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19 Years of Google Algorithm Updates That Changed SEO History

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This article will cover the facts and stats celebrating 19 years of SEO. It will focus on how Google has dramatically changed Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) over that 19 years of time.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has always been in the process of endless change and development. When SEO has just begun, it was all about altering back-end code, a shady practice of keyword stuffing and spamming links until your ranking started to be positively well for the keywords you wanted. In short, search engines sucked. A lot.

But in September 1998, the world of online marketing and SEO has appeared to dramatically change overnight when Google was launched and stepped in into the game.

Honestly, Google did a great job of understanding ranking factors that could showcase great content, user intentions behind searches, and how to focus on beating away spammers. That catapulted Google to the number 1 search engine used but ever since then, it has been an unending race to be at the top rank for commercial keywords. It has been extremely difficult as of late.

So How Has Google Changed Its Algorithm Throughout the Years?

What can online-marketing professionals, like us, learn about SEO changes/update and what we should do to rank higher? Join me and let’s study Google’s present pattern of changes.

1998: The Year of Google’s User-Focused Algorithm

I just mentioned that in the year 1998, Google was launched. On the same year, DMOZ and other business models based absolutely on organic search were discovered. During that time, in order for you to have an effective SEO campaign, you should get a DMOZ listing.

Sadly, DMOZ no longer exist. According to a short article from Search Engine Land, Google has announced it will no longer use the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) title and descriptions as one of their sources of the search results snippets. On March 17, DMOZ officially shut down, and since the web directory is no longer being actively maintained, Google decided to stop using the DMOZ titles and descriptions in the Google search results.

Google wrote, “With DMOZ now closed, we’ve stopped using its listings for snippeting, so it’s a lot more important that webmasters provide good meta descriptions if adding more content to the page is not an option.”

Google strongly recommends you to read this document about snippets to help you create excellent titles and snippets in search results.

2000: Google Toolbar Was Launched

In December 2000, Google launches Google Toolbar and SEOs were introduced to PageRank. On the same year, Yahoo! drops AltaVista and selects Google as its default search engine provider instead. By late 2000s, Google AdWords launches with a CPM model.

According to Bruce Clay, president and CEO of Bruce Clay Inc. a digital marketing optimization company providing search engine optimization (SEO) services and who a digital marketing optimization company providing search engine optimization (SEO) services, during this time SEO was pretty spammy. It was all about getting high PageRank links, or even just links from wherever and whoever you could. Footer links on high PR pages would catapult you to the top, and link farms to throw PR to your websites were easy to deploy and effective. This resulted in tons of “link selling” and “link rentals” being available for SEO’s to purchase.

Between 2000 and 2003, PageRank would generally be updated monthly and rankings would fluctuate accordingly. Webmasters would post their findings on Webmaster World, and once the updates were complete they knew it was about a month until the next set of updates arrived.

2001: Search Engines Begin to Improve

In 2001, search engines become more refined in which they list dynamic URLs. This means that the value of ‘keyword’ meta tags begins to fade. How does it impact SEO? Meta tags are snippets of text that describe a page’s content; the meta tags don’t appear on the page itself, but only in the page’s code. It helps SEO but not all of them and not all of the time.

According to Google’s standpoint, they don’t use meta keyword tags anymore. Some online-marketers believe meta keyword tags can have negative ranking effects by using them on Google, however, nobody have been unable to substantiate this in their findings or find anything official that backs up this theory.

In the opinion of Jill Whalen (CEO of High Rankings), she has been SEO-ing websites even before the 21st century began. She has been in SEO business since 1993. She feels that she has been touting the same SEO processes and procedures for the past 10 years, she thought to herself, or maybe so much has changed in the industry of SEO and she just didn’t notice. That’s why she wrote an article to see exactly how much SEO has changed (or not) and what she found was a little bit of both – sort of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” kinda thing.

  • Pay-for-placement in the search engines was the latest and greatest.
  • Search engines were getting much better at indexing and crawling dynamic URLs. There were mod rewrite programs available that also helped.
  • Big Dogs (a.k.a. large brands) didn’t seem to have an advantage over little guys back in 2001.
  • “GoTo,” the first major pay-per-click search engine, was around and was getting well known. (It was later renamed Overture, and then became Yahoo Search Marketing many years later.)
  • Google was already totally dominating as far as the relevancy of search results went because of their user intent focused algorithm. (Which helps explain why they ultimately killed all the other search engines.)
  • The meta keyword tag was already known to have little to no bearing on search engine rankings (at least by me).
  • Even back in 2001, rankings were very volatile and would fluctuate from day to day.

2002: “Boston”, the First Documented Update

In 2002, directory submissions are a common scheme among SEOs. As a result, Google relaunched and began issuing PageRank penalties to sites who were selling links.

By the Fall of 2002, before “Boston” (which was Google’s first major update) came into the picture, there was a serious shuffle in the industry.

According to Moz, the details are unclear, but this appeared to be more than the monthly Google Dance and PageRank update. As one webmaster said of Google: “they move the toilet midstream”.

2003: The Year of the Updates (Cassandra, Dominic, Esmeralda, Fritz and Florida)

The Year of the Updates + Web 2.0 was born. The year wherein Blogger went live, followed by WordPress. During this year, Google made A LOT of updates. Here are some of Google’s algorithm changes during this year:

  • February 2003, the first “named” Google update, Boston became the first major monthly update. The first few of these updates combined algorithm changes with index refreshes (Google Dance). The monthly idea expired when frequent updates became a requirement.
  • April 2003, Witch Cassandra, Google got down to business on basic link-quality issues. Massive linking from co-domains was one of the main focuses for this update as well as hidden text and links.
  • May 2003, Dominic came into the picture. This was one of many of the changes that happened in May, but not necessarily the easiest to describe. “Freshbot” and “Deepcrawler” were crawling the internet and bouncing sites left and right. Also, backlinks began to be counted and reported changed considerably.
  • By June 2003, Esmeralda was the last scheduled monthly update from Google. After this, a continuous update process was started. “Google Dance” was replaced with something called “Everflux”. This update definitely had some huge structural changes regarding Google.
  • July 2003, the monthly “Google Dance” finally came to an end with the “Fritz” update. Instead of completely overhauling the index on a roughly monthly basis, Google switched to an incremental approach. The index was now changing daily. With this update, Google changed to an incremental or “bit by bit” approach instead of overhauling everything monthly. The index changed every single day.
  • Jump to September 2003, the “Supplemental Index” was introduced so that Google could index more documents without having to hurt performance. This became a hot issue until the index became integrated again.
  • Last for the year 2003, the update that put “SEO” into real play was Florida. It was the largest effect to search rankings by far. Numerous sites lost all ranking and there were even more unhappy business owners. Low-value SEO tactics from the late 90s were finally dead. Keyword stuffing was a thing of the past, and the game was getting serious.

It was definitely a game changer. Also, it was the year that Google got strict and tough on spams. A lot of authorized sites were penalized, meaning they are legitimate sites but were no longer pleasing the new Google algorithm. How and why? There are several reasons behind it like buying low-quality links or duplicate content. If you want to know the reason why Google penalized your site, check out this article by Kissmetrics.

Still, Google remained the dominant player in the industry. A lot of online marketers believed that Google=Search Engine. Also, during this year, Google continues to receive negative reactions and gets bashed by webmasters who can’t figure out how to get a decent listing.

2004: The Year for Professional SEO (Austin, Brandy and Google IPO)

2004 became The Year for Professional SEO. Still, paid links were still common as text link ads advanced. 301-redirects were becoming all the rage. In addition, a lot of people in the industry were not happy with Google’s updates because it made their job more difficult. Google’s algo was focused on trying to focus on real marketing of websites. It was trying to teach tactics that actually helped users identify the websites that they wanted. Not websites that showed up just because the user or whoever they hired knew more about the Google Algorithm than everyone else.

2005: A Busy Year for Google (Nofollow, Allegra, Bourbon, XML Sitemaps, Personalized Search, Gilligan, Google Local/Maps, Jagger, and Big Daddy)

Google welcomed 2005 with its new update, the “nofollow”. Comment spam had become the new rage. That meant that you could get a link by commenting on a page with a high Pagerank toolbar metric. “Nofollow” enacted to combat spam. It cleaned up spammy blog links and comments that were placed merely for ranking purposes and controlled the outbound link quality.

In the same year, Bourbon was introduced. Its purpose was to treat duplicate content and non-canonical URLs. Before the year ends, Jagger and Big Daddy updates came out. Jagger targeted low-quality links like reciprocal links, paid links, and link farms while Big Daddy’s goal was to update infrastructure.

According to an article written by Jill Whalen, an SEO consultant for 22 years and CEO of High Rankings, she mentioned that it later became Google’s way of forcing people to distinguish between paid links and non-paid. Looking back now, that may have been their goal all along. In addition, Google also introduced Google Analytics, which changed the face of how to measure SEO success for the rest of the decade, and presumably beyond. This was also the start of Google’s “Aging Delay” for new domains, meaning it prevents any new pages from ranking for up to 8 or 9 months.

2006: The Year Search Engines Began to Support XML Sitemaps

In 2006, search engines began to support XML sitemaps. Ask Jeeves rebrands as “Ask” and Google bought YouTube.

According to High Rankings, the following are some of the updates of Google during 2006.

  • Conversions (and tools to measure them) were all the rage.
  • Google (allegedly) had a “minus 30 penalty” for certain sites.
  • Buying text links was a huge business, but Google started to fight back.

Here are some big brands that were penalized by Google:

  1. SearchKing, Selling Links & The First Amendment

When: September 2002

Violation: Selling links

Penalty: Site’s homepage didn’t rank for its name; PageRank was reduced from PR8 to nothing; other “inside” pages were OK

Penalty Period: 3 years, 7 months

  1. WordPress & Doorway Spam

When: March 2005

Violation: Doorway Pages

Penalty: Site’s homepage didn’t rank for its name; PageRank was reduced from PR8 to nothing; other “inside” pages were OK

Penalty Period: 2 days

  1. BMW & Cloaking

When: February 2006

Violation: Cloaking

Penalty: Site removed

Penalty Period: 3 days

But that’s not all. Did you know that Google even penalized itself for breaking its own rules? Google made a violation 5 Times and penalized itself for breaking its own SEO rules. Here are some of the violations:

  1. Google AdWords & Cloaking (The Original)

When: March 2005

Violation: Cloaking

Penalty: Pages removed from Google

Penalty Period: Unknown

  1.  Google Japan & Paid Links

When: February 2009

Violation: Paid links

Penalty: PageRank dropped from PR9 to PR5

Penalty Period: 11 months

  1. Beat That Quote & Acquiring A Problem

When: March 2011

Violation: Paid links

Penalty: Rankings degraded; no longer made the first page for own name

Penalty Period: 2 weeks, at first, then uncertain extension after that.

2007: The Universal Search and “Buffy” Update

In 2007, the universal search was launched. The same year, Google continues to crush paid links by permanently banning Text Link Ads.

Jill Whalen, an SEO consultant since 1995 and CEO of High Rankings. She’s an industry mentor dedicated to maximizing the potential of all websites. She’s an industry mentor dedicated to maximizing the potential of all websites. She has empowered tens of thousands of people to confidently improve their websites through her  High Rankings Advisor SEO newsletter. Jill observed the changes in SEO during that year and here’s what she found:

  • By the beginning of 2007, we were still seeing aging delay effects for those websites that switched to a new domain. By the end of 2007, it was finally waning when 301-ing old URLs to new ones correctly.
  • The phrase “targeted traffic” was heard more often as people realized it was a heck of a lot better than just any old traffic.
  • Paid links got smacked down even more by Google. At least in terms of toolbar PageRank.
  • People were still worried about dynamically generated websites, even though they (when designed correctly) hadn’t been a problem for many years.
  • And last, but not least, despite years of trying to drum it into people’s heads that creating zillions of microsites for SEO purposes was a bad idea, it continued to be a tactic that was often asked about.

2008: SEOs Start to Examine the Power of Social Media

In 2008, Google released the suggestion box. This tool gave SEOs more insight into how people were searching the web, helping to shift the focus back to the user.

The “suggestion” box gave SEOs a peek at how Google was trying to help the end user. This helped shift the mindset from broad keywords to more specific user-focused long-tailed keywords. This was Google’s first big movement into switching SEO into’s marketers. Their algorithm was complex enough that it could no longer be gamed as much.

Also, in this year, SEOs analyzed the power of social media. As Twitter becomes more popular, Linkbait starts to collect momentum as an SEO tactic.

2009: The Rise of Guest Blogging

In 2009, guest blogging was increasingly getting popular for link builders. Also, in the same year, Google launched two algorithm updates.

Vince: begins to factor in user trust.

Caffeine: which facilitates faster searching and indexing of pages.

Also, Canonical tags were launched. Its purpose was to help people with complex website architecture issues.

2010: The Year of ‘May Day’

In 2010, Google rolls out May Day algorithm to penalize ‘cookie cutter’ sites with limited original content. Real-time search and instant previews were also introduced into Google searches. Impact of exact match anchor links started to fade.

2011: The Year of Google Panda Update

The Year Where Content Rises. Panda 1.0 was released impacting over 12% of the search results. Google began to place more focus on a site’s content. Sites with weak and irrelevant content were impacted greatly.

According to Search Engine Land, after Panda was launched, it was virtually impossible to get away with any gimmicky content-based tactics, such as favoring a high quantity of content while forgoing quality and substance. Instead, the search engine winners were ones who produced the best, most valuable content, spawning the adoption of content marketing among SEOs and content is still king today.

2012: The Death of Link Schemes

2012 was the year that Google launched the Penguin 1.0 targeting sites that violated “Google Webmaster Guidelines.” Black Hat SEO and spam-based link-building were on its way out.

2013: The Rise of the Content

Inbound Marketing becomes “mainstream” and the focus has switched from traditional SEO best practices to the website’s content and promotion. Indeed, the phrase “Content is King” is true and many online marketers changed their practices. The result was divided by owners who became successful and by marketers who got frustrated with their content marketing strategy.

2014 was The Year of the Reshaping of Local with the Pigeon update.

It completely changed Google’s ranking game because it gave well-optimized websites a major edge in local search. Also, Google increased the visibility of high-authority directory sites in its search results.

2015: RankBrain + The Google Mobile-Friendly Update

Google introduced its machine learning algorithm called “RankBrain” with the goal of delivering “smarter” results. Also, Google focused its attention on mobile prioritization.

According to Search Engine Land, optimizing for mobile has become not only common but downright required these days, in no small part due to Google’s continuing and escalating insistence. Its mobile-friendly update, which occurred in two separate phases, has been a major enforcer of this new standard.

2016: Google’s Top 3 Ranking Factors Confirmed

Andrey Lipattsev, Google’s Head of Search, confirms Google top 3 ranking factors: Links, Content, and RankBrain but there was “no order” when asked for clarification on the order of importance.

If you want to learn more about ranking signals, you can watch the video here.

2017: Present Day

What does this year hold? Google made major updates earlier this year.

Here’s the Google Algorithm Change according to Moz:

  • Intrusive Interstitial Penalty—January 10, 2017

Google started rolling out a penalty to punish aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience. Google also provided a rare warning of this update five months in advance. MozCast showed high temperatures from January 10-11, but many SEOs reported minimal impact on sites that should have been affected.

  • “Fred” (Unconfirmed)—March 8, 2017

Google rolled out what appeared to be a major update, with reports of widespread impacts across SEO community. Gary Illyes jokingly referred to is as “Fred”, and the name stuck, but he later made it clear that this was not an official confirmation.

Google has changed SEO dramatically for the past 19 years and we must adapt to it. If you’re trying hard to get that number-one I assure you that you will fail. I suggest that you switch your attention from focusing on a specific ranking factor to focusing on being flexible in your approach.

How You Should Be Dealing With Google Algorithm Changes

Google always updates its algorithm to improve search results and penalize sites who are still using black-hat SEO. Google makes about 500 changes to its search engine algorithms every single year. No kidding. So how should SEOs cope up with these fast and big changes?

What is the Google Panda update?

According to Search Engine Land, Google’s Panda Update is a search filter introduced in February 2011 meant to stop sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results. Panda is updated from time-to-time. When this happens, sites previously hit may escape, if they’ve made the right changes. Panda may also catch sites that escaped before. A refresh also means “false positives” might get released.

What you should do:

  • Write a content that is as unique as possible and educates readers or gives your readers value.
  • Don’t write for the purpose of keyword optimization or write the same content on different sites.
  • Put yourself in your reader’s situation so that you’ll be able to figure out how to provide answers or help or how to capture their attention and connect with them.
  • If it happens that you’re posting the same content to different sites that you own, here’s a helpful suggestion from CIO: Sometimes, duplicate content is part of what a company legitimately offers. A large publishing company, for instance, may publish the same article on multiple sites it owns. In those cases, to avoid a Google penalty, publishers should properly identify the parent content and make sure others use rel=canonical to point back to the original content.

What is the Google Penguin update?

Google Penguin update was made to improve search quality. Its goal is to catch and crash sites who buy bad or low-quality links for the purpose of boosting their ranking in Google.

What you should do:

  • It’s very important to have high-quality link and diversity.
  • According to Ting-Yu Liu, Covario’s manager of paid media services, “Look at where your links are coming from using Google Webmaster tools and what the anchor text links are. Try to have at least 60 percent keyword diversification. If you have 80 percent of external sites linking to you with the same anchor text, that’s a problem.”
  • Focus on getting “natural” links from different sites because of the useful content you’ve posted with them.

Google Knowledge Graph update

What is it? Google Knowledge Graph provides answers about a specific person, place or things. For example, you searched for a sitcom like Friends. Google will show you the photos related to Friends. When it was aired and the actors and actresses who were part of the show. All this information came from different sources, such as Wikipedia, which Google uses for its Knowledge Graph.

What you should do:

  • If your content is about recipes or other structured data, be sure that you’re able to meet Google’s guidelines for such data.
  • Check out Schema.org to learn more about structured data.

Here are other additional strategies that will help keep you a step ahead of Google’s ever-changing algorithms:

  • Always stay up to date: For you to be able to stay on top with Google’s algorithm updates, start educating yourself by reading SEO blogs, joining conference about SEO and checking out websites like SEOMoz Google Algorithm Change History for updates.
  • Keep your bounce rates low: A great strategy to keep your bounce rate low is to improve your content’s readability. Make it easy to read. Google prioritizes user experience. When a Google user didn’t find your content to be helpful, it will send signals to Google from that user behavior.
  • Get visitors engaged in your content: According to CIO, when evaluating links from external pages pointing to your content, Google is increasingly looking for real social activity and commenting on your content. Google wants to see a qualifying scale of true human interaction with a page before it counts a link from that page as a true vote for your site. Links to your content shared on Google+ is one way for Google to validate the user engagement of your content.

The Future

Obviously, Google changes its search algorithm every single time and what works today might not work tomorrow. Focus on creating quality content and building credibility and authority by gathering natural, relevant links from authoritative sites.

So how do you rank sites in Google today? For years now, we’ve been following Google’s updates—testing, researching, and updating our SEO techniques. So you can say that we know how to rank websites on Google!

Read our previous blog post and you’ll learn how to effectively rank website in Google after all the 19 years of Google Algorithm updates.

Will Robins

Husband and Father, Will focuses on family first under God.If you are searching for an engaged audience, the kind we all dream of, then you have found the right website. Will uses a personality with amazing salesmanship in his teaching.He focuses on how successful websites have grown their viewers and engagement.

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