Google’s Major Algorithm Updates

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Google announces algorithm updates once or twice every month but not all of them have an impact on the SERPs, which in turn might or might not affect SEO in Sri Lanka. To help you understand Google’s major algorithm changes in the past years, we’ve listed the most important updates and the penalties as well as a list of hazards below, which all SEO companies in Sri Lanka must be aware of to predict future trends.


Google Panda is an algorithm that is used to allocate a content quality score to webpages and down-rank websites that have low-quality, spammy or thin content. Originally, Panda was a filter rather than a part of Google’s algorithm but it was officially incorporated into the ranking algorithm in 2016, whcih greatly affected Search Engine Optimization in Sri Lanka. While this doesn’t mean that Panda is now applied to reach results in real time, it does signify that getting filtered by and recovering from Panda happens faster than before.

Risk list

  • User-generated spam
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Plagiarism
  • Duplicate content
  • Thin content
  • Inadequate user experience


The aim of Google Penguin is to identify and down-rank sites with abnormal link profiles that are considered to be spamming search results using manipulative link tactics. Since late 2016, Penguin has been a part of Google’s core ranking algorithm and it operates in real time which means penalties are applied faster and recovery takes less time.

Risk list

  • Paid links
  • Links with excessively optimized anchor text
  • Links coming from poor quality and spammy sites
  • Links coming from topically unrelated sites
  • Links coming from sites created solely for SEO link building


This update was designed to stop sites that have received countless copyright infringement reports from ranking well on Google’s search results. Most of the sites affected by this update were relatively well-known and popular sites that made pirated content like movies and books available to visitors for free, especially torrent sites. That being said, it’s still not in Google’s power to follow through with the myriad of new sites with pirated content popping up every day.

Risk list

  • Pirated content
  • High number of copyright infringement reports


Hummingbird is a major algorithm change that deals with interpreting search queries, especially longer, controversial searches and providing search results that match searcher intent rather than matching the individual keywords within the query.

While keywords within search query are still important, Hummingbird adds more strength to the meaning behind the query as a whole. The use of synonyms have also been optimized with Hummingbird; instead of showing results with the exact keyword match, Google lists more theme-related results in the SERPs that don’t essentially have the keywords for the query.

Risk List

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Exact-match keyword targeting


Google Pigeon currently only affects searches in English and has greatly altered the results Google lists for queries in which the searcher’s location plays a part. According to Google, Pigeon formed closer ties between the local algorithm and the core algorithm, meaning that the same SEO factors are now being used to rank local and non-local Google results. The update also uses location and distance as a main factor in ranking the results.

Pigeon gave a significant ranking boost to local directory sites and merged Google Web Search and Google Maps in a more unified way.

Risk list

  • NAP consistency
  • Lack of relevant citations in local directors
  • Badly optimized pages
  • Inadequate setup of Google My Business page

Mobile-Friendly Update

This update, also known as Mobilegeddon, is aimed to ensure that pages optimized for mobile devices rank at the top of mobile searches and consequently down-rank pages that are not mobile-friendly. Desktop searches are not affected by this update. It must be notes that mobile friendlessness is a page-level factor, meaning that one page of your site can be considered mobile-friendly and up-ranked while the rest may fail the test.

Risk List

  • Illegible content
  • Plugin use
  • Lack of mobile-friendly pages
  • Wrong viewpoint configuration


RankBrain is a machine learning system that assists Google in better understanding the meaning behind search queries and serve best-matching search results in reply to those queries.

While there is a query processing factor in RankBrain, there is also a ranking factor to it. Apparently, RankBrain can somehow sum up what a webpage is about, assess the relevancy of search results and train itself to get better at it over time.

The common understanding is that this update relies on traditional SEO factors but also considers other factors that are query-specific. Then, it recognizes the relevance features on the pages in the index, and positions the results correspondingly in SERPs.

Risk List

  • Bad user-experience
  • Lack of query-specific relevance aspects


Possum is the name for several recent changes in Google’s local ranking filter. After the update, Google has returned more varied results depending on the physical location of the searcher and the phrasing of the query. Moreover, businesses that share an address with another business of a similar kind may now be de-ranked in the search results.

Risk list

  • Competitors whose business address is nearer to the searcher’s location
  • Sharing a physical address with a similar business


This is the latest of Google’s confirmed updates and though Google confirmed the update took place, they refused to share details of it and only stated that the websites the update targets are the ones infringing on Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Nevertheless, the studies of affected sites have shown that the majority of them are content sites like blogs with low quality articles on a wide spectrum of topics that are created mainly for the purpose of affiliate revenue and generating ads.

Risk list

  • Thin affiliate-heavy content
  • Ad-centered and low-value content

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