Ready for the Next Big Change in Google’s Search Rankings & Results? Caffeine: Fast, Fresh Results, Social Signals

Google will be rolling out an update soon, nicknamed Caffeine, that will have an impact on search positions as it rolls out and probably for years to come. 

If you’ve been around search marketing long enough you may remember Google’s “Florida” update. I remember it well, those days in November (I forget the year. 2003 I think) when many webmasters in North America and around the world woke up to find their search engine rankings had dropped, completely off the charts in many cases. And this just at as the holiday shopping season was building up. Many were in a panic!

Google had begun rolling out a major update to its ranking algorithm, an update that was quickly nicknamed Florida.

It took us months to realize what we believe changed with the Florida update.  The biggest change – Google had largely devalued much of the PageRank (link juice, whatever you want to callit0 applied to incoming links from what Google considered low quality web pages/sites, possibly devalued PageRank from web pages that had clearly optimized anchor text, and apparently penalized sites participating in reciprocal linking schemes, link farms etc.. This lead to the dramatic drop in rankings for web pages that had been previously ranked in high positions largely from those incoming links.

Right now Google is testing a major update, nicknamed Caffeine. This update will likely start rolling out after the holidays, in January or February (Google having graciously decided to wait till after the holiday season to roll out this update).

However, this update has been running in one of their many data centers right for some weeks now.

What can we expect as Caffeine rolls out

Here is some of what can we expect as Caffeine rolls out and in the future (Some of this is from what Google’s Matt Cutts had to say at the recent Pubcon conference in Vegas, some from “reading between the lines” of what he said)

Faster indexing – Caffeine, as the name implies, will speed up Google’s indexing of the web, very much needed with the growth of the web and the desire of searchers for more fresh, even real-time results. 

Freshness – It appears that Caffeine gives higher positions for fresh content within the Blended/Universal results listings (see the More Info section below for more on Blended/Universal results). Matt put emphasis on freshness at Pubcon. I think we can expect Google’s search results to include more recent (fresh) and more real-time results high up in the search results as Caffeine roils out.

Note – Did you notice the real-time results Google has been including in the search result for a few weeks?  There was a box, for me it has appeared at the bottom of the page of results, labeled “latest results for xx”. It included real-time results from Twitter etc. I’m not seeing it anymore, but I think we can expect this or something like it to be back and probably, at least in time, positioned up higher in the results.

I do hope Google will start giving searchers the option to toggle off/on the many different types of results that are beginning to clutter up the search results screen (and maybe give us control of where we’d like them positioned?)

Social Signals. I think we can expect more social media results in the search results. And we can expect social media to play a bigger and bigger factor in the rankings of search results influenced by, for example, user reviews, sidebars (like Sidewiki) about web pages, citations (mentions) in social media sites like twitter and facebook, etc.

Moral – If you haven’t starting incorporating a social media strategy into your online marketing: You Better Get Going! See some of the related articles below on social media.

Web page load speed may become a ranking factor, not just an indexing issue, judging by the tools Google is releasing, or mentioning, to help webmasters improve load speed. Matt talked about this at Pubcon. Google is not only concerned with providing the most relevant search results, they are also concerned with the user experience when the searcher clicks through to a result. Load speed is an important factor in the user experience. Today, in Google’s Adwords PPC platform ads can be rejected based on slow load speeds for the landing page. So we shouldn’t be surprised if load speed becomes a ranking factor in organic results too. In additon, if Google needs to speed up indexing their torelance for slow loading pages will deminish.

You should be keeping an eye on load speeds using various tools and realize that the load speeds new visitors to your web site experience are often completely different than what you’ll see within your own network viewing pages that have likely been cached from previous visits.

Will there be major changes in rankings?

I don’t expect there will be major drops in rankings like there was during the Florida update, at least right away, but it’s possible.  Google has been very forthcoming with this update even giving us a chance to test it out earlier. We and most people didn’t see major changes in rankings.

This Caffeine update may be the initial changes to Google’s indexing and ranking system foundation which Google will build upon over months and years, so the intital effects on rankings may be minor.

On the other hand, however, we’re seeing reports of big changes in rankings over the past couple of weeks and it’s possible, since Caffeine is running in at least one data center, that it is a factor.

Don’t be too surprised if Google takes care of some practices it considers to be spam during this update too!

What should you do if you see dramatic decreases in your search positions? 

NOTHING! There’s really not much you can do or should do except wait to see what develops over the coming months (unless you haven’t been doing some things you should be, see below).

During the Florida update some SEO’s were taking educated guesses (some not so educated) as to what the new algorithm changes were. Webmasters started taking knee-jerk reactions, making changes to their sites in an attempt to “fix” their rankings. They were all wrong.

In the end those webmasters and SEOs had to accept the fact that their reliance on techniques focused primarily at influencing search rankings was the real issue.  And in the end what’s important now, high quality, search engine friendly web sites with great content that others want to link to and mention will still be important. You just might need to focus more on some things, such as developing fresh, great content and social media promotion, etc

Side Bar: I recently talked to a client considering implementing a potentially spammy link building technique, a technique that sounds like its main purpose is to influence rankings. I tried to convince them not to spend time and effort on something that at best may likely work only for a while and at worse could hurt them at some point. I suggested they spend their time on the things that not only pay off now, but for the long term. I was told, “that takes too much time”. Well, Sorry, you’re right. If you want to be successful at online marketing for the long haul then yes it takes time and resources.


For More Info

Randy at SEOmoz put together some other insights about rankings gleamed from Pubcon

Universal or Blended Search Results: What is it? Optimization Tips


Ready to get going on social media? Here’s some info

Social Media Marketing Parts 1 & 2. A two part article on Search Engine Watch about Social Media Marketing

Your Customers are talking about you! And your potential customers are listening!  Many use social media to talk about their customer experience. And many research companies’ customer care online prior to purchasing products and services at least sometimes.

Where to put your blog for best search engine results

Blogging Tips: Promoting Your Blog, Your Products & Services, Usability Tips, Tips For Providing Useful Information.

More blogging tips – 25 Link Building Tactics to Improve Blog Search Ratings, Lee Odden

Ask for customer reviews. Good reviews = more business

4 Reasons to Submit Optimized Online Press Releases. Plus tips and resources for writing and distributing online press releases


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