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Glossary Definition: Algorithm Update

An ever-growing glossary of SEO Jargon

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What is an Algorithm Update?

Search engine algorithm updates are periodic improvements made to the procedures, or algorithms, used to rank websites in natural search results.

Google Algorithm Updates

Historically, Google has defined an algorithm update as the addition of a new ranking signal to their algorithm. Over the past few years, however, many of those signals have acquired "dials", which can be turned up and turned down, blurring the lines between subtle changes and true updates. Each year, Google makes hundreds of small improvements to its ranking algorithm—relatively few of which have any real noticeable effect on natural search results.

Index Updates and Data Refreshes

Not all updates involve changes to search engine ranking signals. Google makes continuous updates to its index as it crawls the Web for content, making new results available to searches. Most of Google's index updates are automated; however, occasionally are tied to a specific part of the algorithm. The specialized—manually triggered—index updates are known as data refreshes; run to remove low quality sites from search results.

Notable Google Updates

Noticeable changes in search results always sparks widespread speculation and forum discussion, with assumed updates often named prior to confirmation from Google. Google updates have traditionally been named by Brett Tabke, founder and owner of Webmaster World and the PubCon conference.

Google periodically releases official statements that outline recent algorithm changes, particularly when an update causes significant fluctuations in search results.

  • Penguin: First rolled out in April 2012, Penguin acts as a filter, periodically triggered to remove spammy websites from Google's search results
  • Panda: Launched in February 2011, Panda is a filter, similar to Penguin, regularly clearing low-quality, thin content websites from Google's index
  • Caffeine: Google's June 2008 infrastructure improvement, Caffeine, increased indexing speed to match the needs of real-time search
  • Bigdaddy: December 2005 saw Google's first major infrastructure overhaul, Bigdaddy
  • Florida: The Florida Update in November 2003 was the first significant change to Google's algorithm, and targeted spam tactics such as keyword stuffing
  • Fritz: The Fritz Update brought significant changes to Google in July 2003 with an index that began updating on a daily basis instead of monthly
See a complete list of Google's algorithm updates by year.

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