Google has repeatedly stated it makes regular updates to its search algorithms–as many as 2-3 per day. Most of these changes go largely unnoticed and the impacts on SERP rankings are considered normal fluctuation. However, there were over a dozen dates in 2017 where many sites noticed major shifts in SERP rankings, suggesting more significant updates and changes to Google’s algorithms. Below is a list of 2017’s most significant Google algorithm changes we’ve noted in the DemandSphere platform – and a summary of their impact.

January 10, 2017 – Intrusive Interstitials Update

In a rare move, Google preemptively announced in late August 2016 that it would be penalizing sites utilizing “intrusive interstitials” on January 10, 2017. True to its word, Google started penalizing the ranking of sites where content was not easily accessible to a user when transitioning from mobile search.

Examples of the types of interstitials being penalized by Google:

  • A popup overlaid on the main content as soon as the user navigates from the search results, or while browsing through the page.
  • A standalone interstitial the user must dismiss before viewing the main site content.
  • A layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears to be a standalone interstitial, but the main content appears inline below-the-fold.examples of interstitials

Examples of techniques being used responsibly that will not be penalized include, interstitials appearing due to a legal obligation (i.e. cookie usage or age verification), login dialogs for content not publicly indexable, and banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissable. For more information, see Google’s blog post on the update.

February 1, 2017 – February 1 Update

While not given an interesting name, starting on February 1, 2017 – many in the SEO industry agreed that there was likely an update to the Google algorithm. Though unconfirmed by Google, sites utilizing “spammy links” (determined by Google), appear to have experienced ranking penalties. The rank penalization seems to have peaked on February 6th.

February 3, 2017 – Google Japan Algorithm Update

Google confirmed updates to the Japanese search algorithm. This update lowered the ranking of sites it assessed as being low quality. Google penalized sites not providing useful and reliable information to viewers and rewarded sites with original and useful content.

Check out the Google announcement here.

February 7, 2017 – February 7 Update

Another unconfirmed algorithm update appears to have occured on February 7th. Many in the SEO community saw large changes in SERP results. This change seems to have negatively impacted sites with low-quality user engagement, thin and low-quality content, mobile usability problems, and deceptive advertising techniques. Sites that made improvements after previous penalization were rewarded with this update. Examples of changes resulting in improved rankings include only indexing high quality pages, cutting down on aggressive advertising techniques, improving user experience for both desktop and mobile users, and fixing technical SEO problems potentially causing quality issues.

For deeper analysis of these changes, please see Glenn Gabe’s post on his G-Squared Interactive Blog.

March 8, 2017 – Fred

On March 8, many sites started reporting large drops in rankings and traffic. “Fred” was never confirmed by Google, but the SEO community agreed these rankings shifts were a result of a major algorithm update.

In an interview with Google Spokesman Gary Illyes after the fact, he stated “Fred” was not a singular update, but a series of updates centered around website quality.  Most (but not all) of the sites impacted by “Fred” appear to be ad-heavy, low value content sites created to generate advertising revenue without clear benefit to the user.

Here’s a link to Gary Illyes’ interview at BrightonSEO 2017.

You can also check out an-depth analysis of the Google “Fred” update at SearchEngineJournal.

May 17, 2017 – Quality Update

Starting on May 17th, many sites reported large shifts in SERP rankings. These changes appear to be the result of further unconfirmed core Google algorithm updates focused on site quality.

These quality updates again seem to have impacted sites with aggressive/deceptive advertising tactics, user experience issues, thin content, poor UI experience, and low quality content. Sites that made improvements after prior quality updates appear to have been rewarded and those that didn’t, experienced further ranking penalties.

Glenn Gabe provides in-depth analysis of this round of changes on his G-Squared Interactive blog.

June 25, 2017 – June 25 Update

Another unconfirmed algorithm update was likely pushed on June 25. This update appeared to primarily target sites ranked 6-10. Initial reports suggested the food and beverage vertical was the most heavily impacted, but health and fitness, gambling, retail, and travel niches also reported significant changes in rankings.

Barry Schwartz compiled many observations about this update in his post on Search Engine Roundtable. However, after a week of collecting data on the changes, he reported there was no pattern to the changes. Though there was no discernable pattern, data showed many sites experienced changes in rank around this time.

July 9, 2017 – Quality Update

Many sites started reporting significant shifts in SERP ranking on or around July 9th. Though Google never confirmed any updates to the algorithm around this time, signs point to another update related to site quality and user experience.

Barry Schwartz again compiled data suggesting an update.

August 19, 2017 – Quality Update

A little over a month later, many in the SEO industry again reported seeing major swings in SERP rankings on August 14th and again on August 19th. Glenn Gabe reported that he didn’t see any sites impacted on August 19th that weren’t first impacted on August 14th, suggesting that the two are connected. August 14th was likely a test and August 19th was the full scale rollout of the changes. These changes were never confirmed by Google.

This update appeared to revolve around the typical quality concerns addressed by previous quality updates in 2017. Once again, sites that made improvements to overall user experience and content were rewarded with rank increases, and sites not making improvements were penalized.

Glenn Gabe provides lots of details and examples about this round of quality updates in his blog post at G-Squared Interactive.

September 8, 2017 – Fall Flux

A wide range of sites started reporting a series of changes SERP rankings starting on September 8th and stretching into October. Major changes were seen on 9/8, 9/18, 9/25, 9/29, 10/4, 10/8, and 10/12. These shifts in rankings all seem related to quality concerns around content quality, user experience, and page layout. Sites failing to address quality concerns highlighted in previous quality updates appear to have been penalized in rankings once again. However, many sites that made changes to improve overall site quality recovered in the rankings.

Glenn Gabe provided detailed examples and analysis on this series of quality-related changes in a G-Squared Interactive blog post.

December 12, 2017 – Maccabees Update

Starting on December 12th, many sites started noticing changes in SERP rankings. Google confirmed several minor changes to the core algorithm from December 12-14. Targeted elements were unconfirmed, but updates appeared to focus on sites targeting many keyword permutations and those with low quality content and aggressive advertising techniques.

Barry Schwartz provided analysis of this update at Search Engine Roundtable.

Moving Forward – Search in 2018

We include all algorithm changes as annotations in the DemandSphere SEO, competitor, and content marketing platform, along with the ability for you to make your own notes on impact.

If you noticed changes to your SERP rankings on any or all of these dates and are wondering how to recover, please contact us. We’d love to have a conversation about how we can help you make lasting improvements in your findability for 2018!