Google’s Big Daddy Update: Big Changes to Google’s Infrastructure & the SERPs

Google’s Big Daddy Update: Big Changes to Google’s Infrastructure & the SERPs

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series looking back at the history of Google algorithm updates. Enjoy!

As Google has grown and developed over the years, algorithm updates have been introduced periodically. Many updates remain unconfirmed by Google, despite many SEO pros finding evidence for them.
One Google update, known as Big Daddy, was no surprise. It was openly discussed and announced by Google in December 2005.
The Big Daddy update was rolled out gradually since it was an infrastructure update. It had a major impact on the overall quality of the search engine results pages (SERPs) at the time. It was not until March of 2006 that the update was completed.

The History of Big Daddy

Since December 2005, Matt Cutts, then head of Google’s webspam team, has been informally announcing new infrastructure rollouts. Instead of running the full infrastructure right away, Google tested it on two servers and announced their IP addresses to the SEO communities.
As excited as SEO pros were to see how their sites perform on the new data centers, the whole situation also rendered a feedback loop to Google where they collected information from multiple testers who were willing to share their thoughts on the updates.
During Pubcon 2005, there was an hour-long Q&A in one of the morning sessions.  After this session, instead of proceeding to other sessions, Cutts and his followers, jokingly referred to as “Cuttlets,” stayed in the Pubcon lunchroom and continued to ask questions, skipping the following session.
This is where Cutts announced the rollout of the two new data centers that would be using the IP addresses: 66.249.93.104 and 64.233.179.104 running the new infrastructure.
Matt Cutts at Pubcon
Matt Cutts (in blue) and other Pubcon attendees who skipped sessions to listen to Cutts’ announcements about the new Big Daddy data centers.
During this informal discussion in the lunch room, Cutts also asked the group for suggestions about what to name these new data centers. In the past, many algorithm updates were given names based on the people that first reported it.
A man named Jeff M. suggested the name “Big Daddy,” which was a nickname given to him by his children. Cutts liked the name and decided that his new update would be known as the Big Daddy.
Along with the continuous feedback from the SEO community, the Big Daddy update started to roll out into more data centers. Then, on March 29, 2006, all old data centers were turned off.

Open Update Announcement = Open Feedback from a Test Group

Google is known to find ways to motivate users to take action and use their products to achieve faster testing statistics on how their product performs for immediate feedback.
In the past, Google411 was a free phone directory service where you could dial the numbers 411-GOOG (411-4664) on your phone and ask for a phone number. This fully automated system helped pave the way for Google to improve its voice recognition technology that we take for granted today on smartphones and Google Home.
Google’s 3D software, SketchUp, created a temporary sub-product called Building Maker. This was specifically made for users of Google Maps and Google Earth to create 3D models of buildings.  Building Maker gamified the entire process; model makers got scores from other people and top models ended up as the main 3D model used in the maps.
Big Daddy’s rollout of two servers for SEO pros to use was no different. SEOs would happily test the new servers since they were excited to see how their sites performed on the new system. Google created a feedback form specifically for this test where SEO pros submitted their feedback to Google about how the new system performed.

Big Daddy Caused Few Complaints When It Rolled Out

With the rollout of Google’s feedback form for Big Daddy, SEO pros gave their initial feedback on the quality of the SERPs. This feedback form and the URL removal tool were the precursors of the Google Webmaster Tools that eventually turned into Google Search Console.
Based on this feedback form, Cutts announced that there were minimal complaints happening and SEOs were pleased overall.
There were even a few authoritative SEO pros – namely Todd Friesen and Greg Boser – who said (in January 2006 on WebmasterRadio.fm) that they loved the results when Big Daddy was rolling out. In the interview, they mentioned the only complaints were mainly due to other issues that were unrelated to Big Daddy and improperly identified as part of the Big Daddy update.
All that said, it’s rare for any Google update to not cause some sort of uproar. See: Full-up Google choking on web spam? from the Register.

Misidentified as the Big Daddy Update

The Supplemental Index

As Big Daddy’s update was in full swing, the supplemental index was also implemented. The supplemental index, as suggested by the name, supplements Google’s main index.
When Google announced the supplemental index in 2003, it was presented as something that would be positive to the user experience. If a user was unable to find what they needed in the main index, they may be able to find it in the supplemental index, which had results that were less filtered.
However, this supplemental index displayed results after the main index results. Often, users may not even reach the end of main index results to see the supplemental index results. Thus, this index was viewed negatively by SEOs when their webpages started ending up in the supplemental index.
Main reasons for ending up in the supplemental index were often related to duplicate content issues or the existence of doorway pages. Although the term “thin content” was not used back then, category pages, blog tag pages were mentioned by Cutts as pages that were reported to him by SEOs who seemed to have been affected by Big Daddy updates.
Big Daddy’s focus was to improve the quality of search results and the main index’s difference from the supplemental index was also to improve the quality of search engine results. However, Cutts maintained his belief that sites affected by the supplemental index may not be affected by the Big Daddy update, since they are two independent updates.
This supplemental index label has not been displayed in search results since 2007. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the supplemental index no longer exists. Even if this label had been discontinued, something similar continued to be used and was labeled the “omitted results.”
Despite these statements released by Cutts early in 2006, many conversations on the forum WebmasterWorld in multiple threads still discussed the supplemental index and the Big Daddy updates as if they were synonymous.

The Google Sandbox

The Google sandbox is an unconfirmed (most likely mythical) filter applied to newer websites that prevent them from ranking well even if they were full of excellent content, good links, and no technical issues.
Websites affected by the “sandbox effect” were associated with having very new domain names and unnatural link building practices. The filter was supposedly removed after the site has grown for several weeks or months.
Many believed that this update discouraged SEO pros from simply buying links to gain ranking benefits. Since there is a delay in seeing the benefits when link buyers add several links, they will be wasting the cost of the sandbox delay.
Cutts specifically mentioned some of the SEO issues that caused sites to drop in ranking when the Big Daddy updates rolled out. These include low trust in the incoming or outbound links of that site. Examples that might cause this include excessive reciprocal links, linking to spammy neighborhoods on the web, or link buying/selling.
Both factors have something to do with links, however, they are still two different things.
Some SEO pros believed they were affected by the Big Daddy update, claiming their good links were misidentified as bad links. In some cases, SEO pros thought they were being impacted negatively by Big Daddy, when really they were just a new site.

Google Dance

Google Dance was the term applied to search results that constantly fluctuate. This fluctuation happened roughly every month and lasted for a few days.
This was Google’s way of updating its database of websites and their corresponding ranking data in real time without the need to shut down.
The “dancing” of search results was part of the propagation of data from one data center to another. During these years, SEO pros would check different Google search results by visiting different IP addresses directly.
By the time the Big Daddy Update appeared, the Google Dance no longer existed. Occasional fluctuation in rankings still exist even up to today, but it is no longer due to the gradual propagation of updated data across multiple data centers; it is more of a function of various factors, such as personalization, geographic location, etc.
When Big Daddy was announced in December 2005 rolling out from January 2006 to March 2006, it slowly propagated from one data center to another. Those who were unaware that the Big Daddy update was rolling out, assumed they were seeing a Google Dance result.
Unlike the supplemental results and the sandbox, the Google Dance is not a misidentified Big Daddy update; it was the other way around. The Big Daddy update was misidentified to be a Google Dance data propagation.

The Purpose of the Big Daddy Update

Aside from the ambiguous announcement that simply classified the Big Daddy update as an infrastructure update, Google didn’t elaborate much further on the update.
Cutts claims this infrastructure helps improve the quality of search results.  Even that statement is ambiguous. But a few things Cutts was asking feedback on during the Big Daddy rollout were:
  • URL Canonicalization
  • Inurl: Search Operator
  • 302 and 301 Redirects
Out of all the feedback Cutts received on the Big Daddy update, he has only confirmed that the changes were the result of the Big Daddy update in a few cases.  These include links that were not trustworthy for both inbound and outbound links, causes of excessive reciprocal linking, spammy neighborhood links, and algorithmic detection of paid links.
The Big Daddy update was probably about more than just these low-quality links, but these remain the only factors that Cutts, or anyone from Google, has given feedback on. There was no drastic observable change reported by the majority of the SEO community, and if ever there was some discussion online about some negative effect, more often than not, it was not Big Daddy related at all.

Main Sources of More Information on Big Daddy

During any Google update, a number of SEO bloggers will talk about the update, and some will simply give statements as facts.
At the time, some people claimed the Big Daddy update was all about low-quality links. Others believed it was for better performance of canonical tags and 302/301 redirects. There is still no significant proof stating that the Big Daddy update was specifically about these alone.
The only announcements given by Google were about improving the quality of search results, and using it as an infrastructure change. All other information came in the form of requests from Cutts for the SEO community to test.
Everything SEOs claimed about bad linking only came from sites that were affected by the update.  However, this does not confirm that the Big Daddy update was about bad quality links alone.
All other sources of information about the Big Daddy updates came from two main sources: Cutts’ personal blog with his post here and here, and Cutts’ guest interview on WebmasterRadio.fm’s SEO Rockstars Podcast, which was then hosted by Friesen and Boser (and you can still listen to here).

Image Credits
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
In-Post Photo: Matt Cutts and SEOs at Pubcon, MattCutts.com
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Mohamed Elarby

A tech blogger focused on blogging tips, SEO, social media, mobile gadgets, pc tips, how-to guides and general tips and tricks.

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