They can make or break a site, and many website operators and search marketers await their arrival with a certain level of anxiety.

They have strange names like Panda and Penguin, and when they affect significant numbers of websites, they can be written about and analyzed for months.

I’m referring, of course, to Google algorithm updates.

But is it possible that the major Google algorithm updates that captivate us are largely a thing of the past? 

In a post on Search Engine Land, Nate Dame, the founder and CEO of search and content marketing firm Propecta, observes that:

Since a dramatic peak in 2012, the number of update announcements has been dropping.

This year, Dame predicts that we’ll see very few this year.

Why? According to Dame, there are two reasons. The first is that Google has used algorithm updates to influence the behavior of SEOs.

He points to the Penguin update as an example of this. He writes:

Google doesn’t want its bots fooled by spammy backlinks, so along comes Penguin. They could have released the algorithm change, and all its subsequent updates, without a word; but, in addition to actually devaluing bad links, they also want black hat SEOs to just stop it already.

As Dame sees it, the declining number of major updates suggests that Google doesn’t believe there’s as great a need to influence behavior these days. Perhaps Google feels SEOs have largely acquiesed to its will, or Google just doesn’t care how they react anymore.

The second reason that Dame believes we’ll see fewer and fewer algorithm updates is more significant. Google has been investing significantly in artificial intelligence and we may be at a point where Google can make “constant, imperceptible updates.” He explains:

Google search results are always gettings smarter. The changes in results are becoming deliberately more subtle and more intuitive, such that most users hardly notice them at all. If Google’s algorithms are in the early stages of learning, they can easily make small, undercover changes on the fly.

The number of unnamed and unconfirmed updates bears this out. Just last month, SERP-trackers and webmasters noticed some major shifts in search results, but Google has yet to officially confirm the update. Are those relatively minor updates unannounced because they’re not worth the PR effort, or because Google didn’t intend for us to notice? 

Where could Google’s technology take it? Noting that Google already returns vertical content for some queries, Dame suggests that one day, Google might even be in a position to use fact checking as a ranking factor. In other words, Google might give better rankings to sites that its robots determine are more accurate than others.

While the thought of ongoing, nearly-imperceptible Google algorithm changes driven by artificial intelligence could be nightmarish to some, it’s also worth considering the benefits. Algorithm updates would likely be smaller, more targeted and, ostensibly, rolled back more easily if they don’t produce the intended result.

Yes, website owners could still wake up to find that they have been negatively affected by an update, but the odds that their entire site will be a major update’s collateral damage would hopefully decrease significantly too.

If that was the case, the uncertainty created by Google algorithms that evolve themselves over time just might be worth living with.