At the beginning of the month, Google rolled out an update to its search algorithm called Fresh that affects 35% of the company’s search results. In comparison to Panda, another update that only affected 12% of results, the Fresh update is going to impact a substantial amount of users.
The point of the Fresh update was to provide searchers with more timely results, as the name implies. Google’s indexing system, referred to as “Caffeine,” makes this possible through its high-speed crawling of the Internet. Now when a person makes a search for something such as the President’s approval rating, the first results will automatically be ranked with preference given to sites that have recent content.
There are a few kinds of searches that this update impacts. Primarily, it changes searches dealing with current events. Users who see a headline on TV and pop it into Google will no longer see content that is months old at the top of the results. Instead, current events receive a preference. Regularly changing information that isn’t necessarily a current event will also be impacted by the new update. A search such as “What cars have the best gas mileage” will now return the latest information available, whereas before the results might have included an older page that matched the keywords more.
One aspect of search that the new update doesn’t affect is the rankings of pages that contain static information. Information such as who invented the light bulb or when the United States were founded will still rely on the old algorithms. Since this information doesn’t change, it makes sense that the rankings would still be based on how much the keywords of the search matched the page relevance and authority rather than when it was published.
As with any update Google makes to its search algorithms, the Fresh update is designed to help Google’s users out. By favoring content that has been recently updated, searchers will theoretically get the most relevant content first. There should no longer be any need to insert dates into search results to try to narrow the field.
Just as the update helps searchers, it also helps certain kinds of websites. News websites and sites that are generally large and updated frequently will obviously see the most benefit. Any site that publishes material regularly on should see a boost in their rankings, despite the presence of other sites that might have more keyword matches. Early on, the biggest boosts in search rankings were experienced by sites in the news category, as well as brand websites and video websites. A few of the sites that benefited the most were Last.FM, Squidoo and FunnyOrDie. As expected, what these sites all have in common is that they are constantly refreshed with newer content.
For websites who are adversely affected, the best way to counter the hit is to update more frequently on matters that people are searching for. By being the latest to publish content, sites can avoid being labeled “stale” by Google. It is important to note, though, that quality standards still apply, so there should be a balance of relevant and quality content being published. The algorithm accounts for previous versions of a page; so it’s not possible to slightly tweak a “stale” page in order to bump it up the search rankings, don’t even think that something like that will help you get your traffic back.
One interesting aspect of the Fresh update is that even though the focus is on providing the latest content, it doesn’t reintroduce Twitter updates into the results. Google had included Twitter updates into their search results until July of this year. Once the agreement expired, the two companies were never able to come to terms on a new one. With Google’s focus being on fresh content, it seems strange that they didn’t find a way to reincorporate Twitter into the results. With so many news stories being broke on Twitter first, it seems like Google’s Fresh update is still missing a huge chunk of the recent web, no matter how fast the company indexes pages. Even their Google+ social network is still too young to be the source of news like Twitter was which leaves them a bit vulnerable.
The overall impact of the update will be difficult to gauge for the first several weeks. While preliminary data is available, webmasters will adjust their methods in order to climb the search results again. What is clear about the update is that, whether for better or worse, the update has fundamentally changed Google’s search service, once again.