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Director, Online Marketing Strategies
In 2011 and 2012 Google drew significant attention for its Panda algorithm update. The impacts of these changes have many in an uproar and have been seen as a major shift, but this type of update to the search engine algorithm has occurred multiple times over the years. There are constant evolutions of Google's functionality, too many to list here, but below are those larger changes that received the most attention as well as having the fun names.
Image from SEO blogspot article: Preparing for future Google algorithm changes : SEO Aspect
Google 1996-1998 - Larry Page and Sergey Brin create the search tool at Stanford University.
Boston 2002 – Sometimes referred to as the "Google Dance," changes occurred constantly.
Cassandra, Dominic, Esmeralda, Fritz 2003 – These changes targeted the "black hat" SEO techniques popping up like hidden text with keyword over-stuffing.
Florida 2003 – Much like previous changes, this update focused on improving the algorithm's evaluation of nearly every potential ranking factor. This update impacted every possible type of site from the big brands, the small businesses, scammers and spammers.
Bourbon 2005 – Bourbon diminished the value and punished those creating websites for the sole purpose of generating links to their main site.
Big Daddy 2005 – 2006 – This series of updates became one of the largest updates to focus on devaluing disreputable link building tactics including the buying and selling of large volumes of links. While crawling sites, Google's change included often not indexing suspicious sites.
Buffy 2008 – This vampire slayer performed many smaller changes impacting many ranking factors.
Vince 2009 – This algorithm update focused on backlink authority. Highly "trusted" sites received votes of confidence from sites receiving credible and relevant inbound links. Big brands obtained a bump for their loyal audience.
Caffeine 2010 – This Google update was a major change in the infrastructure around the crawling and indexing capabilities of the search engine. Caffeine improved the process making the system significantly faster and therefore increasing the value of "temporal relevance." The algorithm began to measure the speed and relevance of fresh content. Social network content and activity received a boost.
Panda and Farmer 2011–2012 – Google devalued old, irrelevant and duplicate content. Sites that once ranked by being the big trusted source within their industry now lost rankings because their content was not consistently updated and evolved.
The fact is that Google is constantly changing its search engine ranking algorithm and capabilities. Both ranking factors and the technology behind the scene update more often than we can measure. The key is to utilize your website's analytics to watch for major shifts in this as well as paying attention to trusted news updates often coming from sources like Google's own Matt Cutts.