How the Google Algorithm Has Changed Over Time and What It Means for SEO Web Development in Minneapolis, MN

Since its beginnings in 1998, Google has dramatically changed the way users can search for information, ask questions, and find resources. The internet itself has also transformed significantly as technology, website capabilities, and user goals change. If you have a website, you probably use some kind of search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to improve your Google ranking over time. No matter how extensive your use of SEO systems is, you should be aware of any changes that Google makes to its search engine algorithm so you can work accordingly. There are frequent changes to the function of the Google algorithm and the ways websites can optimize their rankings. Google makes small adjustments to its algorithm multiple times every year, but the big changes that completely change the SEO landscape happen less often. If you’re hoping to improve your website’s Google ranking with better SEO but aren’t sure where to start, we can help. MLT Group LLC provides complete digital marketing services, including SEO web development in Minneapolis, Rochester, and everywhere else.

Web Development

According to market research, Google dominates with a 90% share of the global search traffic, while Bing and Yahoo only hold about 3% and 1.3%, respectively. This means that most of the rules of search engines are established through Google’s algorithm. When that search algorithm changes, the SEO rules change with it. There are many reasons why Google has made adjustments to its algorithm over the years, but each change was made with the main goal of improving user experience and better answering user inquiries.

Google in Web Development

The Google algorithm still performs its three basic tasks of crawling, indexing, and ranking. Google has, however, made adjustments over the years to how your website’s data is prioritized in the crawling process, how websites are indexed, and what sites are ranked highly on a search engine results page (SERP). If you’re using SEO tools, it’s important to keep an eye on Google news and updates to see if major changes might warrant significant alterations to your marketing campaign. SEO web development has been mostly the same since the last big change in 2015, but Google still makes changes to its algorithm upwards of ten times a year. You can keep an eye on these changes when Google announces updates, but most of the time you won’t have to adjust your overall SEO strategy to accommodate a completely new search system.

SEO Strategies in Web Development

Despite Google’s changes being mostly minor, the time may come soon when users’ social patterns, technology, and content purposes alter the search engine and SEO landscape. Even without large changes, it’s important to be aware of effective and current SEO strategies. Some marketing staff are still working with out-of-date SEO tactics like keyword stuffing and link manipulation.

Blog Posts

You can learn more about good, current SEO basics and the SEO tools you should avoid in this blog post, but to get an idea of how we got the SEO developments we have today, let’s focus on changes to the Google algorithm throughout recent history.

Panda: February 23, 2011

The Panda update began in 2011, but with over 28 updates over the years, it’s still highly relevant for SEO. In fact, the full Panda update was rebuilt into the base of the Google algorithm by 2015. Panda was developed to improve content quality, better answer user inquiries, and get rid of content farms. Around 2010, there were growing issues with a high output of thin, poor, and duplicate content. This content was generally farmed by websites that used it as cover ups or placeholders for advertisements and spam. Panda also targeted user-generated content of low quality or content without a purpose. Google’s mission with Panda was to eliminate content that was unnecessary and punish sites using black hat SEO practices to manipulate the system. The first impacts of Panda affected about 12% of search results (in English).

Panda has several triggers in its algorithm that will catch websites using unwanted SEO practices. Sites that use those methods will be ranked very low, if at all, on SERPs. Some triggers include low quality content, content farming, high ratios of ads to content, low quality user-generated content such as poorly written or inaccurate blogs, content made by unverified sources, mismatched content, sites that users have blocked, and duplicate content. Generally speaking, your site won’t be penalized by the Panda algorithm update if you are making quality content and using approved SEO practices.

Penguin: April 24, 2012

Soon after the effectiveness of Panda was seen, Google released the Penguin update in 2012. Unlike Panda, which penalizes sites with low-quality content, Penguin was meant to reward sites for making good content and hosting a high-quality website. It was also meant to reduce search results that included sites using link manipulation and keyword stuffing. The first incorporation of Penguin into the Google algorithm impacted 3.1% (in English) of search results. There have been 10 updates to Penguin over the years, and in 2017, it was brought into the core algorithm. The first four years of Penguin showed a severe impact on penalized sites. It was so difficult for sites hit by Penguin to recover that the code was almost completely reversed in 2016. Now, Penguin mostly works to devalue links that are low quality and link networks.

The main triggers of Penguin are link manipulation and keyword stuffing. Link manipulation means a site has built or purchased backlinks from low-quality websites or unrelated sources. This link scheming makes a website look more popular and relevant than it actually is. Keyword stuffing used to be an effective white hat SEO practice, but Penguin changed that. Websites that stuff excessive amounts of repeated keywords into their content are confusing and awkward to read. Google now considers keyword-stuffed sites a mark of poor quality.

 Pigeon: August 20, 2013

 In 2013, Google released several updates all at once, including Pigeon and Hummingbird. Pigeon dramatically changed the local search algorithm, connecting it more directly to the core search engine algorithm. This affected the way local and organic results end up ranked on a SERP. Not only did it make it more important for local businesses to have an organic SEO presence online, it also adjusted the way distances and locations are calculated for users. Search radiuses were narrowed to the location of the user rather than the larger area that a search query could suggest, which made it harder for local businesses to compete in the smaller groups of SERP rankings.

Pigeon also changed the “pack” display of local search results for the user. The pre-Pigeon method of showing local results was in a pack of 7 businesses listed by name and link. With Pigeon, that was changed to a pack of 3 businesses listed by their location on Google Maps and below in a list of links. Pigeon was one of the most significant changes Google has made to the local search algorithm.

 Hummingbird: August 20, 2013

 Along with Pigeon, Hummingbird was also a new update to the Google algorithm in 2013. However, Panda, Penguin, and Pigeon were all add-ons to the core algorithm, but Hummingbird was a complete remodeling of that core. After Hummingbird, there were many conditions of the old algorithm that stuck around, but the entire system was adjusted to pave the way for a more intelligent infrastructure that would adapt continually to the future.

Hummingbird established a growing understanding of user intent and the ability to provide results that would better meet their needs. Hummingbird’s algorithm uses synonyms and other semantics to understand human thought processes, marking the beginning of Natural Language Processing (NLP). In search engine terms, NLP means the Google algorithm can process a full search written in natural language, like “What is the healthiest kind of sushi?” rather than just simple search terms like “healthy sushi.” It’s also a beacon of the kinds of Machine Learning (ML) that Google is developing to make its search systems smarter and better at their jobs.

Rankbrain: October 26, 2015

In 2015, some of Google’s earliest ML algorithm components were introduced with Rankbrain. Although Rankbrain has been a component of Google’s core algorithm for several years, it’s a highly complex system that is still difficult to understand. Essentially, Rankbrain uses machine learning that self-teaches through data inputs to improve the selection of results on SERPs. Like other algorithm updates, Rankbrain is meant to make the user experience better and find the most relevant results to answer a search. Unlike the others, though, Rankbrain is able to adapt to and understand user intent through its machine learning capabilities.

Sites are generally not negatively affected by either the Hummingbird or the Rankbrain updates to the Google algorithm. Both are meant to simply make the core algorithm smarter and more self-sufficient for the long term.

These are just a few of the many updates and changes that have been made to the Google search algorithm over time. If you’re working with SEO tools but find you need assistance adapting to algorithm changes, MLT Group can help. To learn more about our work with web development in Minneapolis, MN, contact us at (507) 281-3490,, or online today.