Google is constantly evolving to pre-empt and counter advances in SEO. Here are the biggest algorithm changes to search engine optimization. The average internet user sees infrequent Google updates, often labeled with cute names like panda or penguin. However, the vast majority of updates — hundreds of every year — go unnamed, unpublicized and, often, unknown. In the past five years, there have been countless changes to the programming that makes Google's search so effective, but these are the most well-known:See also: Sudden Drop in Traffic? It Might Be Google's Algorithmic Penalty
August 2009: Google Caffeine Preview
This wasn't yet the full version of what Google Caffeine would become, but it gave users a glimpse into the new settings. Caffeine was designed to deliver speedy results, thanks to a larger index and quicker ranking that could be computed in real-time. With this updated algorithm, even in the beta stage, Caffeine was twice as fast as the previous search program. This expansion was critical for web developers using SEO tactics since more pages than ever could be indexed and ranked.
April 2010: Google Places
Google Places replaced the Google Local Business Center, which aligned the search results for place names more closely with local listings. The most important change brought by this algorithm update was the ability of small local businesses to put themselves on Google Maps and gain page ranking. Suddenly it became incredibly important for small businesses to embrace SEO techniques that included their location.
December 2010: Social Signals
The Social Signals algorithm change was long expected of Google as the onslaught of social media gripped the world. With this update, Google confirmed that it would be using information from Facebook and Twitter to rank search listings. SEO, therefore, became important not only on individual websites, but on one's social media pages as well.
February 2011: Panda/Farmer
The Panda/Farmer update turned SEO on its head, with its goal penalizing content farms and poorly-executed websites with repetitive content. Prior to this update, marketers could pay increasingly low rates to content farms who churned out dozens and hundreds of low-quality articles per day. So long as they peppered their work with keywords, Google rewarded those sites with higher rankings. The Panda/Farmer update changed the focus from quantity to quality. Panda continued to be reworked and updated throughout 2011 and beyond.
April 2012: Penguin
Penguin was a further attempt to devalue content stuffed with keywords and place quality content higher in search results. Penguin was equipped to better recognize repetitive "spun content" and the buying and selling of links.
July 2013: The Knowledge Graph Expansion
The Knowledge Graph is a Google application that attempts to find semantic meaning in a web search. The KG amasses information from many sources. In July, the KG-assisted search results expanded by 50 percent with an unexpected algorithm update from Google. In terms of SEO, the context of a keyword became more vital.
August 2013: Hummingbird
With the Hummingbird update, Google sought to have its search engines work more effectively for mobile — specifically voice — queries. The order of the words took on a more important role, as Google had discovered that people using voice browsers tended to form their query as a question. Hummingbird directly affected mobile-based SEO so that Google could work more effectively on smartphones and tablets.See also: How to Optimize Your Site for Voice SearchIn the coming years, the panda update is expected to be incorporated into the main Google search algorithm while more mobile-focused updates take place. As in the past, Google headquarters will likely continue to update the search engine regularly without so much as a press release. The major changes that affect business and individual SEO content, however, will probably feature in the headlines of technology news as they have in prior years.
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