A 2018 Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet

Lana Phillips

Lana Phillips

SEO Manager

Google has always been on the quest of providing its users with the best possible search results. As the years go on, they have implemented different algorithm updates to do just that, also if you’re interested in Google ads, you can also try services like Rixa Media that specialize in this. To help you make sense of all the major algorithm changes within the past few years, we’ve put up a cheat sheet with the most important updates and penalties and what to avoid doing with your own website.


Launched on February 24, 2011, this update de-ranks sites with low-quality content. If a website has spammy, keyword-stuffed, or thin content, Google will penalize the website and filter it out of results.

Look out for:

    • Keyword stuffing
    • Poor UX
    • Duplicate content
    • Thin content
  • User-generated spam


Launched on April 24, 2012, this update de-ranks sites with unnatural link profiles. If a website has spammy, potentially paid-for links, Penguin will penalize the website in real time – meaning that the penalties are applied faster.

Look out for:

    • Paid links
    • Links from low-quality sites
    • Links from PBNs
    • Links with overly optimized anchor texts
  • Links coming from unrelated sites


Launched on August 2012, this update de-ranks sites with copyright infringement reports. This mainly consists of websites that provide pirated content such as movies, music, or books – such as torrent sites.

Look out for:

    • High volume of copyright infringement reports
  • Pirated content


Launched on August 22, 2013, this update tries to better understand the meaning behind queries to produce more relevant search results. Hummingbird provides search results that match searcher intent, rather than targeting the individual keywords within a query. Google will also use synonyms of the keywords in the query to show theme-related results.

Look out for:

    • Keyword stuffing
  • Exact-match keywords


Launched on July 24, 2014, this update tries to provide high quality, relevant search results. According to Google, it ties the local algorithm with the core algorithm, meaning that the same SEO factors are used to rank the local results as with the non-local results. This update uses location and distance as a key factor as well.

Look out for:

    • NAP inconsistencies
    • Unclaimed Google+ pages
    • Lack of citations
  • Poorly optimized websites


Launched on April 21, 2015, this update gives a ranking boost to mobile-optimized pages and de-ranks pages that are not. Desktop searches, however, are not affected by this update. Note: Mobile responsiveness is monitored on a page-level factor, meaning one of your websites can be deemed mobile responsive while others may not.

Look out for:

    • Missing mobile version
    • Improper responsive coding
    • Illegible content
  • Problematic plugin use


Launched on October 26, 2015, this update aims to deliver better search results based on relevance with the use of machine learning. RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google interpret the meaning behind a query, and thus serve the best search result. RankBrain can also summarize what a web page is about, evaluate its relevance to queries, and teach itself to get better with time.

Look out for:

    • Slow loading website
    • Poor user experience
  • Lack of keyword relevancy


Launched on September 1, 2016, this update aims to deliver better, and more diverse results based on the searcher’s location and the business’ address. The closer you are to a certain business, the more likely you’ll see it among the local search results. Also, different phrasings of a query will produce different results that are deemed a better fit.

Look out for:

    • Sharing an address with a similar business
  • Having a business address outside of searcher’s location


Launched on March 8, 2017, this update filters out low quality search results. It was stated that Fred targets sites that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines, but tests have shown that the majority of the sites are content sites with low-quality articles for the purpose of generating ad revenue.

Look out for:

    • Low-value content
    • Thin content
    • Affiliate links
  • Ad-centered content

Hopefully, this guide has helped clear up any confusion over the many algorithms that have revolutionized SEO the past few years. As long as you stay on Google’s good side, your site should remain clear from penalties for years to come. But as a quick summary: continue to produce unique and quality content, stay away from spammy websites and paid links, and provide a fast and relevant user experience.

If you think your website has experienced a drop in traffic due to a Google penalty, let us know at Bright Oak so we can pinpoint the violation and help get your website back on track.


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