In the first days of the Panda Update, one thing of the many Matt Cutts said caught my attention: that Google were cooking the update since more than a year before its launch. That note, somehow told in a breath, passed unnoticed as it was something obvious: no big change can be prepared in few weeks or months, it needs time. So, me included, we forgot that “time” indication and started finding what were the Panda Factor.

But today… today Google has announced to have started giving fresher results in search results pages. And that phrase by Matt Cutts echoed in my mind.

What happened in the Google world more than one year before of Panda? Not an update, but a revolution: Caffeine. With Caffeine Google was refreshing the SERPs almost instantly and not in a two weeks frame as before. But such a revolutionary innovation came with a genetic problem; let’s read from the announcement post by Google:

As we find new pages, or new information on existing pages, we can add these straight to the index. That means you can find fresher information than ever before—no matter when or where it was published

No matter when or where it was published, […] add straight … to the index. It is not strange that after few months people were starting complaining about the increasingly worst quality of the SERPs.

Google started to fix the problem, or maybe he already had a plan to follow, having the previous May Day Update probably to be considered the first brick of the Google we know today.

As I was reflecting in Deconstructing Google published in the beginning of March 2011 in the SEOmoz blog (but written few days before the launch of Panda), the problem Google was not only related to thin/duplicated/useless/scraped content, but also to the practical untruthfulness of the trusted seeds. Panda solved, or is trying to solve the first issue, but the second one not yet. I remind you, in fact, that Panda has nothing to do with the Link Graph and technically it is not an update of the algorithm of Google and I remind you how much many of us still complain about the bad quality of SERPs.

So, while we were all stressed out by recovering from the several updates of the killer Panda, Google was following its route.

Why am I saying this? Let’s check out the chronology of the events, helped by the Google Algorithm Change History curated by Dr Pete for SEOmoz:

  1. As a fundamental premise, on December 2010 Google officially confirmed in an interview with Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land that it was using the social signals in determining rankings;
  2. Around the same days Panda is launched, Google changed the interface of the Google users’ profile page;
  3. On March the 30th Google announced the launch of the +1 button. As Tom Critchlow wrote in this post, that little button was meant not just as a frontal attack to the Like one of Facebook, but also a potential strong social signal, therefore able to influence rankings;
  4. On June the 2nd Google, Bing and Yahoo! announced, a clear indication of the semantic web (and SEO) of the next future. This decision may seem having little relation with our theory about the Google Master Plan to fight search spam, but – apart from being the cause of future changes – but…
  5. Just four days after, on June the 6th, Google announced the adoption of the author markup. Are you starting to see the bigger picture? As Google wrote, this markup is meant to help searchers identify high quality, authoritative content. The authors (and the publishers, with rel=”publisher”) are becoming the new trusted seeds. But that is not enough to solve the problem;
  6. June 28th: Google+ is launched, still with limited access, but finally Google jump seriously on the social arena. A social network is a place where people talk and share easily stuff, and stuff in the web means links. More important: Google+, as every social network, is based on the users’ profiles; and the profiles in Google are connected to the authors’ content. That means that more the author is active also in Google+ (and in the other social network Google verifies through the rel=”me” tag in the profile) and added to circles (followed, having friends…) and her content shared, linked in social webs like Quora and others social sites, the more authoritative she will be considered and – hence – trusted.
  7. Along the year, then, Google realized several “updates” to Google News, the main sources for trusted seeds, the most interesting being the evolution of the “Original-Source” tag: “Standout” and the “Syndication-Source” ones. These news are important because help refining not only the quality of Google News, but also the organic search, as site like Search Engine Land (not a traditional newspapers/magazine) use them;
  8. Starting on July the 31st the Google Profiles are all public;
  9. On September 21st Google+ is free for all (remember the big arrow?);
  10. October the 27th, Google Apps users can finally use Google+. That means that businesses (like Ford is testing) soon can start interact with “normal” users on Google+ and see their content shared and +1 ;
  11. That same day, Google allows searchers to interact with the authors’ snippet in the SERPs. Now they can +1 and add them in their Google+ Circles. Another way to add social signals to the authority of a potential trusted seed;
  12. Today, November the 3rd, Google launch “Freshness Update” (or Caffeine 2.0)… the circle seems closed, or maybe we are going to start again this play.
So, what? That probably what we are assisting is a ultimate attempt by Google to scale its business.
Let’s try to see from a distance the whole panorama.
Google is an substantially an editor (even it will never recognize it) that sells ad spaces, and Search is still its main product to sell toward the advertiser. So Google needs to have the best product to continue selling ad space. That product was ironically endangered by Caffeine. With Panda Google tries to solve the content issue and with the Social Signals linked inextricably to the Authors and Publishers tries to solve the obsolescence of the Link Graph.
Caffeine 2.0 seems to prove that now Google is confident enough of the quality it can offer in its SERPs, which is probably not such a good choice from what experts like Rand Fishkin here and Alan Bleiweiss here noticed, even though it is still to soon to judge the change.
But, as the first Caffeine led to all this, where could lead the new Caffeine? Honestly, I don’t know… but I would not exclude that it will have an effect to all those topic that are essentially mainstreams: music, fashion, events, movies… if you notice, all things that fit very well shared in a Social Network.
Ah! by the way, the biggest news today – IMO – is not the “Freshness Update”, but the integration of YouTube in Google+ as the crystal clear declaration of intents by Google about its future.