google algorithm updates 2016

Paul Baguley

With Google changing its search algorithm 500-600 times a year we thought it would be interesting to take a look into this.

It's fair to say most changes are minor but occasionally Google will perform a major update (they call them either Google Penguin or Google Panda updates). They affect search results in very different ways.

As search marketers, knowing when these Google updates are rolled out can explain certain changes in website traffic and organic rankings. Here we have listed the changes made in 2016.

January 8th 2016 - Unnamed Update

Several tracking tools reported historically large rankings movement. Google confirmed this as "core algo update". They officially said that this was not a Penguin update, however this remains dubious.

February 23rd 2016 - Google AdWords tweak

February saw some major changes to AdWords, the right-column ads were removed and rolling out 4-ad top blocks on many commercial searches. This had significant implications for CTR (Click Through Ratio) for paid and organic results especially on the more competitive keywords.

May 10th 2016 - Unnamed Major Update

Google Weather Trackers showed a historically rare week-long pattern of algorithm activity (this included a 97 degree spike). Google didn't confirm this update and there was no explanation.

May 12th 2016 - Mobile Friendly 2

It was a year since the original "mobile friendly" update and Google rolled out another raking boost which could benefit mobile-friendly sites on mobile search. The likely impact however of the latest update was rather small.

September 1st 2016 - "Possum"

This was unconfirmed by Google, recorded extreme temperatures of around 108 degrees and a drop in local pack prevalence. The local SEO community noted a big shake up in pack results. The data suggested that this update (or a simultaneous update) also heavily impacted organic results.

September 13th 2016 - "Image/Universal Drop"

The MozCast organisation recorder a almost record 111 degree temperature and a drop of about 50% in SERPs with image (universal/vertical) results. This universal result shake up made the organic position on page one. This caused substantial ranking shifts but this was likely to be part of a bigger update.

September 23rd 2016 - "Penguin 4.0 Announcement"

Finally after 2 years of waiting, Google announced a large Penguin update. Google suggested that the new Penguin is now real time and baked into the core algorithm. First impact assessments were small, however it was later revealed that the Penguin 4.0 roll out was longer than expected and multi phased.

September 27th 2016 - "Penguin 4.0 Phase 1"

The first introduction of Penguin 4.0, which probably launched around Sept 22nd - 23rd was the roll out of the gentler Penguin algorithm. This devalues bad links rather than penalising websites. The timeline is unconfirmed however we believe that this roll out took at least several days and may have corresponded to an algorithm, temperature spike (113 degrees) on Sept 27th.

October 6th 2016 - "Penguin 4.0 Phase 2"

The second part of Penguin 4.0 was the rewind of all the previous Penguin penalties. This happened after the new code was rolled out (this took around two weeks). Post Penguin activity had one final peak on Oct 6th (116 degrees) however it is unclear whether this was a new update or was Penguin. The Algorithm temp dropped after Oct 6th.

November 10th 2016 - "Unnamed Major Update"

A spike of 106 degrees was detected by MozCast on Nov 10th and also another one on the 18th. The chatter around the industry was high during these periods with a few suggesting that the second spike could have been a reverse of the first update. In terms of Google they didn't confirm the event, many users reported bad dates in SERPs during the same time period, however it's unclear whether this was casual or just could have been a coincidence.

December 14th 2016 - "Unnamed Major Update"

Several Google trackers showed a high flux around Dec 14th to 15th which included a rare MozCast temperature of 109 degrees. Webmaster chatter was quite heavy as well, however Google do not confirm the update.


I hope you have enjoyed reading about Google's algorithm updates in 2016. If you review your traffic in 2016 and see any dips in organic traffic around this dates that may mean you was affected. If affected please contact us today on 0115 9214636 and one of our skilful team can discuss the issue with you and find a solution.