The Caffeine Buzz
Google's search-engine algorithm update, Caffeine, is fraught with uncertainty and causing search-engine-marketing agencies to lose a little sleep in anticipation of its rollout.
Caffeine was unveiled last summer, and as of December, Google had stated that only one data center was running 50% of searches on the new Caffeine-based algorithm.
Google is serious about continually strengthening its search algorithm in an effort to be more efficient for its users, and Caffeine reflects Google's latest attempt to maintain search dominance.
Despite Google's claims that rankings will not be significantly affected, an update with Caffeine's magnitude hasn't been implemented since 2006. With the purported goals of increasing size, indexing speed, accuracy, and comprehensiveness, the newly implemented update could have a major effect on search results.
What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is yet another in a long line of periodic algorithm updates that Google implements to keep its search results relevant.
Of all the updates Google has made, including those necessary to maintain relevance and those that many suspect are only to keep search-engine optimization (SEO) specialists on their toes, Caffeine falls into the category of updates intended to be invisible to the user yet improve the overall search experience.
Many think that Caffeine is one of the first steps toward semantic search, because of its increased understanding of related words and synonyms, and because it will display results that are not entirely dependent on the verbatim phrase of the search term used.
As with most Google updates, faster is better, and Caffeine is expected to introduce a site's load speed as a factor for ranking.
The updated algorithm is also expected to index more pages than the current version, giving searchers more options and potentially leading to search that is tailored to personal interests. As a whole, those changes suggest Google's new focus is supporting real-time search.
Caffeine's Impact on Search
Personalized results are daunting for some SEO agencies. If everybody has different results displayed on the same keyword search, per their interests, establishing rankings and ranking reports will become nearly impossible.
Beyond personalized search, new SEO challenges include an increased local focus, which is particularly useful for mobile users, and the inclusion of social media as a potential factor in search-engine-results pages (SERPs).
Currently, links from Facebook are largely no-follow, resulting in a negligible impact when compared with the relative strength of "follow" links. However, Google's inclusion of social media could increase the importance of even no-follow links as a ranking consideration, making social-marketing success a key subset of SEO campaigns.
Despite the potential impact of the Caffeine update, Google is sticking to its MO of claiming that the user experience will not be significantly affected. In this case, Google might be telling the truth.
The user's personal results are going to be primarily negligible. Keyword searches will be personalized, but with most keywords the same results will be displayed for all users.
For example, a search for "red roses," if not a geographic search, will display the same sites with the same rankings for most users. The second user-oriented factor, increased speed, will also probably not be overtly noticeable. Displaying search results one-tenth of a second more quickly, though a significant infrastructure achievement, will most likely not be discernible to the average user.
Real-Time Search Is Essentially Useless
Despite Google's push to make real-time search user friendly and, in fact, a user's only option, people are more likely to use Google news, RSS feeds, and their own social-media networks to find buzz than they are to use a search engine.
That inference is further supported by the underwhelming effect of the introduction of Google Buzz, which was generally ignored by most users. Google will probably continue to emphasize real-time search, but the current lack of user interest suggests that Google might want to give up that pursuit.
With Caffeine's implementation, Google has the option to continue its real-time-search emphasis but can also be prepared for the functionality's failure.
Caffeine provides a timely and necessary infrastructure update for mobile search. With faster, more personalized, and more extensive results, and if the real-time-search focus falls through, Google can easily adjust Caffeine to continue Google's dominance in the mobile-search market.
Google updates can be quite significant or relatively minor in the scheme of things. Those who have been in the business for a while will remember the Florida update, when rankings fell off the charts. However, the Caffeine update is not meant to be a SERP game-changer.
Even after Caffeine is supporting 100% of search queries, we don't expect to see any people jumping off buildings because their rankings have disappeared.
Overall, Caffeine is more of a preparatory infrastructure update than it is a revolutionary new ranking definition. In the end, algorithm change or not, SEO efforts will adapt, and rankings will rise again.
Note: Contributors to this article include Emily McClendon, interactive marketing specialist at NeboWeb; Kimm Lincoln, director of search engine marketing at NeboWeb; Chris Allison, SEO and social-media specialist at NeboWeb; and James Charlesworth, senior SEO specialist at NeboWeb.