Google Algorithm Updates - Latest News & History



Throughout the year Google is constantly making updates to their algorithms, and that causes rank fluctuations in the search results. So far In 2019, Google has already rolled out several confirmed core algorithm updates.

Below you’ll find an up-to-date summary of the confirmed and unconfirmed updates with additional resources and links to help you better understand the nature and impact of these changes.

More resources: Rank Risk Index | Google SERP Features | Visual SERP Feature Guide

2021 - Google Updates

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
August 2021

August 15th Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
August 15, 2021

On August 13th the Rank Risk Index picked up massive fluctuations on both mobile and desktop which continued the following day.

On August 15th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported about industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
July 2021

Link Spam Update

Confirmed Update
July 26, 2021

On July 26th, Google announced that they began rolling out the Link Spam update. The update is designed to broadly identify and nullify spam across multiple languages.

The Rank Risk Index only reported an increase in fluctuations on the 29th which disappeared the next day.

On July 27th and July 29th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported limited industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
June 2021

Google Spam Update - Part Two

Confirmed Update
June 28, 2021

On June 28th, Google announced on Twitter, that they had released part two of the spam update. Google also confirmed that the update took one day to complete.

The Rank Risk Index did not report any unusual ranking fluctuations.

On Jun 29th Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported that the update went live. He also reported a low level of industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

June 23rd Spam Update

Confirmed Update
June 23, 2021

Starting on June 23rd, the Rank Risk Index tracked moderate fluctuations on both desktop and mobile.

On the same day, Google announced on Twitter that a spam update had been released and confirmed that it was completed that day.

On June 24th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported a small amount of industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

Google Page Experience Update

Confirmed Update
June 15, 2021

On June 15th, Google announced on Twitter that the Page Experience update begun slowly rolling out. Google stated in the tweet that the update would be completed by the end of August.

In keeping with the slow nature of the update, the Rank Risk Index showed a record low level of fluctuations on the 15th.

On June 16th Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported that the update went live.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

June 2021 Core Update

Confirmed Update
June 04, 2021

On June 3rd, Google announced on Twitter that the June 2021 Core Update was released. A day later, the Rank Risk Index reported dramatic fluctuations which lasted until June 6th.

On June 7th Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported on unusually low levels of industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
May 2021

May 22nd Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
May 22, 2021

On May 20th Rank Risk Index reported a spike in fluctuations. The following day, there was a decrease in fluctuations, but fluctuations resumed on May 22nd. The fluctuations stopped on May 24th.

On May 23rd Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported massive fluctuations that occurred on May 22nd and noted that the industry chatter did not match the levels of fluctuations.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
April 2021

April 30th Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
April 30, 2021

On April 30th the Rank Risk Index reported a large spike in rank fluctuations. The fluctuations peaked the next day and fluctuations returned to normal on May 2nd.

On May 3rd, while reporting industry chatter, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable speculated that the update had an impact on the Product Reviews Update.

April 23rd Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
April 23, 2021

On April 23rd, the Rank Risk Index began tracking a moderate increase in rank fluctuations which carried through to the 24th. The update affected both global web search results and local search results.

On April 26th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported about industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

Product Review Update

Confirmed Update
April 09, 2021

On April 8th Google announced the launching of the Product Review update which is specifically focused on product review content.

Starting on April 9th, the Rank Risk Index reported a massive spike in ranking fluctuations both on mobile and desktop. The volatility carried through to April 11th and settled by April 12th on desktop. On mobile, the fluctuations carried through to April 13th.

Fluctuations resumed on April 15th and died down on April 18th on both Desktop and mobile.

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported on the update on April 9th.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
March 2021

March 10th Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
March 10, 2021

On March 10th, the Rank Risk Index reported an increase in Google SERP fluctuations on both mobile and desktop. The fluctuations peaked on March 13th and concluded on March 14th on desktop and March 15th on mobile.

On March 11th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported an increase in industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
February 2021

February 17th Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
February 17, 2021

On February 17th the Rank Risk Index reported a large spike in rank fluctuations. The spike occurred after a series of minor fluctuations that followed the Passage Ranking update. Due to its proximity to the Passage Ranking update, this could simply be a set of fixes designed to support the findings after the Passage Ranking update.

On February 17th Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported about industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

Passage Ranking Update

Confirmed Update
February 10, 2021

Starting on February 9th, the Rank Risk Index began tracking a massive spike in rank fluctuations on both desktop and mobile that carried over to February 10th. Google confirmed on Twitter that Passage Ranking went live on February 10th for queries in the US in English.

On February 12th Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported that Passage Ranking went live in the US and that surprisingly chatter was low after February 10th.

2020 - Google Updates

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
December 2020

December 18th Unconfirmed Update

Unconfirmed Update
December 18, 2020

On December 17th, just a day after Google announced on Twitter that the December 2020 Core Update rollout was complete, the Rank Risk Index began tracking a small increase in rank fluctuations which peaked on December the 18th.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

December 2020 Core Update

Confirmed Update
December 04, 2020

Starting on December 1st the Rank Risk Index began tracking an increase in rank fluctuations on both desktop and mobile. This carried on until December 4th where there was a massive spike in SERP volatility. Fluctuations returned to normal on December 5th.

On December 3rd, Google announced that there would be a core update later that day. The announcement corresponds with the sudden spike in fluctuations that happened on December 4th.

Also on December 4th Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported on industry chatter aligned with the updates recorded by the Rank Risk Index.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
September 2020

September 16th 2020 Update

Unconfirmed Update
September 16, 2020

On September 15th, the Rank Risk Index reported an increase of rank fluctuations on both desktop and mobile. The fluctuations peaked on September 16th reaching a risk level of 104. The fluctuations steadily decreased from that time on, reaching normal levels on September 21st.

On September 17th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported on industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
August 2020

August 15th 2020 Update

Unconfirmed Update
August 15, 2020

On August 15th, the Rank Risk Index reported a dramatic increase in rank fluctuations on both desktop and mobile. Fluctuations reached an unprecedented risk level of 130 on August 15th and 119 on August 16th. By the time the update was complete, the dramatic rank changes were generally reverted.


On August 15th, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reported on significant industry chatter.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
June 2020

June 2020 Update

Unconfirmed Update
June 17, 2020

Starting on June 9th, the Rank Risk Index began tracking an increase in rank fluctuations on both desktop and mobile. The fluctuations peaked on June 10th, reaching a risk level of 83. After four days of elevated fluctuations, levels returned to normal on Jun 13th. However, after three days of normal fluctuation levels, the increased movement returned on June 16th. During the update’s second wave, our index recorded two notable spikes in fluctuations. First, on June 20th the index recorded fluctuations hitting 109, and on June 23rd fluctuations reached 103.

On June 10th, and June 23rd Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Round Table reported on significant industry chatter aligned with the updates recorded by the Rank Risk Index.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
May 2020

May 2020 Core Update

Confirmed Update
May 04, 2020

On May 4th, 2020, Google’s Danny Sullivan announced that the search engine had started to roll out its second core algorithm update of the year.

Dubbed the May 2020 Core Update, the bulk of the release spanned just two days with the initial roll-out being tempered. As shown on our Rank Risk Index, the second day of the update’s roll-out produced far more rank volatility than first day of the update.

Per our data analysis, the update was unique in that it produced a rather uniform amount of rank volatility across all niches.


May 2020 Core Update Data


Further, the update was large in scope and size as the levels of rank volatility slightly edged out the January 2020 Core Update which was known for its large impact on the SERP.
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
March 2020

COVID-19 Algorithm Update

Unconfirmed Update
March 17, 2020

On March 17th, our Rank Risk Index began recording an unprecedented series of heightened rank fluctuations that lasted into early April. During this time there were 12 days of heightened rank fluctuation levels recorded. Outside of the core algorithm updates, such an extended period of increased fluctuations has not occurred within the past two years, if not more. 

The timing of the increases seems to correlate to COVID-19 becoming an official pandemic. In fact, our research indicates that on March 11th, the day that COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic by the WHO, Google made significant ranking changes to COVID-19-related keywords. Further, there was a clear and noticeable pattern vis-a-vis "COVID-19 keywords" that paralleled the various updates during this period. The same pattern was not evident within other keywords subsets. 

Search Engine Land hosted a panel of experts on the issue of COVID-19's impact on search behavior and potential affect this may have had on Google's algorithm. As our own Mordy Oberstein noted during the panel, "[COVID-19] is a developing story that Google has not really seen before and it keeps spreading in all sorts of directions... and because Google is so good at making connections it (COVID-19) impacts so many different areas.... Google is trying to figure out how far does COVID-19 reach and how accurate are we (i.e., Google) based upon what's going on." 
           
Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
February 2020

Rank Reversal Pervasive in February Update

Unconfirmed Update
February 08, 2020

On February 8th, the Rank Risk Index began recording significant increases in rank fluctuations that lasted for a total of six days. At their peak, the fluctuation increases hit a level of 94/120. 

Along with the increases tracked by our SERP weather tool, a significant amount of industry chatter pointing to a powerful update was reported by Barry Schwartz of SERoundtable

An initial investigation into the update showed numerous "reversal patterns." To that, many sites who were hit by the update initially saw a quick return to normal while some sites hit by the January 2020 Core Update underwent a reversal. 


Featured Snippet URL Duplication Removed From Organic Results

Confirmed Update
January 22, 2020

On January 22nd, Google Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, announced a major divergence from Google's longstanding Featured Snippet practices. Traditionally, Google has shown the URL used within a Featured Snippet among the top organic results as well as a part of the Featured Snippet itself. Per Sullivan's announcement, the only time the URL used inside a Featured Snippet will be shown on page one of the SERP is in the Featured Snippet box. Google is no longer duplicating Featured Snippet URLs among the page one organic results. Such URLs, however, may appear on pages beyond page one. 




Along with the change, Google has also announced that the Explore Panel, a hybrid between a Featured Snippet and a Knowledge Panel, will start to appear within the SERP's main column, not to the right of the results as they were placed previously. This change specifically addresses concerns from within the SEO industry that the CTR of Explore Panel links will dwindle with the removal of said links from the organic results. 

These alterations to the SERP have resulted in the industry considering Featured Snippets to be "position 1" and no longer "position 0." Such a construct has far-reaching consequences, among them how to properly track rank for the top position on the Google SERP. 

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

January 2020 Core Update

Confirmed Update
January 14, 2020

On January 14th, and per Google's advanced notice, the January 2020 Core Update began to roll-out. The initial levels of rank fluctuations caught on the Rank Risk Index presented extreme levels of rank volatility on both desktop and mobile.

As the update continued to roll-out over the coming days, rank slowly began to stabilize before finally returning to normal levels on January 19th.

Per a data analysis, and consistent with almost all other core updates to this point, Your Money Your Life niches were significantly impacted, more so than other industries (as can be seen in the below graph):


Jan 2020 Core Update Data


Read our full analysis for more data on the January 2020 Core Update.

2019 - Google Updates

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
December 2019

The November 2019 Local Update

Confirmed Update
December 02, 2019

On December 2, 2019 Google's Danny Sullivan confirmed what the search community had already suspected, the roll-out of a local algorithm update. Officially named the November 2019 Local Update, Sullivan indicated that the update began rolling out in early November 2019. 

In specific, the November 2019 Local Update introduced neural matching to the local algorithm. As a result, businesses with titles and descriptions that vaguely related to a vertical may now appear within the top organic results as well as within the Local Pack. 

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
October 2019

Google Implements BERT Algorithm

Confirmed Update
October 25, 2019

On October 25th, Google announced that it had begun to implement its BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) algorithm. Per Google, BERT is said to impact 10% of all queries and is the search engine's "biggest leap forward in the past five years."  

The algorithm was birthed out of an open-sourced project aimed at using neural networks to advance contextual understanding of content via natural language processing (NLP).   

In simple terms, BERT is meant to help better interpret a query by using a contextual understanding of the phraseology employed. This is done as the entire phrase is analyzed at once which lets BERT understand a keyword term according to all of the words used within it. This stands in contrast to models that look at language from left-to-right thereby pinning a word's understanding to that which preceded it. 

Practically speaking, BERT helps Google to better understand the use of prepositions within a search query as well as to better comprehend words that have double meanings by using contextual understanding.  

Note, there were not large waves of rank fluctuation increases due to BERT's roll-out.  

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
September 2019

September 2019 Core Update

Confirmed Update
September 25, 2019

On September 25th, Google rolled-out it's third core algorithm update of 2019. Dubbed the September 2019 Core Update by Google's Danny Sullivan, the update was a significant ranking event. 

As shown on the Rank Risk Index the update rolled out over the course of two days with rank fluctuation levels reaching a high of 79 on desktop (78 on mobile). 

Both the length and level of fluctuations recorded by the index were on the "low side" in comparison to previous core updates. This is evidenced when comparing the rank volatility increases of the September update to the June 2019 Core Update


Sept. Core Update vs. June Core Update Data

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version

September 2019 Review Rich Results Update

Confirmed Update
September 16, 2019

On September 16th, 2019, Google made a significant update to its practice of showing reviews within organic results. Per the update, Google no longer allows what it calls "self-serving reviews" to appear on the SERP. This means that sites can no longer use schema markup to place reviews shown on its own website within rich results on the SERP. This applies even to reviews placed on the brand's site via a third-party integration. 

As a result, our SERP Feature Tracker indicates a 5 point drop in the number of page one SERPs that contain a review within the organic results. 

Google also indicated that the 'name' property must be indicated within the structured data. That is, you must name the product being reviewed. 

Lastly, Google released a list of the schema formats that are eligible to produce a review within a rich result.  

[You can use our Schema Markup Generator to easily create the code that produces rich results.] 

Original Reporting Preference

Confirmed Update
September 12, 2019

On September 12th, Google officially announced it had updated its algorithm so that original reporting would receive ranking preference. To this effect, Google has said that it is now better at determining the original source of news reporting. As a consequence of this, the search engine is more proficient at ranking the original source of new reporting more prominently on the SERP. 

Note, the algorithm was not updated on September 12th itself. Google indicated that it had been implementing and improving on the adjustment throughout the months leading up to the official announcement. 

Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
July 2019

July 2019 Major Update

Unconfirmed Update
July 18, 2019

On July 18th, the Rank Risk Index tracked extremely high levels of rank fluctuations, recording a peak rank fluctuation level of 113. In doing so, the index presented us with one of the largest ranking shake-ups in years. 

The update began on July 16th with moderate levels of rank fluctuations being recorded. Those levels jumped slightly on the 17th before reaching an extremely unusual high on July 18th. 

The increases shown on the Rank Risk Index coincided with industry chatter that indicated a "massive" amount of rank movement, as was reported by Barry Schwartz on SERoundtable.

An initial look at the data shows that no one niche type was impacted more than another. Unlike some of Google's confirmed core updates, Your Money Your Life sites (YMYL) were not impacted by the update any more than other site types. 



Rank Risk Index - Desktop Version
June 2019