September 23, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Though many marketers work with search engines and SEO every day, there are still some mysteries that come with the discipline. The confusion could be because Google isn’t always completely transparent when it makes updates and changes to its algorithms. Today, we’re pulling back the curtain and answering some of your biggest questions about Google’s unnamed updates, like:
According to Search Engine Journal, Google makes thousands of algorithm and core changes to its services every year. In its early days, Google made big, drastic changes to its algorithms once every few years. From 2003 to 2010, it only made six algorithm updates, all named, and all with huge effects on how the world of search worked.
Starting in 2011 with the Panda update, regular refreshes and extended update rollouts became more common, a practice that still exists today. With so many changes each year, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how often Google does an update. SEO professionals suspect Google may release slight algorithm changes daily and do heftier, more significant core updates a few times a year.
Back in the day, when Google only rolled out a new update once per year or less, it was much easier to give each update a name. After all, developers spent a lot of time on the projects. It made sense to give each one a special codename. If SEOs are right, and the search engine releases a few algorithm updates per day, there’s no real reason to go through naming and hyping such an update.
Daily changes likely aren’t too significant in the grand scheme of SEO. It’s more important that the updates work right, and the Google team doesn’t have time to sit around and come up with clever names for each one. Google doesn’t often “name” its core updates either. Or, at least the developers don’t give any distinguishing names. When Google confirms its core updates, it typically attaches the month and year of the rollout for the name. For example, one update from a few years ago goes by the name December 2020 Core Update.
This naming structure likely occurs because even though the core updates are more significant than the daily algorithm ones, they’re still not groundbreaking enough to create many shakeups in SERPs and metrics. Though these types of names aren’t exciting, they help distinguish more significant core updates from others based on when they went into effect.
We’re sounding like a broken record, but with Google releasing updates daily, it’d need a bunch of bloggers or social media gurus on alter 24/7 typing up short, boring updates about the tiniest changes. Most marketers and SEOs don’t actually need to know the details of these updates, anyway. Talk about unhelpful content.
Some algorithm changes and core updates just aren’t worth mentioning. SEOs like to know every change that Google makes down to the code level because they’re nosy. But that’d be like having someone stop by your desk every day and ask what’s different. Maybe you moved a pen or tossed out a sticky note. Not much noteworthy change happens in the day-to-day.
Instead, Google saves its announcements and releases details for updates that really matter. These are the updates that cause widespread changes to the way everyone does SEO and online marketing. In the social media age, sometimes Google confirms updates they wouldn’t have confirmed in the past. Twitter SEOs often tweet at the company or its senior leadership and demand answers about traffic fluctuations. When enough of them make the same claims, the company has no choice but to respond and uphold good customer service practices.
The differences between any Google updates vary wildly depending on what they’re targeting. Between named and unnamed updates, the difference typically comes down to how significant an impact the update is going to be on search and the way people do SEO. The more users, indexed properties, and queries an update affects, the better chance it has of getting confirmed and receiving a name from Google.
As we said, it’s rarer for updates to get a name, or even get confirmed from Google these days, so the ones with names cause a stir in the SEO community. Updates that Google names and announce ahead of rollout, like the Helpful Content update, often affect the largest number of searches or queries. That’s why Google makes people aware of them before a new launch.
Names for Google updates come from a variety of sources. Some, like Payday, Caffeine, Page Layout Algorithm, and Exact Match Domain (EMD), came from the actions the update completed. Caffeine, for example, was an algorithm that sped up how fast Google bots and crawlers scanned and stored content. Other updates like Vince and Panda got their designations from the names and nicknames of the engineers who worked on the projects.
Finally, some like Jagger, Big Daddy, and Fred were random names that stuck with certain projects. Jagger got its name from a comparison made between Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger and Google employee Matt Cutts. Big Daddy came as a suggestion from an early SEO at the Pubcon Conference, and Fred came from a Twitter joke.
One of Google’s primary goals for existing is to provide quick, easy access to any information a user wants to find online. While Google is now a larger corporation with a variety of services like apps, software, and devices, its priority was, and always will be, creating the world’s best search engine. To be the best means providing a top-quality user experience based on real-time data collected from searchers.
As Google collects data on how people search, what they search for, and where they click, the company learns more about what people want to see from its services. The only way to make changes and meet those user needs and expectations is through algorithm and core updates. With users making anywhere between 5.6 and 9 billion searches on the service every day, the demand for updates and refining is high.
The times today aren’t the same as back when Google launched and people still used phone books, encyclopedias, and other forms of research to find what they needed. Back then, the company had the luxury of taking longer to develop and implement changes. Today, people don’t like to wait for anything, and Google doesn’t want to make them wait. The combination of daily algorithm updates, periodic core updates, and larger significant changes works together to bring about the best possible user experience as quickly as possible.
The time it takes to see SERP changes from a Google update varies if it happens at all. Some updates don’t cause any shakeups, or very minimal ones, in the SERPs. In these cases, you’ll never see a change in the rankings, no matter what happened in the update. Other updates affect all search results and queries. The extensive reach of those changes could take much longer to appear because the algorithm has to touch every property in Google’s index.
In general, updates take between a few hours and a few weeks to roll out, depending on how extensive they are. At the end of the rollout period, you can see all the changes made in the rankings. For named and confirmed updates, Google announces when the rollout starts and when it ends. For unnamed or daily updates, the company doesn’t always make that announcement. SEOs can usually tell when an update took place by looking for drastic changes in their metrics throughout the day or week.
These kinds of fluctuations typically cause SEOs to approach Google on platforms like Twitter and demand answers. While sometimes the company confirms an update it never had the intention of announcing, other times developers blame traffic changes on “general algorithm fluctuations.”
Another thing to remember with Google updates is that while an initial rollout may only take a few weeks, the actual number of updates associated with a change could take years to complete. The Penguin and Panda updates took over five years each to fully roll out. It wasn’t until these updates got incorporated into Google’s main infrastructure that the mini-updates finished.
If Google confirms or announces an update, it does so through one of its official channels, or an official channel of one of its employees. The Google Search Central Twitter account often includes updates related to all things search. Other potential Twitter channels to check for announcements include the company’s main profile, the Google SearchLiaison account, and profiles for Google employees like Search Liaison Danny Sullivan.
Outside of social media, Google makes algorithm and core update announcements on its Search Central Blog. It also answers frequently asked questions related to Google Search, both for users and developers, through its Support website. Finally, Google may confirm updates through conversations in some of its Google Cloud events, both virtually or in person. Some of these events include Q&A sessions or panel discussions, which prompt developers and experts to confirm updates they may not announce otherwise.
Because many SEOs chat and speculate online about what search fluctuations may or may not come from a Google update, you can only get the 100% confirmed truth from Google verified sites and accounts. Anything else you see online without a source that points back to an official Google property is simply an SEO’s best guess at what’s going on behind the curtain.
Knowing about a Google Update doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what to do with the updated information. Most times, you won’t have to do anything when Google releases an update. But other times you may have to adjust your sites and content to keep your high SERP rankings.
The best way to do that is to always stay up to date on the best practices in SEO, and discover how regular SEO maintenance can help your site and content handle every update with ease. To prepare your site for the Helpful Content update and beyond, download our free eBook called The Importance of a Site Crawl Analysis. Inside, you’ll learn all about what a site crawl analysis is, the SEO issues it points out, and how to use the data you find to build a better SEO strategy.
After downloading the eBook, use our content analysis tool and find out where your content is winning and what opportunities you have to improve it. Then, schedule a call with our team to discuss how you can use this data to create a successful marketing strategy that helps you achieve business goals.
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