Did you know Google changes their algorithm between 500-600 times every year? Why? To better reflect their mission statement “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

There are many small updates, but there are also larger ones which explain changes in rankings, organic website traffic and, ultimately, affect search engine optimisation(SEO) by digital marketers.

Google hasn’t given an official name to an algorithm in quite some time, but folks in the industry have such named updates such as Panda, Hummingbird, Fred, and Buffy. Here we’ll outline what each of these updates covered and where they got their names from.

Buffy – 2007

Described as the accumulation of smaller updates, with SEOs reporting major changes in the single word search results; the “Buffy” update was named in tribute to Vanessa Fox, the creator of Google Webmaster Central who left Google to pursue other ventures.

Caffeine – 2009/10

Google released a preview of a massive infrastructure change“Caffeine” which gave the search engine a major hit, hence the name. Designed for faster crawling, to do a better job at including recent search results, expanding the index, and integrating indexation in real-time results.

Panda – 2011

The Google Panda update cracked down on thin content, content farms, sites with lots of ads, and other quality issues.After Panda 2.5 (Sept 2011), minor updates started to happen more frequently which has been named the “Panda Flux”.

It was revealed that Google used the code name “Panda” internally, as it was named after Navneet Panda, one of Google’s key engineers.

Penguin – 2012

Penguin ranks down sites whose links seem manipulative. Since late 2016, it has integrated into Google’s core algorithmpanda penguin and works in real time.

Many SEOs named the update “Titanic” due to the 100th anniversary of the disaster in 1912, but Google released their own name “Penguin” shortly after.

Some theorised the name might have been a shot at the Penguin villain from Batman; a gentleman swindler like the Blackhat SEOs manipulating links, backed up by this image from Matt Cutts, a Google software engineer.

Side Note: There is great ire within the SEO community as to named updates. According to some people we’ll never be able to place an update in context if all they have to go on is a name and that named updates are meaningless and irrelevant.

Hummingbird – 2013

Hummingbird ensured that the whole sentence meaning is taken into account, rather than particular words, which is possible with language processing relying on co-occurring terms and synonyms.

Hummingbird has been compared to “Caffeine”, in that it uses to sort through all the information it has when you search and come back with answers. Google state that the name come from being “precise and fast.”

Pirate – 2012/14

Originally named “Emanuel” for Ari Emanuel, co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor, who moaned that “Google could filter out pirated content if it really wanted to”. The name was changed to a more symbolic one by the SEO community as it’s aimed at copyright piracy.

Google announced that they would start penalising sites with repeat copyright violations, by making use of Digital Millennium Copyright Act “takedown” requests.

Pigeon – 2014

Pigeonaltered local results and creates closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithms affecting those searches in which the user’s location plays an important part.

Pigeon is the name decided on due to the geographical ‘homing’ effect this was having on searchers and results. Pigeons can only go back to one “mentally marked” point identified as their home.

Possum – 2016

The Possum update continued along the Hummingbird line of refining local results. Possum also resulted in a greater variety of results ranking for very similar queries.

The name was suggested as many businesses thought their Google My Business listings had disappeared when in fact they had just been playing possum – been filtered out.

Fred? – 2017

Google rolled out what appeared to be a significant update, with reports of widespread impacts across the SEO community. Gary Illyes jokingly referred to is as “Fred”, and the name stuck, but he later made it clear that this was not an official confirmation.

The latest of Google’s confirmed updates, Fred targets websites that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines by hitting low-valued content sites aimed at revenue generation over the goal of helping their users and readers.

Wrap Up

SEO may have become more difficult to navigate but it still remains one of the most effective ways to make sure your website and content is seen. Google doesn’t just draw a bunch of websites from their database.If you’d like to learn more about Search Engine Optimisation view my video where I simplify the SEO formula.