Google has recently started to implement a new major update called "the caffeine update" which, at first glance, seems to be bringing changes mostly to the way Google gathers and updates information for their indexes. Google describes this update as the "next-generation architecture for Google's web search". You will find an explanation by Google at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/our-new-search-index-caffeine.html
Based on the information released it appears the main motivation behind this update is to allow Google to work with more up to date information by crawling / visiting websites faster, more efficiently, hence more often, in order to review changes and updates made to any site or document much quicker than at present, and in turn offer more up to date information. It is quite possible that this update will change more in the background, in the way Google works to review and store information but according to them the actual ranking of websites should not change much. Of course, only time will tell.
After spending much time on the web looking for further information it seems quite obvious that the way the search engine displays its results is about to change and has already started to change with most searches now displaying videos, news, maps, images throughout the search result with more additions on Beta version such as a search through your own social medias which I came across a few days ago. Though I am not sure if this is part of the actual update as some of those have started appearing before the news of the update, it seems there are definite changes on the cards.
Google also mentions download speed which may affect ranking of a site. The importance of clean mark up (HTML for instance) may also, at some stage, play a bigger role into ranking, one could speculate. Considering Google seems to be bringing emphasis on the time they spend spidering any document, poor mark up can only result in slowing this process down in the same way it may slow down a browser trying to render a page, having to guess and compensate for poorly formatted mark up.
Could this be the start of web designers living by the W3C’s recommendations (World Wide Web Consortium) being rewarded for the care they bring to their work, lets hope!
For a long time, we have been advocates of producing websites which are W3C compliant for a number of reasons including SEO and download speeds, not to mention accessibility and good practices. Of course this takes more time to produce for something the client won’t even notice in most cases but it may mean better ranking in the future. Not to mention the possibility that the government may one day force companies into having their sites more accessible, after all it is already law with one of our neighbours, the UK.
Based on some reports, regularly updated websites could also be rewarded for their work.
An interesting tool I have found on the web is http://www.comparecaffeine.com/search-ie.php which allows you to view your ranking prior and after the update, I am not sure how accurate this tool is however. I have looked at a couple of searches bringing us visitors and the ranking is pretty much the same.
Caffeine update or not, in the past few days we have received a couple of reports from customers letting us know that their ranking had seen temporary variations. On our own site I have noticed one search where our site normally does well, to being relegated several pages down. Two days later the ranking was back better than it was before.
According to a couple of users on a Google group I use, that is something they have also noticed. Is it related to the update, I am not sure. So far the sites have gone back to their original ranking, in some cases better.
As always, we might have to wait until the dust settles to draw any real conclusions.