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Google Algorithm Change History

Google algorithm updates and data refreshes

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Google Algorithm Updates of 2011

Complete list of Panda updates and other notable changes to Google's search result algorithms for 2011.

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# Date Update Update type Noticeable effect
16 Dec 1, 2011 December 10-Pack Ranking signals No estimate given
15 Nov 18, 2011 Panda — 3.1 (#9) Data refresh 1% of searches
14 Nov 14, 2011 November 10-Pack Ranking signals No estimate given
13 Nov 3, 2011 Freshness Update First launch 6% - 10% of searches
12 Oct 18, 2011 Query Encryption New feature None
11 Oct 5, 2011 Panda — Flux incl 3 (#8) Ranking signals 2% of searches
10 Sep 28, 2011 Panda — 2.5 (#7) Unclear No estimate given
9 Aug 12, 2011 Panda — 2.4 (#6) Ranking signals 6% - 9% of searches
8 Jul 23, 2011 Panda — 2.3 (#5) Ranking signals No estimate given
7 Jun 21, 2011 Panda — 2.2 (#4) Ranking signals No estimate given
6 Jun 2, 2011 Schema.org New feature No estimate given
5 May 9, 2011 Panda — 2.1 (#3) Unclear No estimate given
4 Apr 11, 2011 Panda — 2.0 (#2) Ranking signals 2% of US searches
3 Mar 30, 2011 The +1 Button New feature -
2 Feb 24, 2011 Panda — 1.0 (#1) First launch 11.8% of US searches
1 Jan 28, 2011 Attribution Update First launch 0.5% of searches

December 10-Pack: December 1, 2011

Monthly Google Search Quality Highlights

With this new list of 10 recent updates, Google announced a new series of monthly blog posts describing noteworthy changes to search algorithms and feature enhancements. The series, which piloted on their Official Search Blog with their November 10-pack post, highlights recent changes not big enough to warrant their own blog posts. Notable changes announced include:

  • New original content signals: New signals to better determine which of two similar pages is the original
  • Fresher image results: Changes to detect image freshness for news queries
  • Host crowding code rewrite: A minor infrastructure change to the code that helps prevent too many results appearing at the top of one search from the same site
  • Fresher and more complete blog search results: A quality update to Google's blog search index
  • New parked domain classifier: A new algorithm to automatically detect domains that point to pages filled only with Google ads, instead of real websites
  • Indexing more of the Web: To make more long-tail documents available in Google's index

Further Reading

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Panda — 3.1 (#9): November 18, 2011

Data refresh of the Panda Algorithm (High-quality Sites Filter)

Google announced a data-refresh to the Panda algorithm via Twitter.

  • Affected less than 1% of searches

Further Reading

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November 10-Pack: November 14, 2011

Monthly Google Search Quality Highlights

In a move towards more transparency regarding changes to their algorithms, 10 made it to Google's official blog for the first time. According to the announcement, Google "...decided to publish these descriptions in part because these specific changes are less susceptible to gaming". Details were slim on the changes, but this search quality highlights post was the first of what would become a monthly peek into Google's algorithm changes.

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Freshness Update: November 3, 2011

Change in Ranking Signals

On November 3rd 2011, Google announced a significant improvement to their algorithm designed to determine when to return the most up-to-date, or freshest search results possible. This update helped deliver high-quality, up-to-the-minute results for recent or recurring events, trending hot topics, and any other type of frequently updated information on the Web, and impacted up to 35% of results for these types of searches.

Unlike this Freshness Update, the 2010 Caffeine Update that helped return more up-to-the-minute results was not an algorithm improvement; instead, it was an infrastructure change to their index to help Google crawl and index web pages and a greater rate.

Keypoints

  • Boosted rankings for fresh content is not new; it's improved
  • This change began providing "fresh" content for twice as many queries as before the update
  • One of the factors that Google uses to determine if content is fresh or not is the time when they first crawled a web page.
  • Impacted 35% of time-sensive searches, or 6% - 10% of searches to a noticeable degree, depending on the country and language searched from

Further reading

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Query Encryption: October 18, 2011

New Feature

To better protect the privacy and security of its users, Google announced they would be encrypting search queries by routing signed in accounts to the SSL version of Google, at https://www.google.com.

Downside for Digital marketers

The downside to the new default query encryption was that Google's keyword referral data would now be missing for a sizeable chunk of Web traffic. What this means is: keywords that searchers use in Google—when they're signed into their Google account—to find your website in organic search results would now display as not provided in Google Analytics. This was devastating news for search marketers and site owners interested in seeing valuable search referral history.

The catch—that many speculate was the real reason for Google's switch to encrypted search—was that keyword referral data was still being made available for clicks made on Google's paid search results, AKA Adwords.

Keypoints

  • At this point, the change was only made on Google.com
  • Google software engineer Matt Cutts estimated that even at full roll-out, the amount of searches made from signed-in accounts on Google.com would be in the single-digit percentile.

Further Reading

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Panda Flux - incl Panda 3.0 (#8): October 5, 2011

Algorithm update to the Page Layout Filter

On October 5th, Google's Matt Cutts announced via twitter to "...expect some Panda-related flux in the next few weeks, but will have less impact than previous updates (~2%)."

Fluctuations in search rankings were reported on at least October 3rd, October 9th (Panda 2.5.1), October 13th (Panda 2.5.2), and October 19th (Panda 2.5.3), Panda 2.5.2 being the most significant.

Panda 2.5.2 was originally thought to be a minor update, but should have—and was, later—considered to be Panda 3.0, because of its significant effect on many search rankings. It appears that there may have been several other Panda algorithm changes or refreshes as well during this period.

Key points

  • Other associated updates were made throughout October, fluctuating search rankings
  • Google offered no exact percentages of affected searches by Panda 2.5
  • Less than 2% of searches were noticeably affected

Further Reading

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Panda — 2.5 (#7): September 28, 2011

Data refresh of the Page Layout Filter

Originally, Google made no announcement of Panda 2.5, but it's believed that the update was made on September 27 or 28, 2011. It was unclear as to whether this was an algorithm change or a data-refresh only.

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Panda — 2.4 (#6): August 12, 2011

Algorithm update to the Panda High-quality Sites filter

Almost 6 months after Panda was first launched in the US, Google announced that the filter was rolled out Internationally, in most languages.

  • Impacted 6-9% of typical searches (Major update)
  • Panda was not rolled out in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, where further testing was still necessary
  • Only minor changes to English version of Panda

Further Reading

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Panda — 2.3 (#5): July 23, 2011

Algorithm update to the Panda High-quality Sites filter

Panda 2.3 was another minor update, incorporating some new signals to help differentiate between higher- and lower-quality websites.

Further Reading

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Panda — 2.2 (#4): June 21, 2011

Algorithm update to the Panda High-quality Sites filter

On June 21 2011, Google confirmed an update to their Panda algorithm, which occurred some time around the June 16th.

With the confirmation of the Panda update, Google's Matt Cutts noted that Panda is not a constantly running algorithm. Instead, Google manually runs it as a filter every few weeks against Google's entire index of pages to weed out low quality websites.

  • This Panda update targeted scraper sites, which copy and re-publish content from other sites, sometimes even out-ranking them.
  • Matt Cutts offers that the Panda update is run every few weeks to filter low quality sites from search results

Further Reading

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Schema.org: June 2, 2011

New feature

In a joint initiative by Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, Schema.org was launched to create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages. Information on the Web can be structured using semantic formats such as Schema.org (and earlier formats, including Microformats and RDFa) to help make content more machine-readable, by describing the relationships between types of data, such as people, place, and things.

Schema.org and other structured data formats are part of what is commonly referred to as the Semantic Web, the next, interconnected, incarnation on the World Wide Web.

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Panda — 2.1 (#3): May 9, 2011

Algorithm update to the Panda High-quality Sites filter

Originally thought to be a major update, Panda's third incarnation turned out to be nothing more than small tweaks to the algorithm, and was dubbed 2.1 by the search industry, instead of Panda 3.

Google made no announcement of Panda 2.1, but confirmed the minor changes, stating that it impacted far fewer rankings than the first two Panda updates.

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Panda — 2.0 (#2): April 11, 2011

Algorithm update to the Panda High-quality Sites filter

Less than 2 months after Panda's first release, this new update to the Panda filter expanded its effects beyond the original U.S. search results to include all worldwide English search results.

  • This second Panda update impacted an estimated 2% of all U.S. queries of search results—considerably less than Panda's original 12% effect.
  • To a lesser degree, new signals were incorporated into Panda's algorithm, including data about sites that users block via personalization options on search results pages, and on the Chrome browser.
  • Panda 2.0 affected smaller sites as well as the primarily larger ones that the original Panda algorithm did. According to Amit Singhal, in charge of search quality at Google, "this change also goes deeper into the 'long tail' of low-quality websites to return higher-quality results where the algorithm might not have been able to make an assessment before".

Further reading

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Panda — 1.0 (#1): February 24, 2011

New High-quality Sites filter

Google's Panda Update aims to lower the rankings of websites with low quality and thin content, therefore helping higher quality sites in the search results.

Panda was originally named Farmer by Danny Sullivan of Search engine Land, because of it's apparent targeting of content farms, or websites with weak content and high ad-to-content ratios. Eventually, Google adopted the name 'Panda' for the unprecedentedly sophisticated machine-learning algorithm, after one of its key engineers, Navneet Panda.

Key points

  • This first Panda rollout affected up to 11.8% of Google's U.S. search results to a degree that most users might have noticed
  • This first appearance of Panda primarily affected larger sites.
  • Panda can affect the search rankings of an entire website, rather than only its individual pages
  • As was later revealed with Panda's 4th update, the algorithm acts as a filter that is manually run to periodically to weed out low quality sites from search results. When the filter is activated, it is know as a data refresh

Aftermath

  • Many websites containing large amounts of advertising dropped in ranking
  • A large number of news and social networking sites experienced a surge in rankings
  • Due to many complaints on forums and blogs about content scraping sites and copyright infringers seeing better rankings than sites with original content, Google published a 23 bullet-point advisory on its official blog: More guidance on building high-quality sites.

Further reading

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Attribution Update: January 28, 2011

New Scraper sites penalty

In an effort to further fight webspam, Google made algorithm improvements to help penalize sites that scrape content from other websites, and publish it as their own. By penalizing content farms, scraper sites, and other thin content sites, Google aimed to boost search visibility of original content sources.

Key points

  • Affected slightly over 2% of all queries, or approximately .5% to a degree that most users might notice

Further reading

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See More Google Algorithm Updates by Year

As Google's algorithms improve, search-friendly website rankings do as well. Learn about Springboard SEO's search engine optimization methodology.

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