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How Google Names Its Algorithm Updates & Products

Guillaume Bouchard
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What’s in a name? Apple names its operating systems after big cats. When Google gets around to naming products and updates, what’s their naming strategy?

You may already know that Google’s creators, Larry Page and Sergey Brin named their baby “Google” by adapting the word googol – the number one followed by one hundred zeros. This encapsulates the scope of Google’s mission: To provide large quantities of information and make it universally accessible and useful.

But why Chrome, Panda, or Buffy? We’ve done research and looked at the most notable and peculiar names that Google has given their algorithm updates over the years (and a couple of others we were curious about) to see if we could hack the mind of the world’s biggest search engine.

Here’s why Google named it…

2002: Boston

It all started with a dance. If you were in SEO at the time, you’ll remember those flux periods when Google performed major maintenance/index updates, coined the Google Dance. These updates would majorly shake up the search engine results page (SERP) for 3-5 days and occurred approximately 10 times per year. Fast-forward to today, updates occur between 500-600 times a year!

In any case, “Boston” was the first documented update and was announced at SES Boston. The name was given by Webmaster World (WMW) members.

2003: Cassandra, Dominic, Esmeralda, Fritz

These series of updates were actually aimed at combating shoddy back links, hidden text and hidden links. With the goal of delivering fresher, better results for users, Google set out to execute these new updates on a monthly basis.

Cassandra, Dominic, Esmeralda, Fritz were also named by the folks over at WMW.

The members decided that they wanted to name the updates similarly to how hurricane names are selected: in alphabetical order, one month male, one month female. Since the previous month’s update was Boston, they went with a female name and voted on Cassandra because “we just liked it.” See below why Brett Tabke, founder and owner of WMW and the PubCon conference, finalized the name.

“Dominic” was actually named after a pizza place in Boston that was frequented by PubCon attendees. “Esmeralda and Fritz” marked the end of the monthly "Google Dance” and the beginning of Everflux. The index was now being updated daily.

2003: Florida

florida-update

Image Credit: Solar Feeds

There were several theories floating regarding the origins of the name “Florida” for this 2003 update. Some speculated the name came from the series of hurricanes that hit Florida.

In many ways, the Florida update was like a hurricane, scooping up low-value SEO tactics into its raging cyclone. However, like Boston, Tabke called it Florida because there was an upcoming WMW conference in Orlando.

Florida was by far the most noticeable and significant update at the time. It was the hardest crack down on unethical SEO tactics, spam sites, and fishy backlinks. It also negatively affected many small businesses website rankings.

2005: Bourbon

bourbon-update

Tabke was also the man behind the name “Bourbon” and strategically chose it to align with the WMW New Orleans conference. Bourbon was one of the first updates to really target content scrapers and rogue link wheels (i.e., web properties created for the purpose of interlinking and pointing back to your main website).

2005 – 2006: Big Daddy

Big Daddy had Big repercussions on notorious link exchangers, link buyers and sellers. Big D was a new data center with major software upgrades implemented that affected how the algorithm crawled and indexed sites. Site pages containing suspicious links were no longer getting indexed in the new data center.

The name for the update actually came a year after it was first rolled out. It was GoogleGuy, Matt Cutts’ first chance to christen an update name.

Why Big Daddy? As Cutts recounts in a blog post, he and some members at PubCon 2006 were sitting around the lunch room after a Q&A session. Cutts took the opportunity to get some feedback about what the new data center name should be. One of the webmasters suggested “Big Daddy” because that’s what his kids called him. Cutts approved. Big Daddy was dubbed.

2008: Buffy

Named after the notorious link spam slayer?

buffy-update

To some degree, yes. The Buffy update, was actually named in tribute to Vanessa Fox, the creator of Google Webmaster Central. Matt Cutts described the Buffy update as “an accumulation of smaller changes”.

When Vanessa left Google to pursue other ventures, they honored her by naming their next update Buffy. We aren’t exactly sure why “Buffy” and not “Vanessa” or “Fox” but we certainly like the images it conjures up.

2009: Vince

vince-update

Image Credit: Logorama

Google named the “Vince” update after one of their engineers (Vince) who developed and executed the project. The update focused on promoting “authority” and “trust” throughout the SERP.

Also known as the “Trust Change update” it was geared towards favoring big brands. Google CEO Eric Schmidt was even quoted saying, “Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

2010: Caffeine

google-caffeine

In 2009, a preview of Caffeine was released. The goal was to drastically change the search indexing infrastructure.

With the official launch in 2010, Google called it “whole new web indexing system” generating 50 percent fresher results than their previous index. “Caffeine” gave the search engine a major jolt (hence the name Caffeine) increasing the speed of crawling pages, speeding up how fast the search engine delivered results, the accuracy of results in relation to the search term and more.

2011: Panda/Farmer

google-panda-update-kicks-content-farms

This update seemed to directly target content farms. According to Google, this update affected up to 12 percent of search results. The update penalized low quality sites, low quality content/duplicate content; generally content deemed not valuable to the user.

Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts revealed that they used the code name ”Panda” to refer to the update internally. Like Vince, Panda was named after one of the key Google engineers who worked on the update and made it possible, Navneet Panda.

Google Chrome

According to the Design Lead at Google Chrome, Glen Murphy, the name “Chrome” was established initially as a codename for the project by one of the project leads. Presumably, he liked fast cars, speed and shiny engines.

From a design perspective, the name was particularly fitting as 'chrome' refers to the non-webpage parts of the browser's interface (toolbars, tabs and buttons).

Murphy says, "because our design philosophy was 'Content, not chrome' - putting our focus on minimizing the amount of browser UI present, we felt it cheekily appropriate to name the browser 'Chrome'."

Android Dessert Suite

android-dessert-names

Let’s round up with something sweet. Did you ever notice that all Android operating systems are named after desserts? The timeline goes something like this: Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich, with Jelly Bean on the horizon.

Again adhering to the alphabetical order scheme, when asked why Google names its OS upgrades after desserts, Google spokesman, Randall Sarafa says, “It's kind of like an internal team thing, and we prefer to be a little bit -- how should I say -- a bit inscrutable in the matter”.

We can assume this is an easy to remember, quirky system that makes naming more fun.

Google pays homage to its desserts by building massive statues and laying them out in front of Googleplex (pictured above).

What’s In A Name?

Google algorithms will always be something of a mystery, but their naming strategy isn’t! In fact they abide by the principles of any good product naming system:

  • Make it simple
  • Make it easy to remember
  • Make it short
  • Give it personality

If you are interested in reading more about Google updates through time, SEOMoz offers a full list of Google’s algorithm changes.


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