With the stroke of midnight on the 31st December, we finished the decade of 2010-2019 and moved into the future. With any new year, there is always some reminiscing to do, however, moving into a new decade encourages us to look back at our last ten years, what we managed to achieve and where we were at our lowest. While ten years can feel like it passes by in the blink of an eye, a lot can happen in a decade, especially if you are the search engine and tech giant, Google.

In this post, we look back at a decade of Google updates, where the highs were and what lows were quickly disregarded in favour of something better. We’ve seen some big updates in these ten years, the rise and fall of brands and most interestingly, the life and death of Google+ - the suspected Facebook replacement that attracted 10million users in the first two weeks before quietly going into that good night in 2019.

The Decade Begins - 2010

January might be the start of the year but Google had a slow start at the beginning of 2010, with the first update coming in April and introducing Google Places. Initially a part of Google Maps, Google Places was the first standalone application of Google My Business and allowed businesses to add their details to get in front of millions of Google users, supported by photos, videos and some additional details about the business including coupons and brands kept in stock.

Following the release of Google Places, the Caffeine Infrastructure, released in June of 2010 was Google’s next step and was implemented to improve the search function for all users, offering faster search results and improved integrated crawling and indexation.

There were a few smaller algorithm updates throughout the year but in total Google rolled out 516 updates in 2010. More incredibly, they tested over 13,000 updates in total that year!

Panda Rolls Out - 2011

2011 was the year of the Panda (update) and it was a big one, taking the whole year to fully roll out in both English and non-English speaking countries with numerous tweaks and minor updates taking place through 2011 and 2012. The Panda update affected 12% of all search results, penalising long-form thin content and content that was plagued with keyword stuffing. Content farms and sites with a high ad to content ratio were also hit hard, as Panda intended to improve the quality of the web and by extension, the experience of their users.

In June of this year, Google launched its Google+ social media platform, with plenty of early adopters already on board, Google+ quickly skyrocketed to 10million users within two weeks of release.

There were a few other quality updates in 2011. After Panda, the next biggest update came from Yahoo, Microsoft and Google teaming up to support structured data and launching schema.org in June. While certain microdata types already existed, the alliance provided improved support for structured mark up on websites, contributing to a better search experience and a clearer understanding of web pages from the viewpoint of search engines.

This was followed by the Freshness update in November, which worked to provide more recent content in search results and offered users more relevant time-sensitive content around their search topics. While it was a much smaller update than Panda, Google announced that the Freshness update would affect 35% of searches.

Finally, in December of 2011, Google announced it would offer a recap of updates in a monthly post. This was the first step in Google offering improved clarity around algorithms and noticeable tweaks.

i3MEDIA note: Quality and engaging content have always been something we’ve focused on at i3MEDIA. We ensure our pieces are well-researched, backed up with comprehensive studies and provide value for the target audience whilst answering their original query. We take pride in writing long-form, evergreen content that both our clients and their customers love.

Looking for an agency that loves what it does and puts their heart into every single article? i3MEDIA are your dedicated, full-service digital marketing agency and we look forward to working with you.

i3MEDIA case study: When it comes to content, there is little more sensitive than the healthcare sector. We have completed a number of projects in this industry, including working with the Rutherford Cancer Centres, a network of private cancer centres that are facilitating access to advanced cancer treatments and all-important supportive care.


Updated Page Layout Algorithm and Penguin Update – 2012

2012 was the year of Google looking for improved page layouts and rewarding websites that were user-friendly with ad-space above the fold. The message here was clear; if your user needs to scroll to see the content on your website, then you were more likely to receive a punishment. The Page Layout Algorithm received a few quality updates throughout the year and continues to be a ranking factor for modern websites.

Following the page layout update, Google began rolling out its next biggest update, Penguin. Originally known as an ‘Over-optimisation Penalty Update’, the Penguin update was introduced to adjust spam factors, targeting websites that incorporated manipulative link building practices and penalising link spam. At the time, Google announced the Penguin update would impact just over 3% of all English search queries.

Mid-way through the year in May, Google introduced ‘Knowledge Panels’. These helpful panels started to roll out with additional information that related to search terms including people, places and things. Using data collected over the years in search, Google hoped to provide key pieces of information right there in the SERP to make searching and finding relevant information easier for users.

The final noticeable and confirmed algorithm update of the year (outside of small quality changes to previous core algorithm updates) came about in August, when Google announced their intention to penalise sites with repeat copyright violations. Sites that had a high number of copyright strikes would appear lower in the rankings, encouraging websites to build better, unique content.

Down with Harmful Payday Loans – 2013

The first quarter of 2013 primarily featured unconfirmed changes and a small handful of confirmed Panda updates, with the first major algorithm update occurring in June. The Payday Loan update, launched in June, was Google’s attempt to reduce the number of harmful payday and high-cost loans that appeared to users, having a particularly notable effect on spammy websites and similarly spammy search queries.

In August, Google wanted to start rewarding long-form, informative and quality evergreen content and in doing so, added a new type of news results known as ‘in-depth articles’. This was followed by another major core algorithm update, known as Hummingbird, that intended to improve the visibility of Knowledge Panels in SERPs.

In the grand scheme of things, 2013 was a quiet year for major core Google algorithm updates.

Pigeons, Penguins and Pirates – 2014

The year was off to a slow-start in 2014 with only a handful of small updates and refreshes coming to the already released Page Layout, Panda and Penguin algorithm changes. The first big change was announced in June – the removal of authorship photos from all SERPs. Although authorship photos were a big push by Google to facilitate the connection to Google+, the removal of authorship photos was probably the first indication that Google+ wasn’t long to be.

Following the slow start to 2014, the first major update, Pigeon – affectionately named by online SEO publication, Search Engine Land – was announced in July. Pigeon swooped in with dramatic updates to local search results and the way local searches were handled, using local data and the intent of searches to improve the type of results users saw.

Following Pigeon, Google announced in August that secure sites would take preference in SERPs as a bid to pave the way for more secure websites and safer search results for users. This was supported by an update in October dealing with sites that had a high number of copy strike notices, as Google sought to tackle websites that engaged in software and digital media piracy. Finally, in December, the local algorithm update Pigeon flew its way into the UK, Canadian and Australian search results.

i3MEDIA note: We are no strangers to DMCA takedowns because we’ve had to issue a few of our own. They say that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ which is why it’s always amusing to find websites that have stolen our content or in one case, copied our entire website! Luckily, it doesn’t happen too often, but after the initial annoyance of having to request a company produce their own unique content, we can take pride in the fact that our work is that good, people would rather just take it!

i3MEDIA case study: Security is important across the web and is a keen focus of charities who want to make it easier for users to donate on the go. We helped Al Mustafa Welfare Trust to bring their web presence up to date with a seamlessly responsive website that works across all devices, alongside an innovative donation platform that allowed for multiple causes to be supported in a single transaction and most importantly, provided security for their users.


Mobilegeddon and RankBrain – 2015

There were two major updates in 2015, the first being the update to rankings for mobile-friendly websites which launched in April. Nicknamed ‘Mobilegeddon’ by SEO industry circles, the update was pre-announced by Google and rather than punishing websites would instead reward websites that were mobile-friendly with improved rankings.

Towards the end of the year in October, Google announced RankBrain, their machine learning process had been in place since Spring. RankBrain wasn’t an algorithm change as such but instead allowed Google to better interpret search terms, especially long-tail queries, and return more relevant search results based on this information. Considering that, in 2015, 15% of all searches had never been queried before, this gave Google’s search engine more power to better understand how users search and improve their overall search experience.
Although there weren’t many major updates in 2015, the updates we did see definitely changed the search landscape!

A Small Year for Updates – 2016

There were no major updates to the core Google algorithm in 2016, although there were plenty of unconfirmed quality updates, an improvement to visibility for mobile-friendly sites and some refreshes to Penguin. Most importantly during 2016, Panda, Penguin and Page Layout updates were officially incorporated into the core algorithm in January, September and November respectively.

One of the biggest amendments that occurred during 2016 was to AdWords and how sponsored results appeared in search results, with results no longer appearing in the right-hand column but instead appearing as a block of 4 ads at the top of search results.

Improving the Web Experience – 2017

Although 2017 as a whole was a fairly update-light year for Google, the year seemed to have a focus on improving the overall user experience when searching. First, in January, Google issued a hard penalty for websites, particularly mobile websites, that interrupted the user experience with interstitials and pop-ups. This was followed by Google launching their jobs portal in June. The jobs portal would draw data in from major jobs board players including LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder and Glassdoor and display this to users based on their search query.

A further step was taken towards a more secure web with Google warning users on sites with unsecured forms in an effort to encourage the use of HTTPS, this tied in with the launch of Chrome 62 in October. Finally, in November, Google introduced an increased length of snippets from 155 to 300, however, it wasn’t to last long and was soon scrapped in May 2018 with lengths returning to between 150-160.

Mobile First – 2018

Quarter one seemed to be another slow start for 2018, however, that was soon blown out of the water with the introduction of Mobile-First in March. Although, the process wasn’t instant and Google spent the next best-part-of-a-year migrating websites to the mobile-first index. This was Google’s first solid indication that the web was moving to a mobile-first approach and if you want your website ranking, it needed to be friendly and easy to use across all mobile devices.

This was reconfirmed in July when Google announced that mobile page speed would now officially be a ranking factor, although it was suggested this would only majorly impact websites that were noticeably slow on mobile devices.

The final broad core algorithm update of the year came in August and was unofficially known as the ‘Medic Update’. Although Google announced that the update wasn’t targeting any particular group of websites, the impact of this core algorithm update greatly affected websites focusing on health and wellness or with large amounts of health and wellness content.

i3MEDIA note: We have a competent and experienced team of designers and developers working as part of our Web Design team who are well versed in designing for mobile-first. Not only do we create beautiful websites, but we work responsively across all popular devices from mobile and tablet to desktop. We consistently ensure that you are on the platforms your audience love to use most.

i3MEDIA case study: In the modern era, being able to sort your banking, bills and other expenses on the go is essential. That’s why when the Peterborough City Council approached i3MEDIA for a new website, we knew they would need a capable, dedicated mobile site that made it simple for local residents to get the information they need and arrange payments for council tax or other council services.


A Bug in the System – 2019

2019 has been pretty busy regarding Google updates when compared to previous years.

There were a number of confirmed core updates, one in March that Google had very little to say about, although this was followed by a further update in June which affected sites that had already been hit in the previous March update. The June update also tackled some outstanding sites that weren’t affected during the Medic update but probably should have been.

One of the more interesting details to come out of the June update was the effect it had on UK Publishers – importantly, there was a considerable drop in online visibility. This may have tied more into the Site Diversity Update, that also launched in June, and was Google’s attempt to improve SERPs by limiting the number of sites that had more than two organic listings on page one. Although some sites were noticeably affected – like UK Publishers – the overall impact was small.

While the March and June core updates were definitely impactful, the biggest story in 2019 was not an update – but a bug! Affecting sites multiple times during April and May, the Deindexing and Indexing Bugs first saw 4% of sites lose their first-page visibility after being deindexed in April. The bug then returned with a vengeance in May by preventing indexing of all fresh content. It’s safe to say that this was a stressful time for SEOs across the globe.

A further core update was rolled out in September, with the impact largely affecting sites that were already affected by the March and June updates. As usual, Google was quite tight-lipped on the specific details but assured SEOs and web developers that changes weren’t impactful if you were following their guidelines and building websites with high-quality, informative content that offered a decent user experience.

The last major change of the decade was the introduction of BERT. No, not one half of the wonderful Muppet duo. BERT is a deep-learning algorithm model that has been trained on huge amounts of written data to help better understand the language and intent of a search query, in order to provide more relevant and targeted results. Considered the largest improvement in Google’s algorithms in five years, BERT is a natural language processing system and works by helping machines understand the context a sentence by looking at the phrase, query or sentence as a whole and taking each word into consideration. Although some websites will tell you differently – you cannot optimise for BERT – Google has even confirmed this themselves but like anything Google says, it’s often taken with a pinch of salt.

Slow Beginnings That Went Out with a BERT

The decade has seen plenty of noticeable changes throughout the years, not only in the types of results we see but in terms of how SERPs appear too. With the introduction of the Knowledge Panel and Augmented Reality Search, the movement of AdWords snippets, the flip-flop between total snippet lengths and even the number of results seen per page.

While we’ve only listed the major changes seen across the decade, it should be known that Google is always updating its algorithm with small quality updates and refreshes. These small updates rarely get noticed however, proven by the fact that there were over 13,000 changes tested by Google in 2010 alone.

A Core Update to Start the New Year Off

Previous years have seen the first core update occur around March however with the start of the new decade, Google has kicked things off early with a January Core Update that was announced via Twitter on the 13th Jan. Taking approximately a week to roll out, what the effects of the January core updates are, are yet to be fully confirmed but there have been plenty of large fluctuations seen across automated tracking tools including Mozcast and SERPMetrics.

That’s not to say you should be rushing to change your site if you’ve seen some fluctuations across your visibility, as the first few weeks following a core update always require a ‘cool down’ period. From the feedback visible from other industries and agencies online, it’s safe to say that the core update has focused again on a subset of sites that fall under the YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) label, including finance and healthcare sites. Domains in this industry that have previously seen changes are likely to experience changes again with the January update, although the extent of these adjustments will largely depend on the site and the implemented strategy since it was last affected.

Why Are Google Updates Important?

Google changes are necessary to make the web a better place. As the world’s leading search engine, receiving over 40,000 search queries every second, Google needs to be updating and evolving to accommodate the way the world itself changes. We can see these changes clearly from the last decade, with more users gravitating towards using mobile devices over desktop and preferring to use secure websites over those that aren’t.

Google is looking to ensure that everyone can enjoy not only their searching experience on the web, but their overall online experience; allowing them to get the information they need faster, use websites without and annoying pop-ups and improving the visibility for websites that actually create authoritative and trusted information – rather than those just trying to make a quick income from lazy, thin and sometimes harmful content.

Rewarding Consistent SEOs, Not Chasers

Throughout all Google’s updates over the years, there have been a couple of misfires and algorithms that got a bit aggressive with removing visibility in some sectors, as well as the occasional bug that has caused plenty of panicked virtual fires in the SEO industry. But largely the trend has been the same throughout. If you are building a website that works well across all devices, has a good page-speed, delivers high-quality, long-form, evergreen content that is relevant to your audience, gets plenty of natural links and contains the information users need with no dodgy black-hat tactics, then you are always going to come out well after an update.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always get a ranking boost. Doing well in an update can simply mean not moving at all if the negative factors that Google has implemented don’t apply to your well-developed and informative website.

SEO isn’t black magic, it’s consistency. If you are a business looking to hire a competent SEO agency or web development agency to work with, you need to be looking at agencies that work steadily and within search guidelines. Organisations that create well-researched content which is relevant to your audience, offering valuable information and encouraging engagement whilst simultaneously ensuring the website is easy to use.

At i3MEDIA, consistency is key. Our marketing team keep an eye on the continually evolving digital marketing sphere and are well-versed in Google updates and core algorithm changes. We get to the heart of what your audience is looking for and what they expect to see, delivering this information in concise formats with supplementing content that provides value and engagement.

We are i3MEDIA and good looking, informative websites are what we do. Get in touch today and find out how we can improve your website visibility, enhance your content quality and get you in front of the people that matter – your customers.

Posted On
Jan 21 2020