The most important Google updates at a glance

15 min

2010              May Day-Update
2010              Google Caffeine-Update
2011              Panda-Update
2011              Freshness-Update
2012              Penguin-Update
2012              Pirate-Update
2012              EMD-Update
2013              Hummingbird-Update
2014              HTTPS-/SSL-Update
2015              Brand-/E-Commerce-Update
2015              Mobile-Update
2015              Newswave-Update
2015              RankBrain
2015              Phantom-Update
2016              Google Core-Update
2017              Fred-Update
2017              User Localization-Update
2018              Speed-Update
2018              Medic-Update I + II
2019              BERT-Update
2021              Page Experience Update

Google regularly updates its algorithms through both date refreshes and updates. While data refreshes are changes to the database with which the algorithm works, updates consist of an actual change to the algorithm. We have summarized the most important updates of the last few years for you.

2010: May Day-Update

The update rolled out in May 2010 (hence the name) has a particular impact on Google’s ranking algorithm. Long-tail keywords in particular were targeted. Like virtually all Google updates, this one is again aimed at answering search queries better and thus increasing the quality of search results. Especially, keywords with a length of three to four words usually have a high conversion rate. Pages that fell into this range were therefore frequently affected.

The consequence of this update: “Large” websites that have ranked with less suitable content on long-tail keywords to date are to be downgraded in the SERPs. The quality thus increases, and the search results are more accurate and helpful for users.

2010: Google Caffeine Update

This update primarily dealt with web content indexing and made changes to the search index infrastructure. As a result, the search index can be updated faster and, compared to the previous one, allows for a continuous crawling process.


In 2011, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft decided to work together and agreed on common rules that were recorded on These are thus read out during indexing, which in turn makes it possible to display additional information in the form of rich snippets in the search results, for example. Through the update, it was thus decided that all search engines adhere to these indexing rules.

2011: Panda update

This update focuses on website content that is as high-quality as it is unique and that has added value for the user. As a result, both dubious content and content of inferior quality are penalized and therefore receive a lower Google ranking. Even today, the Panda update is regularly expanded and updated with additional signals. This makes the filter even finer and makes it easier for the algorithm to distinguish between good and bad content.

2011: Freshness update

Freshness is another name given to a Google update. The naming subtly points to its goal: Topicality of search results. However, not every search query relies on a result with up-to-date content. Therefore, it was necessary to categorize them. Therefore, there is the following classification:

Recent Events
Hot Topics
Regular UpdatesFrequent Updates
Current, timely and/or hotly debated topicsRegularly recurring events
→ not permanent, but recurring
Topics with frequent changes
Nice to know:

The basis for this update was the Google Caffeine update.

2012: Pinguin-Update

In addition to the Panda update, Google has refined its algorithm with the Penguin update. Again, this is a quality filter that penalizes misbehavior. While the Panda update checks website content, the Penguin update takes care of identifying spam, linking, keyword stuffing and unnatural backlink patterns. Again, as with the previous update, regular updates are made. This update is the most important one for link building, as it aims to penalize especially unserious and unnatural link building.

2012: Pirate update

The pirate update, named after piracy, penalizes sites that violate copyright. Websites that offer illegal content, such as pirated copies or similar, can thus be penalized, with the result that they disappear partially or even completely from the SERPs.

2012: EMD update

EMD is the abbreviation for Exact-Match Domain. This is a change to Google’s ranking algorithm, which is intended to improve the search results displayed. In response to a search term, users therefore only receive matches that are as close as possible to exact matches. Keyword domains with thin content, i.e. very thin and poor quality content, are downgraded in the ranking.


Answer users’ search queries more specifically with better content.

2013: Hummingbird update

In 2013, Google search turned 15 years old. Fittingly, the search engine integrated a completely new generation of the algorithm, which has been the basis of all search queries since then. With the Hummingbird update, Google took a big step towards understanding semantic search queries. This means that the search is more targeted and the actual connection between the keywords and the user’s intention can be better interpreted. Especially interrogative phrases (“How will the weather be in Munich?”) or search queries in entertainment form (“Show me pictures of the Statue of Liberty.”) are more clearly assigned by the update.

2014: HTTPS/SSL update

As the name suggests, this update provides for a higher weighting of HTTPS encryptions. Since then, these have been considered a ranking factor. This in turn gives webmasters the incentive to provide more security on the net. SSL certification confirms the identity of the domain and guarantees the user a secure connection.

2015: Brand / e-commerce update

Even though this update was never really confirmed, it had a great effect. A strikingly large number of well-known brand websites and online stores have benefited from this update, which probably earned it its name. Particular focus was placed on keywords with high search volume.

2015: Mobile First Index or also Google Mobile Update

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without the smartphone, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2015, Google decided to jump on the growing trend of mobile search and make it easier for users to search via smartphone. The main consequence of this update was that websites gradually had to make a mobile adaptation in the form of a responsive design or a mobile website in order to rank well.

2015: Newswave update

This update played into the hands of news websites in particular. It was carried out by Google without much fanfare and was never officially communicated. As with the Freshness update in 2011, the goal is to keep the search results up to date. This time, however, the focus is on trending keywords and information-oriented short head keywords.

2015: RankBrain

If you talk about Google updates, you can’t avoid RankBrain. This is machine learning, or artificial intelligence, which has been integrated into the algorithm as a subsection. The AI helps to better process and understand search queries that were never there before. This update does so with one goal in mind: better analysis of search queries so that relevant web pages are served up even if they don’t match the exact wording of the search query. Here’s what RankBrain can do:

2015: Phantom update

The phantom update is an update not communicated by Google – it was thus introduced silently and secretly, hence the name. However, this is not the first phantom update, as there were other non-communicated “phantom updates” both in years before and after. The focus in 2015 is on the quality signals of the Core Algorithm and user intentions. Since Google’s side never commented on this update, there are various speculations about content and the connection with other updates. The most persistent one: RankBrain and the Phantom update are directly connected. This rumor arose mainly because both were launched within a relatively short time and both focus on user intent.

2016: Google Core Update

The first of many core updates was rolled out in 2016. The result: High-quality and holistic content that encompasses and illuminates a topic holistically is better placed within the SERPs. But in addition, an appropriate response to user intent now also plays a role.

2017: Fred update

There was also a change to Google’s core algorithm with the Fred update. Once again, the ranking criteria were optimized to further increase the quality of page content. As is customary for Google, the focus is on added value for the user. The consequence of this update was that pages with outdated or thin content were penalized. In addition, texts that were over-optimized with keywords from a pure SEO perspective were also devalued. The Fred update therefore attacks, similar to Panda and Penguin, pages that are not designed for the benefit and added value of the user.

2017: User Localization Update

Those who were used to simply solving queries in foreign countries by providing the URL of Google with the corresponding country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) (for example, instead of simply the Spanish version, fail since this update. In the meantime, the search engine localizes your physical location and displays suitable results from your surroundings accordingly. You will notice this particularly well if you are on vacation and make search queries there.

2018: Speed update

Page speed has long been one of the most important ranking factors. Since the update in 2018, it has been weighted even more heavily – especially for searches on mobile devices. This shows Google once again how indispensable mobile traffic has become. Through various tools, such as Pagespeed Insights, webmasters can check the loading times of their website and optimize it accordingly.

You want to learn, how to optimize your pagespeed? Have a look here!

2018: Medic Update I + II

The Medic update was launched in August 2018 and updated again in October. Like the Fred and Phantom updates, it affects the core algorithm. The naming comes from the fact that the first launch unmistakably affected many sites in the healthcare sector. Not only that, various YMYL sites (“Your Money, Your Life”), i.e. financial, fitness and wellness sites, were also impacted. What is striking here is that these are primarily websites with sensitive content that can have a direct influence on the user. Thus, it is clear that this update aims to identify the trustworthiness of a page and ensure reliable content. With the three points of the Google E-A-T score, it is very easy to check how reputable your page is.

The picture shows all components of the EAT-Score and their specific meaning.
Components of the EAT score

2019: BERT update

The latest update from Google is the BERT update. This is an innovation that ensures that the search engine can better understand Natural Language Processing contexts of the language. This makes it possible for complex contexts, such as long-tail search queries, to be better understood. Above all, Natural Language Processing helps the search engine to understand the semantic context. It began with a rollout in the USA, and BERT has also been available in Germany since December 2019.

2021: Page Experience Update

In May 2021, Google will introduce the Page Experience Update. In the process, the previous ranking factor PageSpeed will become a new metric: the Core Web Vitals. These in turn are divided into three components:

With the help of these, the PageSpeed factor is made more measurable. This should make it easier to assess the performance of a page.


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