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Google “Freshness” Algorithm Update – November 2011

Current Events, Search Engine Marketing

Google has had an ongoing problem with providing fresh content and until the launch of the “Freshness” algorithm earlier this week they didn’t have a solution – only a series of quick fixes.

During 9/11 when there was a massive number of searches for “world trade center” related terms nothing showed up except outdated informational pages about renting office space and tours. As a result they had to add links directly from their homepage to news sites to divert users away from using their search features.

On the more recent side of the war in Afghanistan we saw better but still flawed search results from Google when news broke about the death of Osama Bin Laden. Google began putting “Google News” in search results years ago to provide up-to-the-minute content at the top of search results that were tied to current events but this fix is only a band-aid on a larger issue.

If you look at the screenshot below (source: Search Engine Land) you will see that while Google News provided people with fresh content the actual algorithmic search results below were about the White House Correspondents Dinner and one of President Obama’s past budget speeches although the user intent was clearly focused on what had just gone down in Pakistan.

Google started to get into a bit of a rut with its search results, pushing down the actual results with Google news, Twitter updates, and other additional features to liven up the search results pages but not the actual search results themselves.

Earlier this week Google announced an actual fix to the problem of outdated content- a “freshness” algorithm update was launched on Monday building off the infrastructure established by the Google Caffeine update. Caffeine did not change the actual search results, it was a new way to collect and index information on the web.

Caffeine was designed to radically change the way that Google indexed content, giving them the ability to quickly index frequently changing content. The update that Google released on Monday is an algorithmic change that will utilize this high-speed indexing system to provide fresh search results.

What impact does this change have? It allows Google to respond to three separate scenarios where fresh content is necessary for a good user experience, impacting 35% of all search results in the process. Quoting from their announcement:

  • 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.

This is a seismic shift in the SEO world, but it wasn’t unexpected. It has been clear for many years that Google wanted to move in this direction for those of us that were prepared the changes have provided a nice boost to organic search traffic.

Regardless of industry there are ways to provide fresh content whether it be starting a company blog, releasing a new product line, or finding some other way to engage your users.

Through this update Google has made it clear that if you don’t start paying attention to your content, you will be left behind.

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