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What Is a Google Update and Why Are They Important?

Google Update

A Google update is an improvement in its algorithm. An algorithm is a code of conduct.

When it comes to search engines such as Google, it is a complex system that helps retrieve data from the search index. Now, algorithms do not affect your site directly. They do so indirectly.

For your site to appear in the SERPs, it needs to be understood by the Google algorithm. A technical aspect of sorts, an SEO agency London or elsewhere studies the updates to offer the best possible services.

Google Update
Google Update

Understanding the Basics

Search engines such as Google use a blend of algorithms and other ranking factors – including quality of content, search intent, keyword research, and voice search – to deliver webpages.

Why do algorithms need to be updated?

Since 1998, Google stands as the most used and popular search engine in the globe. The reputation primarily stems from its accuracy and search results features.

The search results are chosen by evaluating several factors in the algorithm. It is these updates that deliver the best and precise results.

Effects of Algorithms Update

Every change is a step forward in understanding the requirements of online users. The recent updates have a considerable understanding of the human language and search intent.

Today, Google searches have a lot to offer, including localized search, related and similar search suggestions, and others.

The Significant and Recent Google Algorithm Updates


The Hummingbird update came into being during September 2013. It inquired into the mechanics of understanding search queries.

The algorithm update helped the search engine decipher search intent and deliver more relevant results to the online user.

Hummingbird used natural language processing (NLP), which in turn, made use of latent semantic indexing (LSI), co-occurring terms, and synonyms. The result was a fundamental change in the pages and keywords ranking.


As the name suggests, it was an attempt by Google to look at the mobile-friendliness of company websites. Launched in April 2015, Mobilegeddon was a stark algorithm update by Google.

It is officially known as the Mobile-Friendly Ranking Factor update. It was Google’s answer to the rise in mobile searches.

The algorithm penalizes websites that had flash, small text, or clickable aspects placed close by.

Also, it looked at the adaptability of the website content to screen sizes; in short, Mobilegeddon came to the rescue to take care of platform-specific search queries.

The update ensured that websites that were mobile-friendly got preference over those that were not.


A tweak to the Hummingbird algorithm, RankBrain, was released during the latter half of 2015.

It is a machine learning system for understanding search intent. RankBrain helped Google offer personalization in search results depending on the user’s search history.

Also, it considers implied words and context when offering the relevant results. Pages that did not use related terms or did not add context to information were the most impacted.


In 2018, Google updated its algorithm unannounced, and that was Medic. It took millions of websites with new ranking factors from the Quality Rater Guidelines.

As the name suggests, the algorithm update was specific to health, medical, and life-altering decision websites.

The update penalized pages and sites in these categories. Pages that made medical claims or offered unsubstantiated advice were the most affected. Websites that lacked Expertise, Authority, or Trust (E-A-T) signals experienced a drastic fall in their rankings.

The sub-sectors that saw the worst impact on their websites were retail health and vitamin retailers who lacked a medical background (expertise), an affiliation with regulatory bodies (authority), and or trustworthy links (trust).


October 2019 saw a fundamental change in Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. This is what gave birth to BERT.

It stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations. The update sought to scale up the search engine’s ability in using the NLP technology for understanding search intent.

It enabled Google to understand the finer nuances in words used on-page and search queries.

The initial impact on websites was minimal, but it changed the way SEOs and marketers create their content. The algorithm rewards sites that have well-written and formatted content. It prioritizes users over search engines.

Core Updates

These were performed recently in 2020. Last year, Google had three core updates, one each in January, May, and December. So, what are these updates about, and why three updates? These are below.

Google January 2020 Core

It was pre-announced on the 13th of January. It impacted websites in the health and finance sectors by penalizing those lacking a credible and trustworthy backlink profile.

The update was a domain-level trust and served as an extension of the Medic update.

Google May 2020 Core

The update was related to the Medic and E-A-T signals. The Core update sought to re-address ranking factors by giving higher weightage to content, brand factors, and user data.

The update, however, was skewed towards benefiting larger businesses, and the ones in the YMYL category took a massive hit.

Google December 2020 Core

This came forth on the 3rd of December. The Core update focussed on interpreting content and deciphering intent.

It primarily impacted reference and news sites and others with prominent SERP features. Sadly, though, a lot of smaller retailer sites faced significant losses initially.

Concluding Lines

The significant updates since 2013 are evident that Google has undergone a massive change in the way it interprets sites and content and delivers results.

With AR and VR on the rise, there are likely to be significant changes to the Google algorithm going ahead.

Like the medical, health, fitness, and news Google Core Updates of 2020, the future will see more such updates for other industries.

However, time will tell what happens. In the meanwhile, do take a look at the best SEO practices to achieve your website goals.

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