Google Algorithm Changes Timeline: 2011 – 2012

Peter A. Liefer II | Posted: August 6th, 2012 | Updated: July 24th, 2019

The SEO world is in topsy-turvy again when Google recently sent out tons of new link warnings to websites. This is what the email says:

“Dear site owner or webmaster of….We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes. We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results. If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team”

But then Google’s Matt Cutts posted this on his Google+ on July 21 to explain the strange warning:

“If you received a message yesterday about unnatural links to your site, don’t panic. In the past, these messages were sent when we took action on a site as a whole. Yesterday, we took another step towards more transparency and began sending messages when we distrust some individual links to a site. While it’s possible for this to indicate potential spammy activity by the site, it can also have innocent reasons. For example, we may take this kind of targeted action to distrust hacked links pointing to an innocent site. The innocent site will get the message as we move towards more transparency, but it’s not necessarily something that you automatically need to worry about.”

This is now confusing the world of SEO. Was it a penalty? A warning? Or just a way to ward off hackers who hooked on innocent sites?

While we’re waiting for more explanations, let’s take a look at the timeline of Google’s Algorithm updates so far.

Link Warnings – July 19, 2012
The email above was dispatched to a lot of websites warning about unnatural links but announced later there is nothing to worry about.

Panda 3.8 – June 25, 2012
A small ripple in the Panda update, it contained no algorithm changes but just revisions on the data.

Panda 3.7 – June 8, 2012
Announced as just a small update that would barely affect 1% of queries but in truth it made more impression than Panda 3.5 and 3.6.

May 39 – Pack – June 7, 2012
It was a busy month for Google as they came out with 39 updates on Panda and Penguin in May. This includes better link-scheme detection, changes to title/snippet rewriting and updates on Google News.

Penguin 1.1 – May 25
Penguin algorithm was updated for the first time, extending its work outside of the main search index.

Knowledge Graph – May 16, 2012
The latest addition to Google, it’s SERP-centric. As Google describes it, “The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query.”

Penguin – April 24, 2012
Originally called Webspam update, the Penguin is another cute animal that has serious intents and created heavy impact on the SEO world. It’s also called Panda’s stricter sister. It has to do with penalties on over-optimization and adjusts spam factors like keyword stuffing.

Parked Domain Bug – April 16, 2012
Ranking goes awry on account of a bug named Parked Domain.

Venice – February 27, 2012
Google tightens ship with Venice, which targets local searches.

Ads Above The Fold – January 19, 2012
This penalizes sites that had too much ad-space.

Panda 3.1 – November 18, 2011
This is when Google entered a phase that was called “Panda Flux” where more and more updates were rolled out.

The Update – November 3, 2011
This is the biggest update Google has done and has changed the landscape of SEO. It hit a whopping 35% of queries and released a guideline that fresh content will be prioritized over content that has no time relevance.

Panda 2.5 – September 28, 2011
What was supposed to be a small ripple affected sites that as reported created “large scale losses.”

Panda 2.4 – August 12, 2011
This is when Panda goes global to English and non-English searches save for Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.

Google Plus – June 28, 2011
Google releases its answer to Facebook with Google Plus or Google+. Within 2 weeks the social media network reached 10 million users.

Panda – February 23, 2011
Panda is first released into public. It’s a preview of the more massive changes Google is going to do with the SEO industry by targeting bad quality content and shady SEO linking.