Google has a long history of taking search marketers and business owners by surprise. It all started with the Panda Update, which rolled out in 2011 and completely overhauled the Google ranking algorithm that so many had taken for granted. The shakeup caused significant volatility in ranks, and forced practically every search marketer in the world to update their strategy to accommodate the update. Panda was followed in 2012 by Penguin, and in 2013 by Hummingbird, each adding to the list of algorithm changes that have shaken up the search marketing world.
In 2015, we have yet to see such a major update. There was the 2014 “Pigeon” update, but that wasn’t even officially named by Google. It didn’t even overhaul the central ranking algorithm; all it did was add some new functionality to local searches. Early in 2015, there were rumors of an impending “Mobilepocalypse,” a mobile-related update that would purportedly change the search world much in the same way as Panda. Yet it didn’t have much of an effect on existing ranks.
If we’re counting from Google Hummingbird, it’s been more than two years since the last major overhaul of Google’s ranking algorithm. The gap has many search marketers wondering, when is Google planning to roll out the next major algorithm change?
Panda and Penguin made waves when they were first released, but their initial impact was only the tip of the iceberg for their overall effects. In fact, each update saw multiple subsequent iterations in the years following their first rollout. For example, Panda 1.0 first rolled out in February of 2011, but Panda 2.0 was right behind it in April of the same year. A handful of small updates followed before Panda 3.0, and then regular data refreshes followed in small, recognizable chunks. None of these subsequent iterations had quite the impact of the original, but each of them caused a significant ranking shakeup.
Similarly, Penguin saw a handful of data refreshes in the months following its initial release until Penguin 2.0 rolled out in 2013. Another update, which is unofficially referred to as Penguin 3.0, came out in 2014, but it didn’t have much of an impact.
For a while, search marketers were watching ranks like a hawk, waiting for that latest Panda iteration to come out and shake up the system for better or for worse. But things seem to have mellowed out in the past few years. On the surface, it would appear as though Google is not making any adjustments at all to their landmark Panda and Penguin updates—but in actuality, the types of updates it’s making are smaller, more iterative, and far less noticeable.
Rather than fundamentally changing their ranking algorithm in some massive package, Google is making tiny tweaks and refreshes to its existing database. While the search engine hasn’t formally disclosed its motivations for doing so, it seems as though Google is making efforts to avoid shaking up the ranking community as much as it has in the past. Either that or they’re so pleased with their algorithm today that it no longer requires such massive overhauls.
The closest things we’ve had to major algorithm overhauls are two updates not even significant enough to earn an official name from Google—they’ve been called Pigeon and Mobilegeddon only by members of the search marketing community.
Pigeon caught a lot of attention for being a massive change to the way Google calculates local rank. While it did introduce some new concepts, like pulling information from third-party review sites like Yelp, overall, rankings didn’t change much. The new system of ranking wasn’t so drastically different from the old system that it caused a Panda-level shakeup. It was more a way of fine-tuning a few peripheral ranking signals.
Similarly, Mobilegeddon was over-hyped in the days leading up to its release. Some search marketers predicted it would be bigger than Panda because it would vastly segregated mobile-optimized sites from non-optimized sites. But Google was already favoring mobile-optimized sites in search ranks—the new update was just a way of improving their system of identification.
The bottom line is that these updates, while significant, are nothing compared to the revolutionaries that were Panda and Penguin.
All signs point toward a new era of Google updates. Rather than piecing together a core algorithm with massive pushes and major rollouts, Google is taking the fantastic algorithm it already has and is making gradual, iterative improvements to it. The fundamentals of SEO, which are now based around writing great content and building authority naturally, are highly unlikely to change with any new Google update, so it’s highly unlikely that any new update will ever have the same degree of impact that Panda did. Google’s data refreshes and minor adjustments might move your site a rank or two on an occasional basis, but the days of disruptive updates may very well be over.
So let’s return to the question that brought us here: when will the next major Google update roll out? Chances are, there isn’t going to be one. It’s on you to stay up-to-date with the gradual new features and ranking signals Google introduces, but for the most part, as long as you’re paying attention to the fundamentals of great user experience, you won’t ever have to worry about another devastating update.