On Aug. 10, Google announced Caffeine, suggesting a shift in the Google algorithm. Matt Cutts, the head of Google's webspam team, indicated Caffeine is basically a rewrite of the search index, roughly comparable to the Big Daddy upgrade of 2005-2006.
The once hush-hush project is supposed to revitalize the Google algorithm to provide users with a better search experience. The official word is that the update is "the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness, and other dimensions."
Based on that, it sounds like we'll get faster indexing speeds, with more pages indexed and a more comprehensive search results page -- necessary advances as the web becomes more unwieldy. For search marketers, it means more competition for single, generic-type keywords, less stability of rankings, and an increased focus on long-tail keywords as they become more relevant to sales conversions.
That's all good news if your website is well ranked for your best keywords. If not, it's time to optimize now. Make sure your site conforms to Google's new infrastructure to avoid any loss of rankings.
How important is Caffeine?
Many SEO experts believe Caffeine is a major search algorithm update. Google is soliciting feedback on the changes from experienced users and web developers, but comments are open to the public as well. Google is currently interested in any differences between the current and new systems, and wants to know what types of sites rank better or worse in the news system, as well as what should or shouldn't rank. It would be wise to check out Caffeine and learn how it will affect your site.
The first thing to do is log off from your Google Accounts (such as iGoogle, Gmail, and AdWords) to avoid skewing results based on your own browsing history and personal settings. Then, open up a new window to compare your SEO campaign between Google's regular search engine results pages (SERPs) and Caffeine.
To check results with Caffeine, conduct a search on this infrastructure preview. To give feedback, look for a link at the bottom of the Caffeine search results page that says "Dissatisfied? Help us improve." Don't forget to include the word "caffeine" when leaving feedback.
Comparing search results between Google and Caffeine
Google Tutor provides five tools that can help you compare the new and old systems:
- Google Caffeine Bookmarklet This tool makes it easy to check Caffeine results by clicking the bookmarklet in your browser.
- Firefox plugin This adds the Caffeine search engine to your Firefox search bar.
- Ranking checker A tool that checks your ranking at Google and Caffeine simultaneously. It does not show actual search results for comparison, but provides a quick way to check rankings.
- Google vs. Google Caffeine Gives you a split screen for side-by-side comparison of search results from Google and Caffeine. Very useful if you do a lot of testing.
- Google.ie and Google.de vs. Caffeine Another split- screen tool to compare Irish and Deutsch versions to the U.S. version of Google.
In addition, there are other tools available:
- Google Caffeine Compare by facesaerch lets you easily compare "caffeinated" results with "decaffeinated" results by typing and searching as usual.
- Compare Google Caffeine by Black Dog and Get Caffeinated by Doubleshot. Enter a query and see returns for both Caffeine and Google side by side for easy comparison.
Google wants input, so feel free to tell them what you like or dislike about Caffeine. This project started last month and will evolve as Google continues to get feedback. Some people have reported seeing changes already, as Caffeine begins to affect Google results.
What changes can you expect with Caffeine?
Here's a list of changes, based on early findings from various blogs. Keep in mind that this is an early reading, so it's unknown if these changes will result when the final upgrade is implemented.
- Higher keyword density. Caffeine SERPs feature site titles and snippets with higher phrase and/or keyword density.
- Faster index. Most people report Caffeine queries are returned at faster speeds.
- Fresher results. Caffeine results are more current, including blog posts from the last few days. This shows Google's concern and focus on real-time search.
- More emphasis on social media. Caffeine SERPs contain more sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, etc.
- Less emphasis on universal search. While this is a popular feature and was also implemented by other search engines, it doesn't help Google's paid search revenue. Therefore, universal results will be moved lower on the page to make paid search more visible.
- Increased prominence of video. While news and image listings moved further down the page, Caffeine SERPs are prominently featuring video listings.
- Keywords in domain name. Google has always favored keywords in the domain name, and the new SERPs seem to weigh keyword domain names even higher. If you're launching a new site, a microsite with your keywords embedded within the URL might be wise.
Are SEO tactics changing?
Most white hat optimization tactics will continue to prevail. On-page tactics are still important, as are off-page tactics. Webmasters should follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines as they have in the past, perhaps with an added emphasis on the changes mentioned above.
Here are some basic SEO best practices to keep in mind:
- Create a site with clear hierarchy and text links.
- Create a site map with links to important pages.
- Create information-rich pages describing your content clearly and accurately.
- Use keywords in text.
- Give preference to text over images.
elements and ALT attributes descriptive and accurate.
- Check for broken links and correct HTML.
- Keep links on a given page to a reasonable number (<100).
- Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
- No cloaking or sneaky redirects.
- Don't send automated queries to Google.
- Don't load pages with irrelevant keywords.
- Don't create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with duplicate content.
- Don't create pages with malicious behavior (phishing, viruses, trojans, badware).
- Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines or "cookie cutter" approaches like affiliate programs with little or no original content.
The final product
Google's search results change regularly, but with the impending launch of Caffeine, people are wondering if the minor changes noted are the upgrade. Google's Matt Cutts told Search Engine Land on Sept. 17 that Caffeine was not yet implemented into Google search results. However, Twitter is churning with questions.
Some say Caffeine has already launched or is about to launch in a few days. Google's announcement does not specify when testing will end and changes will be implemented into main search results and only says "most users won't notice a difference in search results," but "web developers and power searchers might notice a few differences."
To that end, ReadWriteWeb reported on a study by U.K. online marketing firm Summit Media that indicated search results aren't much different with the Caffeine update. The study examined 9,000 keywords and found only "a tiny change in ranking," with the algorithm update favoring pages that are updated more often with fresh content.
While there are discrepancies in the effects noted to date, the Caffeine upgrade will likely produce a faster, fresher index with more visibility of social media sites and decreased importance of universal search in the SERPs (except for video listings).
Google says its primary mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Its unstated secondary goal is to dominate search and internet advertising. Caffeine may be a major index improvement, but the parent company never loses sight of profitability.
Claudia Bruemmer is a freelance writer-editor and internet marketing consultant.