Completing the Google puzzle, almost

Completing the Google puzzle, almost

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.


  • Darren

    November 4, 2011 at 12:26 am Reply

    Fresh is good. I think this is a good move by Google to satisfy searchers. As they stated in their post, it will be used on specific queries that have been frustrating for searchers.

    • Gianluca Fiorelli

      November 4, 2011 at 12:30 am Reply

      Hi Darren,
      I agree with you: fresh is good. And I am not saying that Google is doing this update without thinking to the benefit of the users. Google needs to have the users satisfied with its Search Engine.
      What I’m saying is that this as also a very practical (and needed by Google) action for its core business: advertisement.

  • Michael Jessop

    November 4, 2011 at 8:21 am Reply


    SEO’s have always seem the value in content and as Google added social to it’s algo, the value of real time information and recent content has become more valuable. For the few SEOs who use anything other than a “content strategy” they will sadly be left behind and IMO that is Google’s natural progression and adheres to Google’s view of offering their users relevant information. As time continues it will be interesting to see what type of search queries get affected.

    Keep up the good work Gianluca! (Big Fan in the UK)


    • Gianluca Fiorelli

      November 4, 2011 at 8:50 am Reply

      Thanks Michael for the support and, yes, I totally agree with about the increasing importance of Content Marketing in a well balanced SEO Campaign. Just one reminder: we have to maintain a balance between all the elements. Technical SEO is still extremely important, because it is was makes your site perfectly indexed and ready to be “digested” by Google and Co.
      And link building is still hugely important on the long term, as it is what at the end provide a site authority and relevance.
      And SocialSEO, because it is the new link building.
      Hope to see you again here commenting Michael 🙂

  • Alessio

    November 4, 2011 at 8:53 am Reply

    Thanks for this post. I really like the “freshness” update by Google. I totally get it when you want something new and not something published in 2003 as first result of a query.
    To me it’s even more important the importance of the author of a post. I mean, when I see something in the serps by Rand Fishkin or Danny Sullivan or you 🙂 I’m more willing to open it up and read it.

    I can say that 2011 is the year of google. The thing that I really would like to see is the integration between twitter and google, 100%. It would be awesome.

    thanks for sharing this!

  • David Brydon

    November 4, 2011 at 9:07 am Reply

    Saw your tweet late last night Gianluca, so was interested to see what you thought. Thanks for bringing together the key points. One thin g that occurred to me whilst reading through your post – give this idea a bit of time to develop in your head.

    Do you think with the whole public notion of profiles rel=author, etc. and the idea of rewarding “trusted” authors on the web, it’s an idea to completely irradicate Spam/scrapers ? Think about it. Spammers will alwaysbe able to create clever profiles to spam the serps but the average Joe on Odesk/Fiverr/mechanical Turk will struggle to get content (often outsourced by bigger companies) to even make the index let alone rank. How many times have we all seen our own content outranked by shoddy copies/ehow, etc. or even a scraped copy ? Might this make thinghs a bit harder (assuming everyone embraces it?).

    And then the flip side would be how is that going to affect the new guy? There’s no reason to think that a new writer/content creator is not worth their salt just because they’re starting out. However, if they try to tap into an already “busy” niche/sector, they may be drowned out by people who’ve simply been around longer.


    • Gianluca Fiorelli

      November 4, 2011 at 9:42 am Reply

      Surely the introduction of rel=”author” is one of the tactics Google relies on in its “war” against spam results.
      And about your fear that new authors without a great authority yet established will not be able to outrank “older” ones… yes, that is surely a possibility. But, if we agree that social signals are the new link building, then you have to consider the outreach part of link building also when doing SocialSEO; and outreach would be reaching the influencers (the older dudes in the games) and have them as authoritative social sharers of your content.

  • […] Fiorelli explored the reasons for the freshness update and some of the history behind it in Completing the Google Puzzle, almost. This snippet from the post puts the change into perspective:Google is an substantially an editor […]

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  • Anonymous Anti Google

    November 6, 2011 at 9:58 am Reply

    But you are SEO experts? I do not think so! You think the ass still flying!
    Google is teasing everyone with that crap of freshness, … pandas and caffeine
    It’s just words invented for detecting seo experts.
    Google wants to create confusion in the webmaster to make sure to carry forward its only product, a source of income, which is Google Adwords.
    They say that between the SERPs and Google AdWords there are reports that AdWords does not affect the results of the SERP. That’s true on the one hand, because if a webmaster pays to advertise in AdWords his web site still has advantages in the SERP.
    But attention is also true that when you do a Google AdWords campaign, and then decide to suspend a job to replace it with SEO, you will see the difficulties that you will find for that placement.
    So watch this sly Search Engine ..
    Bye bye

    • Gianluca Fiorelli

      November 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm Reply

      I never defined myself as an Google expert, but I do SEO since such a long time that I know probably two or three things about it.
      I suggest you to read better the post; even if I don’t assume conspiranoic thesis like yours, I too know how much vital is Adwords and the advertisement market for the Google.
      Finally, to write as “Anonymous Anti Google” and from a masked IP is not really the best way to stand up front defending your ideas, but shows a childish fear to be discovered by someone, maybe Google itself (which surely already know who you are, by the way).
      So… comment approved, but next time post with your name, ok?

  • Angie Schottmuller

    November 6, 2011 at 9:34 pm Reply

    The question becomes, “how fresh is fresh?”

    I like how you called it “Caffeine 2.0”. It’s almost like an inverse… Google got faster about posting their updates, and now they’re expecting web authors to do the same.

    Google needs some lessens in conversion optimization. Continuous improvement doesn’t have to mean a one-way change. An enhanced interface where the user can choose to sort and filter according to their needs would be better than tyrannic puppeteering.

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