Two months have passed since Google announced the release of Google Caffeine, its new web indexing system. Although Google updates its search algorithm an average of once per day, the simple fact that they named this update caused a bit of, shall we say, excitement in the SEO (search engine optimization) community. In the months since the Caffeine update, I’ve had numerous questions from coworkers and clients alike:

  • What does it mean?
  • Should we be scared?
  • Are our rankings and search traffic going to disappear into a black hole?
Image from flickr user Dick Mooran

In all the messaging from Google about this update, this much is clear: Caffeine is an infrastructure change that will allow Google to identify content changes and update their index significantly faster than their previous system.  From the Official Google Blog:

“Caffeine provides 50 percent fresher results for web searches than our last index, and it’s the largest collection of web content we’ve offered. Whether it’s a news story, a blog or a forum post, you can now find links to relevant content much sooner after it is published than was possible ever before.”

Whether it’s an Official Google Blog post like this or one of Matt Cutts’ videos, you always have to read between the lines to find the real story.  Let’s do just that.

By dissecting this snippet and the rest of the Google blog post, it’s clear that they are placing primary emphasis on freshness, with a secondary focus on relevance. Language like, “50 percent fresher,” “much sooner after it’s published,” “relevant content,” and a few others make a strong statement about Google’s understanding of human nature. Let me explain: Who really wants the top items in their SERP (search engine results page) results to be outdated articles from three years ago?  Google knows that people want the latest information, and if we don’t find it through Google, we’re going to turn to a competing search engine until we find what we want—fresh, relevant content.

Google prefers fresh-baked content
Google prefers fresh-baked content (Image from flickr user Let Ideas Compete)

So what does this mean for the average website? It means that Google is likely to“get bored,” with its pages if rich, relevant content updates are not made often.  Google is indirectly messaging here that it is not acceptable for the copy on your website to become stale (no matter how great it is). SEO’s have been talking about freshness for years, but Google’s recent messaging around Caffeine, and the fact that they just completed an enormous and costly infrastructure update centered on freshness, mean that these conversations have suddenly been lent more weight.

Obviously, it’s neither practical nor efficient to rewrite your website frequently just to make Google happy.  And, it’s entirely possible that the content written 2 years ago about your best-selling widget is indeed still fabulous.  That said, maintaining a good SERP ranking now requires that at least some of the page’s content is fresh and dynamic, which indicates to Google that the page is still relevant.

For websites with reviews and Q&A, it’s important that Google can see and read that content.  Make sure that at least a few reviews are included in your primary page for each product or service.  A handful of fresh review content, or questions and answers, can make a significant impact on how Google perceives that page’s freshness.

You should also consider a technique called “integrated blogging” or “stories”. With this method, you proactively share stories about your products or services,  placing snippets of those stories on your product pages.  Each time the snippets change, Google Caffeine will see those updates and once again consider your page fresh, and thus more relevant.

It’s important to note that the other rules of SEO still apply and that freshness alone will not solve the world’s SEO problems.  However, without fresh content, Google Caffeine will get bored with your pages and they will eventually slide into no man’s land.

SEO OpenTable case studyLearn how fresh content through SearchVoice Inline contributed to a 17% increase in OpenTable’s natural search. Read the SEO case study.

SearchVoice Inline contributes to a 17% increase in OpenTable’s natural search

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