As we’ve discussed before, Google (and other search engines) are continually tweaking their search algorithms in an attempt to make search results more relvant to what the user is actually searching for. How they do this is closely guarded and always moving, but we suspect there is some component of Sangria and Voodoo involved.
Most of the time these changes are relatively small and incremental. They help weed out the black-hats and spammers, and
Google is in the process of a major overhaul of their algorithm. Stop and read that again: Google is in the process of a MAJOR overhaul of their algorithm. This WILL impact us. This revision is called “Caffeine” (no, really, they’re calling it “Caffeine”, really).
Caffeine results are different from standard Google-Today results. If a web page was previously near the top of Google’s results, it might not hold that spot in the Caffeine results. What’s more, the “competition” is getting some help.
Google has been trying to get “local” with their results. They do this by using data from Google Gears (which provides “course” location based on IP address, cell phone towers, and known wi-fi hotspots in range) and from a user’s “saved location” settings. I suspect they’ll also pull in information from other sources to help determine where the user is “probably” located.
In many, but not all, cases, “local” searches are revealing different, lesser-known companies in the top result positions. Companies (like ours) that have generated business through search results might not be happy to hear that.
Caffeine isn’t “finished” yet, but it’s obvious that Google has branched their algorithm and is devoting the majority of their “search mojo” to improving Caffeine and “getting it right”. This means that Caffeine becoming the “stock” algorithm for Google isn’t so much a question of “if” but “when”.
You can read Google’s blog entry about Caffeine here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/08/help-test-some-next-generation.html
You can try out Caffeine here: http://www2.sandbox.google.com/
Be advised, when visiting the Caffeine sandbox, the sandbox may be down while the “Googlers” (their word, not mine) are making changes, and the search results you get now might not be the same results you get when they “go-live” with the new algorithm (or even in a few hours after they’ve tweaked it a little).
What does this mean for us and our competitors?
First off, from what we can tell, Google is cracking down even harder on people trying to defeat the system. That means people who are paying for links, or using black-hat (maybe even gray-hat) techniques will likely see the relevance of their pages drop. That’s good for us since we are stricktly white-hat.
Next, since location based searching is becoming the “next big thing” in search, it should please you all to know that most (not all) of our sites have geo-location built in. Some sites include geo-location in the header meta data, others have geo-locations (via hcard address microformats) built-in to various pages (the BackyardsInc.com Store Locations page, for example).
Lastly, it reinforces the company’s commitment to SEO/SEP. We can never rest on our laurels and be complacent once we “rank well”. We have to continue to move and adapt to the changing world around us. So far we’re doing fairly well, but we’ll need to keep on keepin’ on to ensure that we have a chance to maintin our current positions, let alone to improve upon them.
I look forward to your questions and comments.
(Hat tip to Mike Dopp for finding the Sandbox and getting the ball rolling on the Caffeine changes.)