Alright, let's take a whirlwind tour through the ever-evolving world of Google's algorithm updates also known as Google Core Updates, shall we? Belt up, website owners, because this is your guide to navigating the Google Core Updates of the past so you can predict the future. And like you, I've experienced a few of them!

The Panda Revolution of 2011

Panda! This wasn't just about celebrating a cute bear munching on bamboo; it was Google's call for quality content. Picture this: before Panda rolled out, the internet was akin to a messy, overstuffed attic. It was the Wild West of keyword-stuffed articles, invisible white text links, and content designed more for search engines than actual human beings. Navigating through this jumble was, to put it mildly, a dreadful experience. Then along came Panda, like a discerning editor with a red pen, scrutinising grammar, spelling, and overall user experience. This update was a game-changer, a pivotal moment that finally gave quality content its due prominence, both on your website and in search results. It was as if Google had donned a pair of spectacles and started meticulously curating the internet's vast library.

I remember the anxiety I felt about my own website when Panda was introduced. Despite always prioritising content that was human-centric and customer-focused, I couldn't help but wonder: how would Google differentiate between my carefully crafted content and the spammy stuff? Would my British spellings be mistaken for errors? If I could, I'd hop in a time machine and give my 2011 self a reassuring hug. “Worry not darling,” I'd say, “using a ‘U' in ‘colour' won't banish your content to the 7th circle of Hades.” Far from it, Panda was sophisticated enough to understand linguistic nuances, including the many around the English language. If only human beings were that sophisticated! 12 years later and I still get messages from US readers who tell me my use of U in the English language is incorrect.

The Panda Core Update was a step forward, a move that made the internet a better, more informative space. And let's be honest, who wouldn't want that?

The Penguin Crackdown of 2012

Next up, we have Penguin, the vigilant guardian against dodgy backlinks. This update was a game-changer, penalising sites that tried to game the system with artificial link profiles. The message was unequivocal: “Earn your backlinks through quality, or face the icy waters of obscurity.” Another update swiftly followed where links to your website could be deemed bad quality and disavowed.  All the companies that begged you for links, were now messaging and asking for links to be removed. I would argue with them and say that if I was good enough before Penguin, I'm good enough now. They would threaten to have me disavowed, and I'd tell them to do it. Begging for links was something I'd dealt with for a long time, and by the time this Core Update came out, I'd had enough. This has almost stopped now. I've gone from 300 begging emails a week to 1 a month. Huzzah!

However, many of my online friends were taken out of business by Penguin and 2 of my clients were impacted. That was a huge eye-opener. I've always advocated earning your links and never, ever buying them but it appears that I had clients who ignored this advice and were punished for it. The sad thing is, despite this update, people will still buy links, and still try and get any links rather than relevant links. Also, website owners stopped linking to each other for fear of damaging their websites.

Hummingbird Takes Flight in 2013

Hummingbird was less about punishing and more about understanding. This update was Google's way of saying, “We understand the nuances of your queries.” It marked a shift from robotic keyword matching to a more understanding of user intent. For website owners, it was a call to action to focus on content that answers questions in a meaningful, user-centric way. I liked this update, it made life easier for the searchers when it came to our transport company. People would search courier and sometimes get a news website with the word courier in the title. It wasn't what they were looking for, and this update fixed this. This time around I had no clients get penalised because I started focusing on working with people who value my advice!

Mobilegeddon: The Mobile Apocalypse of 2015

Mobilegeddon wasn't just a catchy name; it was a seismic shift in the website world. If your site isn't optimised for mobile, you are essentially rolling up your welcome mat for a significant chunk of internet users. This update was Google's not-so-subtle nudge to get with the mobile program or risk digital doom. Again, none of my clients were hit by this update, and part of that was because we'd preached “mobile responsiveness” to our audience since 2012.

If you've not updated your website since 2015, the chances are you're not getting much traffic thanks to this core update. You need a new, mobile responsive website.

The Medic Alert of 2018

The Medic update was Google's way of holding a magnifying glass to websites in sensitive sectors like health and finance. It was all about E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. No more playing fast and loose with medical or financial advice; this update demanded credentials and high-quality, credible content. In other words if you were going to talk about health issues or money issues then you had better show your credentials!

Again, this is another really great update that puts the searcher at the heart and soul of searching. Who wants money advice from someone with no finance skills? Don't get me wrong, there are some incredibly talented people out there with zero financial qualifications but they make up for it in experience and that shows in their content. This update upset a lot of website owners who were into alternative health, and they felt their natural remedies deserved their place with conventional medicines. It also moved a lot of financial businesses like banks onto the front page of the SERPs. Or, it could have just been a coincidence that the banks started to get better at content marketing around this time.

BERT: The Linguist of 2019

BERT was Google's linguistic maestro. In the past, search engines were primarily keyword-driven. You type in a keyword, et voila, you get a list of results containing that exact term. But language is more nuanced than that, isn't it? Sometimes, the essence of what you're searching for isn't captured by a single keyword but by the context in which it's used. That's where BERT shines. It understands that just because you haven't used a specific keyword doesn't mean you're not interested in that topic. It's like having a conversation with someone who actually ‘gets' you.

Now, some folks misinterpreted the BERT update, thinking it meant the end of keywords altogether. Not quite, dear reader. Keywords still have their place; it's just that they're no longer the be-all and end-all. BERT complements keyword-based searching by adding a layer of contextual understanding. So, while keywords get you in the theatre, BERT helps you find the best seat in the house.

What's not to adore about this update? Interestingly, most people didn't even realise anything had changed. And that's a testament to how seamlessly BERT has been integrated into Google's search algorithm. It's one of those updates that you don't know you needed until you experience its benefits—like finding that elusive piece of information without having to sift through pages of irrelevant results. BERT is not just an update; it's an evolution in how we interact with information online. It makes Google Search smarter, more intuitive, and, dare I say, a bit more human.

Core Web Vitals: The User Experience Maestro of 2021

Core Web Vitals was like a demanding theatre director, insisting on a flawless performance from every website. It zeroed in on user experience metrics such as loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability. In essence, Google wanted your website to be the Broadway of web pages: fast, engaging, and glitch-free. We're all still working on this… Just as we seem to have mastered it, a tweak happens. Again, we all prepped for this one. For me that included changing website hosts as well as themes to help speed things up. I worked a lot with clients to help offset the impact of Core Web Vitals. Happily, it wasn't as disruptive as previous updates had been. The user experience improved (yet again) for the searcher and most of us were happy. Well I was, and so were my clients.

The Product Reviews Update of 2021

This update was wonderful for review sites that went the extra mile. Google decided to reward in-depth, insightful, and genuinely helpful product reviews. It was a call to action for website owners to elevate their review content from mere overviews to comprehensive analyses. Many of us had done this from the start, after all, a great review helps someone make a purchasing decision. You can't do that with light or flimsy information. It's one of the things we cover in the Business Blogging Challenge. Review content should focus on the customer and help them. I consider myself lucky as I've never been hit by a penalty on any of my sites, and this core update actually gave me a win! My reviews started to perform better.

The Helpful Content Update 2021 -Will This Be The Last One this Year?

Yeah, 2021 was quite the year for Google Core Updates.  The Helpful Content update aimed to improve the quality of search results by prioritising content that is not just relevant but also helpful to the user. In essence, Google wanted to ensure that when you type a query into the search bar, the results you get are not just accurate but also genuinely useful. All those people who tell you don't create how to content? They're damaging your content strategy. But that's not the only type of helpful content…

But What Does “Helpful” Even Mean?

Good question! In the context of Google's algorithm, “helpful” content is that which answers the user's query in a comprehensive, accurate, and easy-to-understand manner. It's not just about stuffing your webpage with keywords anymore; it's about actually providing value. Think of it as the difference between a teacher who just reads from the textbook and one who explains things in a way that makes you go, “Ah, now I get it!”

If you're a website owner, blogger, or anyone who relies on Google for traffic, this update is crucial. It means you need to focus on creating content that genuinely helps people. No more cutting corners or producing shallow articles that don't really answer the questions your audience is asking. Google's got its eye on you, and it's got pretty high standards! None of my customers were negatively impacted by this update. I believe our human-first, customer centric content strategies really make a difference, particularly when it comes to these style updates.

The Future of Search: AI-Driven Search Responses –  The Dawn of Google BARD and Beyond

Let's set the stage. You're not just looking for information; you're seeking knowledge, wisdom, perhaps even a dash of enlightenment. Traditional search engines can point you in the right direction, but what if they could do more? What if they could understand your query so deeply that they could generate insightful, comprehensive responses on the spot? Enter Google BARD and the next generation of AI-driven search responses.

BARD is like the Shakespeare of search algorithms, crafting responses that are not only accurate but also rich in context and depth. It's a step beyond BERT, which understands the context of your queries. BARD aims to generate responses that could rival expert articles, research summaries, or even mini-essays. Imagine typing in a question like, “What are the implications of quantum computing?” and receiving a concise yet thorough explanation, complete with potential applications and ethical considerations. That's the level of detail we're talking about.

But why stop there? As AI continues to evolve, we could see even more advanced features:

  1. Interactive Learning: Imagine a search engine that learns from your interactions. You ask a follow-up question, and it adjusts its initial response to provide even more targeted information. It's like having a dialogue with your own personal expert.
  2. Multi-Modal Responses: Who says search results have to be text-based? With AI, Google could offer a mix of text, images, videos, and even interactive simulations to provide a 360-degree understanding of a topic.
  3. Real-Time Expert Validation: To ensure the accuracy of AI-generated responses, Google could incorporate a real-time validation feature, cross-referencing the information with trusted sources and experts in the field.
  4. Ethical and Cultural Sensitivity: Advanced AI could understand the ethical and cultural nuances of different queries, offering responses that are not just factual but also socially and ethically aware.

So, Google BARD and its future cousins could revolutionise the way we interact with information online. It's not just about finding answers; it's about engaging in a rich, educational experience tailored just for you.

This works really well if you're searching for something, but where does that leave website owners? And that's a question that needs thinking about deeply. Is it ethical for Google to use the content of our websites to almost plagiarise to give responses to the searcher? Is our content going to be used to train BARD? Has it been used already? These are certainly things to think about.

There you have it, a whirlwind tour through the labyrinth world of Google's algorithm updates.

How have you experienced Google Core Updates?

Sarah x


Sarah & Kevin Arrow

Sarah and Kevin Arrow have been in the thick of the online marketing world since 2006, and they're buzzing to share their know-how right here with you! If you're keen to get noticed, they're the experts you'll want to talk to. Why not schedule a call or send them a quick message? They're all ears and can't wait to hear from you!

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