Google Caffeine – Is It, Um, Worth the Buzz?

By Chris Thoren, Product Specialist, Natural Search

So Google ‘secretly’ unveiled their new algorithm update, coined Caffeine (maybe they shied away from Jolt to avoid naming rights issues) intended to provide more up-to-date results. Of course, this created a groundswell of buzz among the online community as to the effect on rankings, because, like ball bearings, it’s all about rankings these days (see screenshot below).

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Google Caffeine Search Trends

Unlike PPC, people that collect paychecks doing SEO are at the mercy of engine algorithms, and mainly Google (for obvious reasons). Any time a major algorithm update is about to be released, both marketers and clients alike begin the speculation on how this is going to affect the order of the online universe. You can get a sense of what ‘future’ rankings may look like within their preview SERP, but like anything else having to do with algorithms, the engine is only going to divulge so much proprietary information. So is this something that marketers should put some stock into? Is this going to be the next Y2K craze that will shut down computers, planes, and simultaneously launch weapons across the globe a la, War Games style? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s give this goose a closer gander, if that’s even an actual phrase…

Brand Winners and Losers

This post isn’t about how Google views different brands, big brand SEO myths, or the ilk. The focus here is on what brands will come out ahead, which ones will fall behind, and what were the reasons behind this shift. For big brands that have good representation in the SERP, this could have huge revenue/traffic implications. With users becoming more web savvy and efficient finding the information they want, the gap is widening of the amount of people dropping off after the first results page. Ergo, the growing importance of obtaining and remaining in that coveted first page/top 5 results on the first page. Which brings me back to my initial point: what effect will this update have on brand rankings?

Taking a snapshot of the top 20 performing keywords from one of our bigger clients, we have seen an overall drop in rankings—some minor, others completely dropping off. However, we also have seen some of these terms keep or gain traction in the SERP. Should the overall ranking decrease trend be cause for concern? Not necessarily, but maybe. In order to weather the storm, one must have a solid foundation, and this deep thought provides a nice segue into my next point.

The Art and Zen of Best Practices

With the possibility of losing some ground on rankings, are we scrambling around looking for answers leaving our office similar to a Wall Street trading floor after a market crash? Not really; for a couple of reasons. At RM, we have adhered to Google’s best practices so we don’t have to sweat when these big algorithm changes come along. We obviously will monitor our client’s rankings closely, and make the necessary changes if need be. However, SEO is not a sprint, and sometimes knee jerk reactions may cause more harm than good. These big updates tend to even themselves out after a while, too.

Increased Focus on ‘Real-Time’ Results

Since Caffeine is striving to give updated results, Google is maintaining that it shouldn’t have a big sway in rankings. With all the information being updated on a constant basis, from news to just general sentiment, Google is looking to keep pace with this on-going cycle. At one point, there was talk about Google looking at purchasing twitter to gain share of this real-time results. This could be Google’s answer to this speculation, or it could be that it was just time to release an update that brightens the polish if you will.

It’s Not About You

In the end, it’s about the user experience, and Google is striving that this change will only enhance the experience even more. Even though site owners and marketers like to think they have it figured out, the reality is that it’s mostly conjecture at this point. All we’re left is research, results based on this initial research, and garnering any insights/trending information from this data.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this does officially roll out, and how this affects different sites. Now we wait and see…and as a wise man once said, the wait is the hardest part.


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