTTP to HTTPS URL. Now, if a URL has HTTP configuration it will show “Not Secure” in its address bar.

Mobile Speed Update – July 9, 2018

They had first announced it in January 2018, and six months later they rolled out the mobile speed update.

It affected the rankings of the slow-loading mobile sites whereas fast loading ones did not see any significant change. Google in this blog has advised on how to detect and improve speed for your mobile site.

Video Carousels – June 14, 2018

Google transformed its display from thumbnails to a dedicated video carousel which looked somewhat like this – 

This feature caused a significant increase in number of SERPs with videos.

Snippet Length Drop – May 13, 2018

Google has tested increased length of snippets back in December 2018, up to 300+ characters(according to Moz’s study), and dropped its character limit till 150-160 characters in May. Danny Sullivan tweeted about this saying that the search snippets would now be shorter than average than in recent weeks and that there is no fixed length for it. 

Mobile-First Index Roll-Out – March 26, 2018

The Mobile-first index had rolled out after testing it for many months by Google for sites that followed the best practices for mobile-first indexing. Google also added that it will notify webmasters/site owners that their sites have been migrated to the mobile-first indexing process via messages in GSC.

Zero Result SERP test – March 14, 2018

This test was done on a small set of Knowledge Cards and started displaying zero organic results & a “Show all results” button. The Knowledge Cards included time/date queries, & unit conversion calculators.

Brackets Core Update – March 8, 2018

This core update was confirmed by Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan on March 7th, but there was instability right from March 4th and 8th and continued for about two weeks. Glenn Gabe named it the “Brackets” update and no specific details were provided by Google.


Snippet Length Increase – November 30, 2017

Google had confirmed that changes were made to the display of snippets in search results. It was made a bit longer to help people understand how the pages they saw were relevant to their searches. 

RankRanger tracked these and found out that the description length had grown to 230 characters of length.

Chrome Security Warnings(Forms) – October 17, 2017

Chrome 62 was launched and Google began warning users to sites with unsecured forms and stressing on making websites secure with HTTPS. Emails were sent to site owners and webmasters that Chrome will mark HTTP pages as “Not Secure”.

Google Jobs – June 20, 2017

By this date, Google had launched their own jobs portal, with its own job-listings in Search results. Data was being pulled to its portal from all major providers such as LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor, etc.

Intrusive Interstitial Penalty – January 10, 2017

Google had announced that it will be penalizing websites with intrusive interstitial and pop-up ads because these can be problematic for mobile screens that have less display.


Penguin 4.0 Phase 1 – September 27, 2016

The first phase of the Penguin update had rolled out which penalized websites with bad links. A gentler version had rolled out around September 22-23 which devalued these websites instead of penalizing them.

Penguin 4.0 Announcement – September 23, 2016

This is when Google finally announced that the Penguin update is now real-time and a part of our core algorithm. Later on, it revealed that it is going to be multi-phased. It was introduced in 2012 and operated on a periodic basis.

Mobile friendly 2 – May 12, 2016

After the first version of the original mobile-friendly ranking boost update, the second one was rolled out which was technically supposed to increase the effect of mobile ranking signal. Google added that if your website is already mobile-friendly, you will not be impacted.

AdWords – February 23, 2016

Major changes were made to Google Adwords, by removing the right column ads completely and 4-ad top blocks were added to commercial queries on the search results. This had both paid and organic results having major reformations.


RankBrain – October 26, 2015

Google announced that machine learning had been a major part of the algorithm. It uses a machine learning technology called RankBrain to help sort through its search results. It first came out from a Bloomberg Story, which said that it is the 3rd most influential ranking factor.

Panda 4.2 – July 17, 2015

Google had announced a Panda update which was more like a data refresh and no immediate impact was seen and had no massive changes.

The Quality Update – May 3, 2015

It acknowledged an update where changes were seen on a large scale due to its assessment of content quality. There were reports of it being dubbed as the “Phantom Update” before because Google had not confirmed it by then. There were no specific details revealed.

Mobile Update(Mobilegeddon) – April 22, 2015

Google pre-announced an update stating that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly sites beginning from that day onwards. There was no major impact and Moz’s data showed that the algorithmic flux was peaked on April 22nd.


Pigeon Expanded – December 22, 2014

Google’s major Pigeon update was expanded to the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada. It was rolled out in the United States in July 2014.

Pirate 2.0 – October 21, 2014

This was rolled approximately 2 years after the original DMCA/”Pirate” update to combat software and digital media piracy. This update caused a substantial decrease in rankings to a small group of websites like torrent sites etc.

Penguin 3.0 – October 17, 2014

Google launched Penguin refresh ie Penguin 3.0 after Penguin 2.1 which was released more than a year back. It was spread out for weeks and had only a 1% impact on US/English queries.

“In The News” Box  —  October 1, 2014

It looked like there was a change in the display to the News-Box results, but later on, had confirmed that they had started including news links from potential sites apart from the traditional sites. Major news sites reported substantial traffic changes. 

Panda 4.1  —  September 23, 2014

Google’s 28th Panda update was rolled out and said in Google+ post that the “slow rollout” had began earlier this week and will continue till next week before being complete. And depending on location, about 3-% of search queries would be affected. 

Authorship Removed – August 28, 2014

On June 28th, there was a drop on authorship photos, following that Google announced that they would completely remove authorship markup. It will no longer be tracking content from rel=author markup.

HTTPS/SSL Update  —  August 6, 2014

It started as a preference that they would give to secure sites and including encryption would provide a ranking boost. And hence, they implied that the change would start out to be small but increase later significantly.

Pigeon  —  July 24, 2014

This was a major transformation to the local SEO world and modified how they handle and interpret location cues. This was to provide more useful results to the local search results that are tied more closely to the web’s search ranking signals.

Authorship Photo Drop – June 28, 2014

Google’s John Mueller announced that it would be dropping all authorship photos from SERP. It began on June 25th and ended on 28th. This intended to improve user experience and seemed to fit the mobile-first strategy. 

Payday Loan 3.0  —  June 12, 2014

This is the Google Spam Algorithm version 2.0 update ie version 3.0. This came less than a month before the previous one which targeted spammy queries like “payday loans”, “casino”, “viagra” etc.

Panda 4.0  —  May 19, 2014

Panda version 4.0 update was confirmed by Google which included both an algorithm update and a data refresh. About 7.5% of US/English queries were affected.

Payday Loan 2.0  —  May 16, 2014

Google updated its “payday loan” algorithm which targeted highly spammy queries and is unrelated to the Panda or Penguin update. It impacted about 0.3% queries in the US, and 4% of Turkish queries where spam is usually higher.

Page Layout  —  February 6, 2014

It was launched back in 2012, it penalized sites with too many ads above the fold. The filter also known as Top Heavy Algorithm”  and version 3 did not have any major impact.


Penguin 2.1  —  October 4, 2013

Matt Cutts of Google had confirmed on twitter that they had released Penguin 2.1 which was an update to the original Penguin algorithm update and also said that it impacted 1% of the search queries. Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Roundtable blog quoted that the update had impacted many webmasters had been impacted by the update.

Hummingbird  —  August 20, 2013

It was announced back on September 26th that which was compared to Caffeine and intended to strengthen the semantic search and the Knowledge Graph. This update catered Conversational Search which has natural language, semantic search, and many other elements built into it. There were many reports of changes from August 20-22 on various tools like, SERP Metrics, Mozcast, and Algoroo

In-depth Articles  —  August 6, 2013

Google confirmed a new type of news results called “in-depth articles” with an objective of lending evergreen, long-form of content. You can read more in detail about the update here.

Panda Recovery – July 18, 2013

Google confirmed that there is a Panda update rolled out whose implication was such that it softened some of the previous penalties due to the update. This renewed discussion in the SEO community and forums on the slowing down of Panda update.

Multi-Week Update – June 27, 2013

Google rolled out a multi-week algorithm update between July 12th and the previous week. This created massive rankings volatility and this update seemed like some testing. MozCast had witnessed a major high in the span of 3 weeks.

“Payday Loan” Update  —  June 11, 2013

This update targeted on notoriously spammy results, particularly ‘payday loans’ and ‘porn’. It was announced on June 11th but took 1-2 months to completely roll out.

Penguin 2.0 – May 22, 2013

The fourth release of the Penguin 2.0 update was aimed at stopping spam. Matt Cutts of Google said that it would impact 2.3% of English search queries. He also said that the scope of this update varies by language – languages with more spam will see more impact.

Domain Crowding  —  May 21, 2013

This update was released with an objective to control domain crowding/diversity deep in the SERPs ie pages from 2 and beyond. To get more details on the same, click here

Panda Update – January 22, 2013

Google had first officially announced the Panda update and claimed that 1.2% of English based queries were affected.


Panda #23  —  December 21, 2012

This refresh of the Panda update claimed 1.3% of English based queries which is slightly higher than the previous Panda updates.

Knowledge Graph Expansion – December 4, 2012

The Knowledge Graph functionality was added to non-English queries such as Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, and Italian, etc

Panda 22nd update  —  November 21, 2012

Google confirmed the 22nd update on this date which impacted 0.8% English-based search queries.

Panda 21nd update  —  November 5, 2012

This refresh update was the 21st Panda update which rolled few weeks after 20th update and impacted 1.1% of the US English based search queries.

Penguin 3rd update – October 5, 2012

This was the third Penguin release impacting 0.3% of US English based search queries.

Panda 2th update – September 27, 2012

This was a fairly major update which was algorithm + data based and impacted 2.4% of search queries.

Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update  —  September 27, 2012

This update changed the way Google was handling exact-match domains(EMD). This algorithm update affected 0.6% of US English based queries and reduced the presence of EMDs in the MozCast data set by 10%

Panda 19th update  —  September 18, 2012

This was a refresh update that was data-only and the impact was moderate and not at par with other major algorithmic changes.

Panda 18th update   —  August 20, 2012

Since the Panda 3.0 had ran out of number this and the next was named 3.9.1 and so on. This also didn’t have major changes.

DMCA Penalty (“Pirate”)  —  August 10, 2012

Google had announced that it would start penalizing sites with repeat copyright violations, via DMCA takedown requests.

Panda 17th update  —  July 24, 2012

This was rolled out after a month of Panda 3.8 and impacted approximately 1% of US English based search queries. Rankings fluctuated for 5-6 days.

Panda 16th update  —  June 25, 2012

This was a Panda refresh update with no major impact.

Panda 15th update  —  June 8, 2012

The ranking fluctuation for this update was substantially higher than previous Panda updates. It claimed a change of ~1% in search queries.

Penguin 2nd update  —  May 25, 2012

The Penguin 1.1 was the first targeted data update and was being processed outside of the main search index

Knowledge Graph  —  May 16, 2012

This was a major step towards semantic search which is a SERP integrated display providing supplemental objects for certain things, places, and people. Knowledge Graph was introduced as such.

Panda 14th update  —  April 27, 2012

The impact of this update was relatively smaller than the Panda 3.5 update.

Penguin  —  April 24, 2012

The Penguin update was introduced which was initially the “WebSpam Update” and adjusted a number of spam factors like keyword stuffing, and impacted 3.1% of US English based search queries.

Panda 13th update  —  April 19, 2012

This was a fairly routine update with minimal impact.

Parked Domain Bug  —  April 16, 2012

Google confirmed that a data error had caused it to be mistakenly treated as parked domains. This was not an intentional algorithm update.

Panda 12th update  —  March 23, 2012

This had 1.6% impact on US English based search queries.

Venice  —  February 27, 2012

Though the exact roll-out date is unclear, this was a local update that aimed to localize organic results and more tightly integrate local search data. Google code-named it Venice

Panda 3.3 and 3.2 update

The 3.3 update was released in February and the 3.2 was released in January. This didn’t have a major impact on search results.

Ads Above The Fold  —  January 19, 2012

Page layout algorithms were updated to devalue sites with too much ad-space above the limit. The update had no official name, it was referred to asTop Heavyby many SEOs.

Search + Your World  —  January 10, 2012

This update pushed Google+ social information & user profiles to SERPs aimed to improve personalization. Also, a toggle button to shut off personalization.


Panda 9th update  —  November 18, 2011

Google had announced a minor Panda update that affected less than 1% of US English based queries.

Freshness Update  —  November 3, 2011

This update rewarded freshness of the content and Google anticipated a 35% impact on searches which affected time-sensitive results and recently updated content was rewarded.

Query Encryption  —  October 18, 2011

Google announced that they would be encrypting search queries for privacy reasons. This, however, had disrupted the organic keyword referral data and it returned “not provided” for some organic traffic.

Panda 8th update  —  October 5, 2011

There was some Panda related flux that Matt Cutts had confirmed would have an impact of ~2% impact in search results.

Panda 7th update  —  September 28, 2011

Although the particular details of this Panda update was unclear, large scale losses were reported by some sites.

Pagination Elements  —  September 15, 2011

Google introduced the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” link attributes to curb & fix crawl & duplication problems created by pagination. Also, Google announced that it had improved automatic consolidation & canonicalization for “View All” pages.

Expanded Sitelinks  —  August 16, 2011

Expanded site links were launched for brand queries after experimenting for some time. Initially, these were 12-packs but these were limited to 6-packs.

Panda 6th update  —  August 12, 2011

This update rolled out Panda internationally, for all English and non-English queries except Chinese, Japanese and Korean. 6-9% of search queries were affected globally.

Google+  —  June 28, 2011

Google launched an intense attack with Facebook with Google+, put in a lot of effort, and within a span of 2 weeks gained 10M+ users.

Panda 4th update  —  June 21, 2011

Panda version 2.2 was officially acknowledged and occurred separately from the main index and not in real-time.  —  June 2, 2011

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo jointly supported structured data and created many new “schemas” for providing even richer results.

Panda 3rd update  —  May 9, 2011

This update wasn’t discussed in detail by Google and had a minor impact on US English based queries.

Panda 2nd update  —  April 11, 2011

The Panda update was rolled to all English queries worldwide and not limited to English speaking countries. Integration of new signals were also rolled out, including data about site users blocked via SERPs or the browser.

The +1 Button  —  March 30, 2011

Google launched the +1 button directly next to result links which allowed users to influence search results within their social circle, across both organic and paid results.

Panda/Farmer  —  February 23, 2011

Panda was introduced which affected 12% of search results and penalized sites with thin content, content farms, sites with high ad-to-content ratios and other quality issues. It rolled out for at least 2 months.

Attribution Update  —  January 28, 2011

Google rolled out an update to help better sort out content attribution which according to Matt Cutts had affected 2% of US English based queries


Negative Reviews  —  December 1, 2010

This update was rolled when the New York Times exposed how an eCommerce website DecorMyEyes was ranking based on negative reviews. Hence, Google adjusted its algorithm.

Instant Previews  —  November 1, 2010

A magnifying glass icon was introduced in the SERP for users to view the landing page directly from the SERPs. Thus, it improved the quality and user experience.

Google Instant  —  September 1, 2010

Google Instant was launched displaying search results as the search query was being typed. However, the impact on SEO was minor.

Caffeine (Rollout)  —  June 1, 2010

Caffeine was rolled out after experimenting for a while which not only boosted Google’s raw speed but also integrated crawling and indexing more tightly resulting in a 50% fresher index.

May Day  —  May 1, 2010

Matt Cutts had confirmed that there was an algorithm change called May Day impacting long-tail keywords. Websites with thin content all over were hit.

Google Places  —  April 1, 2010

Places pages were introduced in September 2009, but they were a part of Google Maps. In 2010, the official launch of Google Places was made which integrated more closely with local search results and included local advertising options.


Hope you found this piece helpful. Long Live SEO!