This update was the first update that caused real outrage amongst webmasters and the SEO community. Unsurprising considering that Google had only been running for 3 years at this time. It was released on November 16th, 2003. Due to a lack of analytics (and Google playing their cards close to their chest) it is still unclear as to exactly what the Florida update targeted, but from reports it appears as though it targeted webspam over optimisation.
Confusion with Google Dance
There was substantial confusion when the Florida update rolled out because at the time Google were only updating their index on a monthly basis, which led to monthly shifts in rankings known as the ‘Google Dance’.
Florida Helped Publicise SEO
For good or for worse, the Florida update got people talking about SEO. Yes Google had made major updates prior to Florida, but none that had such an effect. Obviously some had already cottoned on to the game and had been spamming heavily – hence why there was uproar in the aftermath of Florida. Reports show that e-commerce sites were badly hit, although one can expect that e-commerce sites were the ones engaging most heavily in SEO which at that time was likely to be fairly spammy! Whatever the case, Florida did not appear to be a big enough spam deterrent as the years leading up to the Panda update in 2011 were years in which spam became mainstream!
The contrast between reports on the Florida update and reports on more modern updates is stark. This article on Search Engine Watch is a prime example of this difference. A considerable amount of the article is spent explaining certain aspects of how search engines operate, index and rank websites whereas nowadays much of that information and knowledge is taken for granted, i.e websites like Search Engine Watch now presume that their readership have a sound understanding of SEO basics.