Google Search Algorithm Change For Freshness To Impact 35% Of Searches; Twitter Firehose Remains Off

Google announced they are rolling out a new search algorithm change that helps make the search results “fresher.” The big news here is that besides for the results being fresher, the results will change for about 35% of all searches.

Caffeine Was Infrastructure, This Is Algorithmic

Fresher results can make for more relevant results, which is why Google moved over to the caffeine infrastructure last year. That was only an infrastructure change, to make sure Google can index, crawl and return results faster. Now Google changed their search algorithm to show fresher results, fresher than ever before.

Google said:

We completed our Caffeine web indexing system last year, which allows us to crawl and index the web for fresh content quickly on an enormous scale. Building upon the momentum from Caffeine, today we’re making a significant improvement to our ranking algorithm that impacts roughly 35 percent of searches and better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.

35% Of The Searches Are Impacted

That is larger than the Panda update which impacted 12% of the searches conducted.

What type of searches does it impact? Google said:

  • Recent events or hot topics. For recent events or hot topics that begin trending on the web, you want to find the latest information immediately. Now when you search for current events like [occupy oakland protest], or for the latest news about the [nba lockout], you’ll see more high-quality pages that might only be minutes old.
  • Regularly recurring events. Some events take place on a regularly recurring basis, such as annual conferences like [ICALP] or an event like the [presidential election]. Without specifying with your keywords, it’s implied that you expect to see the most recent event, and not one from 50 years ago. There are also things that recur more frequently, so now when you’re searching for the latest [NFL scores], [dancing with the stars] results or [exxon earnings], you’ll see the latest information.
  • Frequent updates. There are also searches for information that changes often, but isn’t really a hot topic or a recurring event. For example, if you’re researching the [best slr cameras], or you’re in the market for a new car and want [subaru impreza reviews], you probably want the most up to date information.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: Had a chance to get some questions answered from Google now, plus some addition issues, below….

Freshness Ranking Not New, Just Apparently Improved

It’s not new for Google to do a boost of fresh content. “Query Deserved Freshness” is a content ranking factor that dates back to 2007. The Caffeine update of last year made it possible, Google said, to gather content even faster, which in turn could potentially be ranked better.

So what’s different now? Apparently, freshness is getting even more rewarded, having an impact on one out of three searches. That’s huge — though it’s unclear what it was before. For all we know, 35% of searches were already being impacted by freshness ranking. The previous number was never stated (and yes, we’re checking with Google on this).

Postscript: Google says the change is providing “fresh” content for twice as many queries as before. In other words, the old “freshness” algorithm had an impact on about 17.5% of queries. Now it impacts double that figure, 35%.

Potential For “Freshness” Spam

There are potential downsides. Sometimes you do want to reward fresh content. But what’s fresh? If someone simply makes a small change to a page, does that give it a fresh boost? If someone reposts exactly the same content on a new page a day or two after initially posting it, is that fresh? Is when the page was first found define freshness, or is the first modified date used?

Does this open Google up to an even worse situation than can already happen with Google News now, where publishers file and refile stories in an effort to win the freshness race there, since the latest versions of stories often get top billing.

Rewarding freshness potentially introduces huge decreases in relevancy, new avenues for spamming or getting “light” content in. Most likely, Google’s going to use a combination of search ranking factors to help qualify when it wants to trust something is both fresh and good.

Google wouldn’t say how “freshness” is being determined, but it did tell us in response to questions that being fresh wasn’t the only thing being rewarded:

Freshness is one component, but we also look at the content of the result, including topicality and quality.

Postscript: Google now tells us that one of the freshness factors — the way they determine if content is fresh or not — is the time when they first crawled a page. So if you publish a page, and then change that page, it doesn’t suddenly become “fresh.”

Freshest Info Still Missing: Twitter

Also unclear is the situation with Twitter. The largest amount of “fresh” information on the web are tweets. Despite the growth of Google+, the volume of tweets happening far eclipses the content there.

Google has been without timely access to tweets since July. It simply cannot crawl Twitter fast enough without receiving the “firehose” of Twitter data to keep up. Today’s announcement does nothing to solve this. Google is only introducing a ranking change, not an indexing change that brings in more tweets.

I asked about this issue, how Google still lacks the Twitter firehose and was told:

Often times when there’s breaking news, microblogs are the first to publish. We’re able to show results for recent events or hot topics within minutes of the page being indexed, but we’re always looking for ways we can serve you relevant information faster and will work to continue improving

35% Change Doesn’t Mean 35% Improvement

A final but important caveat. It’s important not to misinterpret the percentage Google gave out — a 35% change to its results — to mean they are 35% improved.

I saw this the first time we saw Google start talking about a percentage change to it search results, when the Panda Update was said to create at 12% impact. Some assumed that meant a 12% improvement. It didn’t.

We have no commonly accepted way of rating search engine result quality in a numeric fashion. No third party measures if Google or Bing’s results are “90%” good, for example. This means there’s no way to say whether something has improved by a particular percentage.

Google is clear what it means when it puts these percentages out. I’ve never seen them say that they’re to be interpreted as some type of improvement metric. But people do make that mistake — and shouldn’t.

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://www.search-engine-academy-washington-dc.com Nancy E. Wigal

    Even more reason to update content as regularly and as much as you can, assuming your website’s reason for existence allows it.For example when I teach SEO to plumbers, HVAC companies or electricians, there’s just not so much happening in their industries that they can update every single week, but I encourage them to be on the lookout for new events or changes to their industries that they could reasonably comment on in a page on their site.

    Thanks for the post!

  • http://www.propools.com Brian

    Really? I thought freshness was always a key factor in GSR(Google Search Results) not Gun Shot Residue.
    But really, it seems like a big leap to say “freshness” is the most relevant.
    Is this yet another means to shape the way the user, searches the internet?

    Freshness isn’t always the most relevant data point for search.
    For example if I’m looking for the “best slr cameras”, I don’t necessarily want to see the freshest results.
    I want to see the best results, not what Google thinks I should see.
    Isn’t pushing this down to us, just another form of mind control?

    But yet, we should have known this was coming when they announced some time ago about how they would be showing even recent twitter results in their SERP’s.

    Which brings me to segue into this topic which should get more coverage:
    Two Questions:
    1. Is the indexing of FB comments on websites just another area in which SPAM doctors can game the system?

    2. Is Google’s acknowledgement of this indexation a backhanded way of saying, “Hey we’re tracking the comments and we hope your spamming of the comments will overload FB’s infrastructure.”

    I’m not a Google basher, I like Google. But come on already.

  • http://www.pousadasbaratas.com.br Pousadas Baratas

    More one? Panda is so new! Lets go Seos.

  • http://www.artscienceweb.com Justin Howley

    It’s almost as if this is catered towards splog sites in a way. Nancy made a god point, what about industries where there is not much to update. A lot of evergreen content that is great content may suffer because of this.

    Another downside could be sites that update their content because of freshness but add just filler to have quantity than quality because there is a new mandate for it.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/patrickhathaway Patrick Hathaway

    Surely this is a sign that Google is getting better at identifying user intent (or at least thinks it is). Could this be a precursor for the long await update which devalues exact match domains? Or are they just going to wait until every single search phrase possible has its own exact domain?

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan

    This is why crap sites like http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ will continue to rank for tons of keywords it shouldn’t.

  • http://europeforvisitors.com Durant Imboden

    “Google now tells us that one of the freshness factors — the way they determine if content is fresh or not — is the time when they first crawled a page. So if you publish a page, and then change that page, it doesn’t suddenly become ‘f’resh.’”

    So, if I have the definitive page about Widgetville transit fares and I update it when the fares go up, it’s somehow less “fresh” than a new blog post that mentions the fare boost?

    Sorry, Google, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  • http://www.architechsw.com david pavlicko

    I’ve watched Google’s search results go from decent to WTF?! – all in the course of about 6-9 months. Honestly, I’m astounded by how much spam crap is popping up and staying there. I’ve got 2 words for Google and they rhyme with ‘duck goo’.

    btw, what’s up with the new captcha?

  • Paul

    Just to be sure: this algorithm changes is already live as of today/now, correct?

    If so, then none of my websites have been effected at all. Which in turn could mean that Google indeed knows that some, lets say “evergreen”, websites should not be effected.

    @Durant Imboden: the way I read your quote, it specifically says that when you do what you intend to do, that your page WILL be fresh, so the exact opposite of what you think it means.

  • http://www.logicping.co.il Shay

    I think Google didn’t have any reason to delay change like this as in the moment Panda took out most of the “fresh” content out which spammers flood the net with it then we saw a good content but old start showing up.
    the main problem in the SE results of is the if we take the SEO business for example, a good content that was created 2-4 years ago is not relevant any more in many areas of our business today, so if you ( the reader) didn’t forecast this kind of change you probably need to change your profession :-) .

    have a great weekend.

    Barry thanks for the great update site of yours :-).
    see you soon on Jan. 2012

    shay

  • http://kunals.com KB

    Does this mean that recent/latest news topics will be shown. If this is the case, then which one of the results will be shown on the top. Will it be the one which are coevered first or the latest one.

    Search results show related topics based on keywords from Twitter as well. Which would be more user friendly and required feature by the users.

    So, for this will there be some new Meta tag or Schema tag coming up which will need to be specified by websites on webpage that this is the keyword and this is the date time?

  • M.M.

    You’ve made some very good points Barry.

    It will be interesting to see how Google will deal with authoritative scraper sites that get crawled more frequently compared to other sites of lower authority. Enhancing indexation and optimising the crawl budget will become even more important. Fresh or even new content doesn’t mean much if Google cannot spot it and index it quickly. A few ideas about how to make the most out of this update can be found at http://connect.icrossing.co.uk/thoughts-googles-fresh-algorithm-update_7339

  • http://donrhoades.com Don Rhoades

    I will be exploring this for possibilities of reputation repair. If you can make the commitment to content, I don’t see why this cannot be used to publish positive sentiments at such a rate that it can overtake any negatives on the first page. There is however the possibility that an equally committed negative content producer(s) can do the same.

  • http://www.strongwords.ca Jim Huinink

    Of course there`s going to be a torrent of feedback and new information on this over the next few days and weeks but an initial look at results is not all that promising. Take, for example, a search on a newsworthy, fresh phrase like “google fresher.” The results include pages with bad typos (e.g. of one title tag: The Google Fresher Update – its Affect of Recency and Reputation) and results have not changed in a check based on a half hour difference. So no real freshness so far… and even less concern for quality than traditional non-fresh results?

  • http://www.MysticKnotwork.com Matt Beaudoin

    I’m wondering how Caffeine and the other google updates effects small businesses like mine. The information on products isn’t exactly timely. Does this mean we need to constantly change our descriptions and listings to stay ‘recent?’

    I’ve been working very hard to compete, and win, in the online marketplace. I have taken on some VERY large distribution channels and dominate my small pie-slice of the economy. I’m not sure we as a company can invest in reworking our product descriptions, and I am definitely not ready to close and open new lines of knotwork to stay on top of our search terms.

    I know what Google does is to stay the dominant search engine, and I applaud them. It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage time between production and SEO based marketing. It is becoming more cost effective to bypass the search engines and directly interface with our demographic in a proactive manner.

    I wish Google would split its approach. News and Science type topics really depend on timeliness, but products and history type topics depend far more on relevancy…

    I will keep playing this game of catchup, and I know it benefits the netizens at large.
    matt
    Mystic Knotwork

  • http://www.technonstop.com Naweed Chougle

    Thanks for this article!

    This change must have been a cautious one, and should hopefully avoid spam posts making it to the top.

  • http://www.logicserve.com Prasad Shejale

    Freshness doesn’t mean “Authority” !!!! Bible doesn’t add a new / fresh page everyday !!!!

    On a serious note, what yous say is right , there is a good amount of possibility that loads of spam may get written on website with regular intervals (Proportionate to the loss of ranking and traffic ;-) ) at the same time junking it off wouldn’t be right since the full impact and how the algo works will be tested over next few weeks. Thanks though for sharing your thoughts..

  • A.H.

    Good!

    Maybe this will be the kick that their results need. Honestly, this is where google was lacking.

    It’s not difficult to identify which searches are age-relevant. Any decent website should be updated daily anyway.

    Otherwise, there’s always Adwords! Google has already indicated that they would prefer ALL commercial search results to be Adwords. This, along with everything they’re doing is a push towards that. And in theory, it should make the SERP better…for the searchers.

  • http://lesliestrickland.com Leslie Strickland

    I’m happy to see Google updating often and announcing those updates so we have a heads up, but I’ll tell you that these updates are kicking my butt.

    @A.H, I have to disagree with your statement that “Any decent website should be updated daily anyway.” What if your web content isn’t meant to be updated that often? Hotels, some of my main clients, get A LOT of their business from search. However, they are not content marketers and really aren’t meant to be content marketers. Does Google really want 100 million hotels in the US to be updating a blog post or other content on their website daily just to compete in the rankings? These kinds of sites don’t have new products and services they are adding even on a monthly basis. Of course we share the events going on at the hotel – but what if there are only 2 events a year?

    I feel that these kinds of sites are going to be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to “freshness” because the new, quality content does not come naturally — it has to be forced to work. And even then, is it actually beneficial to the user? No, it’s not.

    I know Google is working to improve search results, but I still have my frustrations with some of these updates.

  • http://lesliestrickland.com Leslie Strickland

    Also, another quick note. Content spammers LIVE on freshness by updating crap content at ridiculous rates. How do you compete with that?

    White hat SEO will have to live to fight another day!

  • http://seoptimizacija.com/ Aleksandar Ratkovic

    ” Google now tells us that one of the freshness factors — the way they determine if content is fresh or not — is the time when they first crawled a page.”
    But it’s, like they say, ONE of the factors. Not only factor, So, updating old page could get fresh page, maybe?

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