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Google Algorithm – Updates and Basics for SEO

Most of us use the most popular Google search engine every day to obtain various, valuable information. How do we get specific answers to the questions that bother us? This is, among other things, thanks to the Google algorithm, i.e. a combination of formulas and processes – rules that determine which pages will be displayed when we apply selected key phrases. The algorithm takes into account numerous indicators that affect the accuracy of the results. Due to the fact that the network grows, new pages and services appear constantly, positioning methods and even the methods of generating inquiries are changing. That is why Google uses various algorithms that contribute to the search system. Thanks to them, the search engine works accurately and literally understands the intentions of users. We present an overview of Google algorithms and updates.

How does the Google algorithm work?

Are you one of the people wondering how the Google algorithm works? Perhaps you run a website or online store, which is why you are looking for such information? The Google algorithm is a software that determines the ranking of pages in the search engine. The search system (called an algorithm) is actually made up of “smaller” algorithms that have names. They verify a given website and, taking into account various criteria, determine the position of a given website in search results.

User experience and adapting the content, appearance and functionality of the website to the recipients’ requirements are becoming more and more important. SXO is becoming more and more important for algorithms.

The ranking of websites in the Google search engine is determined using a number of different algorithms. It is thanks to them that the system can understand the user’s intentions and whether a specific website is matched to the query sent. Without algorithms, Google would be in complete chaos, so the search engine would become completely useless. For years, the system has rewarded websites that are tailored to the user’s needs, while imposing penalties on spammy sites, with no real value for the community. The complete list of SEO ranking factors is unknown. Google, however, regularly publishes information about working algorithms and their updates.

The Google search engine works by using many complex algorithms. Each of them is responsible for different elements when determining the ranking. So it’s worth getting to know them a bit better to understand exactly how they work. You also need to know that Google’s algorithm has evolved over time. You could say that the search engine today is made up of many smaller algorithms that make up a whole complex search system that we all know well.

In 2020, Google implemented:
383,605 search engine quality tests;
62,937 parallel experiments (A / B tests);
17,523 experiences with web traffic;
3620 actuations.

Wondering what the Google algorithm is all about? Determining organic search results is extremely complicated and consists of hundreds of factors. Google makes it clear that ranking systems do not use one algorithm, but a whole series of different solutions. On the official blog, you can read this information:

β€œTo ensure high standards of relevance and quality for our search algorithms, we follow a rigorous process that includes both live testing and the work of thousands of trained external quality testers from around the world. Quality testers follow strict guidelines that define the goals of our search algorithms and are publicly available to all users.”

As you can see, algorithms are not everything, because the determination of the results is also influenced by Google testers. They focus on the most popular websites on the web that are visited by a huge group of users. Such manual tests and analyzes are also carried out on websites like YMYL (Your Money or Your Life).

Page Rank, or how it started

Page Rank was the first algorithm that was introduced in 1998 and was completely withdrawn in 2016. The rule was simple – the more links that lead to the page, the better the site’s ranking. The new website received an initial rating on a scale from 0 to 10, if its creator wanted to ensure a higher Page Rank, he had to focus on link building. Unfortunately, since such a classification system was easy to manipulate (the linked pages did not have to be valuable), further changes to Google’s algorithms were necessary. So in the end, link building started to play a smaller role in SEO. As of 2016, PageRank is no longer taken into account when ranking search engine positions. Its place was taken by other, much more advanced Google algorithms, which you will learn about later in this article.

The most important Google algorithms for the SEO of your website

For a better understanding of what Google algorithms are, it is necessary to learn a little more about it. They play a key role in the ranking system. Very often the search system is called an “algorithm” by default – it should be remembered that it works on the basis of several other algorithms, and each of them is responsible for a separate area and different tasks.


We heard about Panda for the first time in 2011. It is a Google algorithm that analyzes the content of websites. Since its introduction to a high position in the search engine, especially those websites that publish high-quality content can count. Websites with duplications and spam are recording a decrease. Thanks to Panda, Google has significantly reduced the phenomenon of keyword stuffing.

Implementation of the Panda algorithm: 2011
Key tasks: quality analysis of content


Penguin is another extremely important Google algorithm. This pet analyzes links to websites on the web. Thanks to Penguin, those domains that have thematic and qualitative links, not from spammy sites, gained access. The algorithm’s attention is drawn to sudden increases in (unnatural) links. The penguin was introduced in 2012.

Pingwin algorithm implementation: 2012
Key tasks: link analysis


Through Pirate, Google started a “fight” against sites that copy copyrighted content. This solution has been used since August 2012. Due to this algorithm, domains infringing copyrights lost their position in the search system, while sites with original content gained position.

Implementation of the Pirate algorithm: 2012
Key tasks: punishing sites that infringe copyright


In 2013, Google introduces the Hummingbird algorithm. This solution is designed to better understand the intentions of users. In this way, the ranking includes those sites that do not necessarily have a keyword, but respond to the Internet user’s query with their subject and context. Since then, creating substantive content is even more important.

Implementation of the Hummingbird algorithm: 2013
Key tasks: examining the context of pages and displaying them according to the intentions of the user


In 2016, Internet users were informed about a new update called Opossum. What is this Google algorithm? It was thanks to him that local positioning took a slightly different form, and the geolocation of the device began to be taken into account when determining the organic results. In this way, local businesses that have, for example, a Google business card and their own website, have gained.

Implementation of the Opossum algorithm: 2016
Key tasks: optimizing local search results


The RankBrain algorithm uses machine learning and was published in 2015. Thanks to him, Google wants to better align the results with the standards of the community. With the update, better results in SERPs began to be achieved by those websites that focused not only on quality content, but also UX. Sites with a high bounce rate suffered declines.

Implementation of the RankBrain algorithm: 2015
Key tasks: machine learning, better matching of results to user intentions


Bidirectional Encoder Representation from Transformers (BERT) has been operating since 2019. Its purpose is to display more relevant search results, especially when generating complex long-tail queries. This is a huge step towards an even better understanding of what exactly users are looking for. This is the moment when Google began to use NLP (Natural Language Processing) on a large scale. BERT involves bidirectional key phrase analysis, which means that it finds correlations between different words, better interpreting their semantics and context.

Implementation of the BERT algorithm: 2019
Key tasks: NLP analysis, better understanding of queries

Top Google Updates for SEO

In addition to the Google algorithm, updates to the search system are also important. Very often, one seemingly small change has a huge impact on the positioning and visibility of various pages in organic results. We present the most important updates that have been made in recent years.

Mobile First Indexing and Mobile Friendly

This is an update implemented in 2015: more visibility was to be obtained by those pages that are correctly optimized for mobile devices – the Mobile Friendly update. In some time, in 2018, Google published information according to which indexing will first take place for mobile versions of websites. It has remained so until today.

Exact match domain

This is a 2012 update. Until then, the domain name was influencing SEO. Today it is practically an irrelevant element of SEO. Unfortunately, in the past, having a domain with a keyword phrase in the name was helpful in achieving high positions. For this reason, it was popular to buy domains in large numbers, and then set up a back-end or generate redirects.

Google Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty

2017 update. Google announced that sites displaying ads that interfere with access to the content will be fined. This mainly concerned the mobile versions, which were unattractive to users due to many too large ads. This is the next step not only towards website optimization, but also UX.

Site Diversity Update

When you type a query into a search engine, Google should display pages that each belong to a different domain (or two addresses can lead to the same domain). Before the 2019 Site Diversity Update, search results could have been populated with more pages from exactly one site. To diversify the ranking a bit, Google has introduced an appropriate update.

March 2019 Core Update

In March 2019, the algorithm was updated to better match the results to the users’ intentions. Very often, when announcing such a change, Google is reluctant to announce exactly what the update will include. For this reason, it is very difficult to predict whether the update will result in increases or decreases. This was also the case here. Ultimately, people associated with the medical industry most often complained about the negative results of the update. Sites with high ad volume and popups were punished again.

June 2019 Core Update

In 2019, this time in June, Google released the update. However, it was not specified what the update will focus on. According to the results, you can guess that UX has gained even more importance along with the loading speed.

September 2019 Core Update

A similar situation as in June also took place in September 2019. Google announced an update but no details. However, you can guess from the results that solutions for the evaluation of content on websites have been implemented. Domains publishing valuable, up-to-date content, especially by renowned authors, scored higher.

January 2020 Core Update

Another update took place in January 2020. It’s hard to find official information from Google about what it was about. Ultimately, it was an update that is supposed to better match the results to the query. So you can guess that the algorithm punished sites with spam and low-quality content.

May 2020 Core Update

Major update from May 2020, but no detailed information about it. Many sites experienced huge fluctuations that only stabilized after a few days / weeks

December 2020 Core Update

A similar situation as with previous updates also took place in December 2020. An update has appeared again, but without detailed information on the implemented changes. The pattern is the same: fluctuations, decreases, increases, depending on the nature of the site and the amount of spam.

Passage Indexing: February 2021

The purpose of updating passage indexing is to better match the displayed content to the intentions and needs of the user. Google assumes that a specific answer should be displayed to the generated query.

Product Reviews Update: April 2021

Google announced an update designed to reward product reviews while verifying spammy entries. Thanks to this, users will be able to have more confidence in the reviews they read on the web.

Spam Update: June 2021

As the name suggests, this is an update to fight spam. Sites with worthless content recorded declines. Again, Google confirms that it focuses on quality and UX, especially in the context of the content published on the pages.

Page Experience Update: June 2021

An update that causes Google to consider Core Web Vitals metrics when determining its positioning. Therefore, websites that care about optimization and UX could enjoy positive results. The implementation of CWV to the search system was delayed many times. Ultimately, Google made the move in June 2021.

Page Title Rewrites: August 2021

From August 2021, Google selects the titles displayed in search results on its own. This is a change aimed at increasing the CTR by matching the responses to the user’s query. While the update sparked a lot of debate, it didn’t change much in terms of the positioning in the end.

Product Reviews Update: December 2021

Positive reviews may affect Google ranking from December 2021. This is a refresh of the April update of the same year. Again, Google wants to punish spammy reviews by rewarding valuable and credible ones.

Google algorithms – what changes in the future?

These examples are just some of the important changes to Google algorithms. It is impossible to indicate all the factors that determine the position of a given website, especially since the algorithms, through their elements of machine learning, change extremely dynamically. Since 2016, Google has introduced, among others: (Mobile) Speed Update (an update that made the page speed a ranking factor for searches via mobile devices, similar to computer searches), Medical Update (a controversial change for websites in the field of medicine or pharmacy, which was aimed at valuing credible websites with the appropriate quality of content, confirmed by the author’s authority) and BERT (an algorithm developed to better understand natural language, capture nuances, contexts, relationships between words, etc., which is, of course, to make it more accurate, more consistent with the intention of the search results).

What’s next? It is difficult to predict specific modifications, but for sure Google will continue to analyze further security measures against various manipulations, develop algorithms so as to highlight valuable and useful pages, so that users can more precisely search for information based on complex queries. We can closely follow the next, latest updates and based on them, constantly improve and optimize our websites. Everything indicates that Google is paying more and more attention to UX, not just optimization in terms of loading speed and limitation of ad display. This means that it is worth taking care of the well-being of the user in order to adequately protect against future updates of the Google algorithm.

How to maintain online visibility?

SEO agencies know exactly what the Google algorithm is and are aware of how to raise your position in organic search results. In positioning, content with external links and comprehensive optimization are important. However, the changes that have taken place (and are still taking place) at Google make it worth combining SEO with UX. In this way, the website has a much better chance of achieving high results in the search engine.

Google Algorithm FAQ

What is Google’s algorithm?
The Google algorithm – also known as the search system – are the formulas and processes that determine page ranking. The main algorithm of Google search engine consists of other “smaller” algorithms, each responsible for a different spectrum of operation. Ultimately, the software identifies the various signals and analyzes the sites in many ways to allocate them appropriate space for a specific user-generated query.

How often is Google’s algorithm updated?
The Google search system along with individual algorithms is regularly updated. Usually, official changes are announced several times a year. However, Google announced that an algorithm such as Panda, for example, receives the update continuously, without any announcement.

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