The paradigm of SEO is the consequence of its misuse. But that's what Caffeine is for - to clean up the mess. Of course there's good SEO, but anyone in the field has seen entire industries centered on paid and reciprocal link building. Not that either practice is inherently bad, they're just no longer sustainable. With Google Caffeine changes beginning to roll out over the past few months I've witnessed the proverbial rug being pulled out from this market. Unnatural links just no longer carry the weight they used to. This isn't a gradual shift - this is happening right now on a very large scale. The full Caffeine launch is coming soon or so the rumor goes.

Google-Caffeine-Logo.jpgFrom the recent SEO chatter I'm hearing, the unofficial word is Caffeine is live on over 80% of Google's data servers. Apparently the infrastructure is set and it's a matter of observing and testing datasets now. I've already noticed quicker more efficient indexing and fresh content rising much faster to the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Which is nice.

The last we heard from Google's Matt Cutts on the subject was a blog entry back in Novemeber:

"I know that webmasters can get anxious around this time of year, so I wanted to reassure site owners that the full Caffeine roll out will happen after the holidays. Caffeine will go live at one data center so that we can continue to collect data and improve the technology, but I don't expect Caffeine to go live at additional data centers until after the holidays are over."
Well since Cutts' update, the holidays have long passed and webmasters are starting to see funny little occurrences in both site analytics and search results. This can only mean one thing, Caffeine is here - or at least a soft version.

While Google has always made significant progress in identifying and removing systematic "cheaters", these changes to the algorithm are more than a line drawn in the sand. Things like hidden text, unnatural keyword density and those comma separated lists are being heavily penalized. Sure, the buying and selling of links will continue, but as the masses catch on to the recent ineffectiveness of these practices it is inevitable clients will abate.

To avoid speaking too soon (and there are still many unknowns and no official word from the Big G), I've been holding off on publishing this article for weeks. I'm still trying to get a handle on some of the odd fluctuations in site metrics attributed to what's undoubtedly bits and pieces of the Caffeine implementation. If you follow Google's patent activity, there's been some interesting recent activity in the area of phrase-based indexing. This could perhaps be a clue to what webmasters are witnessing as significant traffic drops relating to "long-tail keywords". Because Google remains so tight lipped on the roll out, everything is a best guess (that's my official disclaimer).

There have actually been websites set up to provide side-by-side comparisons between the old and new Google algorithm, including comparecaffeine.com and comparegoogle.com. The funny thing is, when I go to these sites now I can't seem to differentiate "old" and "new" anymore. Hmmm.

Compare-Google-Caffeine.pngAs early as March, we began witnessing significant changes on a week to week basis in indexing discrepancies - not to mention another TB (Tool Bar) PageRank update. It would be easy to associate many of these changes with the PR update, although I think it's clear we're seeing more than that. Like almost everyone else, amid the flurry, our entire web staff at EZlocal has taken a baited breath wait and see approach. So far so good, our site has been a beneficiary.

We've almost doubled our indexed pages in less than six months and the Google bot is crawling deeper and more feverishly than ever. As of January this year, we're up to over 1,400,000 pages crawled with expectations of an accelerating pace here forward. From our end it's hard to pinpoint exactly how much of this might be attributed to Caffeine changes as during the same time period we've also taken significant steps to restructure our site map along with a few notable homepage and navigation tweaks aimed at opening up logical "crawling channels" to fresh and unique deep-content in as few clicks as possible (three clicks is our benchmark). We also added a real-time interactive KML map to boost indexing of any action related to our business profiles including photo uploads, reviews, new data added, etc. Google loves aggregating map information and not enough sites are taking advantage of this.

So what does Google's new Caffeine algorithm want to see?

There is general agreement on what a full scale roll out of Caffeine might include and what we can expect to see. I suggest re-examining the content on your site for freshness and uniqueness. You can also leverage your social media presence to diversify your link portfolio. I'm also in the camp of relevancy trumping links, but the two go hand in hand. When you're developing a link building strategy target some quality and highly relevant backlinks. Take into consideration the link text and position in regards to textual content on the page. Audit your user interface and code, optimize images with related non-spammy meta-tags (GIFs or PNGs for smaller files and JPEGs for larger more detailed images), purge unnecessary duplicate content and take steps to increase page load speeds - there's a direct correlation in site speed and indexing.

Our recent server upgrade yielded a 900% page loading speed increase and depth of indexing shot up immediately. The spiders don't like to hang around and waste time. These are just a few quick tips; sustainable organic growth requires a commitment to unique and valuable content creation on a regular basis and the wherewithal to deliver it effectively. In a nutshell, the key to the new Caffeine algo is to build reputation and authority.

Back in August, Google had the following to say regarding it's perspective on quality search engine performance (hinting at it's Caffeine ambitions) ...

Google-algo.jpg Perhaps the only thing to note here can be pulled right out of webmaster central, "compute how reputable those pages are". I'm seeing this essentially translate to relevancy now expanding to include new kinds of citations from a host of social networks and community driven pages delivered into blended results (first introduced by Google in May of 2008). These parameters include a new real-time collective measuring of input from a host of content sources including relevant sites, established sources like Wikipedia, blogs, press releases, social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to name a few, as well as video sources (favoring YouTube). How heavily will the real-time data stemming from location-based "check-in" models be weighed? Perhaps quite a bit.

From the user standpoint I'm seeing emphasis on blended real-time results. In a sample Google search I did for bp oil spill, page one results included a blend of press releases, videos, trusted sources (newspaper and .gov), as well as a scrolling real-time feed featuring a combination of popular social media updates and breaking news stories.

Google-Caffeine-SERP.jpg

The new approach catering to Caffeine appears to favor a more altruistic SEO model and rightfully so. Marketers will need to shift priority and think "relevance" rather than just links. Effectively deliver quality content - the high-level perspective is really that simple. Qualitative not quantitative, although if you can quantify quality you may be on to something. The old adage "build it and they will come" has more merit now than ever. I'm willing to bet most people already knew this was an important ranking factor, but what's more interesting is how Google Caffeine is using brand new parameters to measure it.

To successfully adapt to the new blended search results we're seeing out of Caffeine it's going to be really important for SEO companies to push clients into the social realm. There are far too many opportunities to be missed with the advent of the Facebook "Like" feature and Twitter's "Places of Interest". I like these social links better than traditional links because they're related to a specific user and open up all new gateways to social sharing and traffic. There's so much promise, we added the new Facebook Recommend feature to over 16 million business profile pages in our EZlocal search directory.

It's not going to be easy to fool Google anymore. To rank well in a Google Caffeine world, you need to think about how you can encourage other people to want to link back to you within a meaningful context.

I also have a feeling Matt Cutts is due for an appearance on the subject. In the meantime, stay tuned. My next article topic will go into greater depth regarding local-social optimization factors and how this will play an even greater role in the new SEO world of Google Caffeine.
May 3, 2010





Dave Cosper is Vice President of EZlocal. With over a decade of experience in sales and marketing, he oversees all aspects of marketing, product development and client services efforts. Dave has been instrumental in the early success of EZlocal, introducing innovative products and marketing programs from the ground up.

An expert in local Internet-search marketing, he has spent significant time with Local SEO competitive analysis and management of digital media across Local Search.

He has been a key contributor in various companies through start-up, survival, turnaround and growth modes. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Iowa State University of which he credits his outside-of-the-box creativity.

You can find Dave on Google+, LinkedIn, and Slideshare.






Comments(11)

I went through a lot of different top results for veriety of "<city name> hotels" combinations in Google. It seems that results are of somewhat poor quality with many dodgy sites making it into very first rankings. For instance parishotels-discount .com and parishotels247 .com appear high (#5 & 6) for "Paris hotels" and have tons of cheap link pages links and comments spam with "paris hotels" anchor pointing to them. I’m not even saying anything about the design. This case seems to be quite common. I haven't seen this for many years. Our legitimate site with many hard earned links built over many years is completely purged out of the index for all "<city name> hotels" combinations as of this weekend.

Coincidentally Google's share price seems to be struggling with now hitting its 200 days median average for the first time in many months. I wonder what will happen when folks realise that the quality of search results has deteriorated.

I also think same as Google's Caffeine is already there but not 100% and no official word from the Big G, Seems quality of the results is not upto the mark with all combination from trusted resources, real time results, polls as well as web results..

May be google is getting feedback and it will keep is refining to provide better results....Fresh contents have been seen ranking and indexed very fast which is true and CSS based fast opening sites is another factor

All kinds of new things happening over at Google. Most visibly the new logo refresh and Bing-like sidebar update a few days ago - which I like a lot. I read a pretty interesting PR this week about Google going on the acquisition spree for sites who aggregate third-party airline tickets and flight info. Supplying these types of real-time updates was exactly what Bing was hoping to corner. It's a fierce turf battle out there in the search engine world. Same goes for the local search space as well.

So let me ask you. Google's changed a lot to local search i.e. searches in South Africa. Where people can't actually search on the local only section anymore, you now have to search globally before you get local results...

How is this a good thing, and how does Google allow updates like this to occur?
for one, if I'm searching Google.co.za (i don't want results) from the UK. Now I have to get results from the UK first before I can tick the option of SA only.

Have you heard anything re this? Possible updates?

Nice article, I think you hit the nail directly on the head. Although Google Caffeine should be called social caffeine...I think you conclusions are 100% correct. My ongoing SEO clients that we have taken a more diverse social media approach have done much better than the typical type of links. Either way, my thought is to stay white hat, market your business online and build your brand and the organic visitor growth will follow over time...

I was interested to read your comment about Caffeine appears to favor a more altruistic SEO model. Whate exactly do you mean by 'altruistic' in this context, as the usual meaning of the term doesn't seem to make any sense here?

Surely all internet marketing has always been about relevancy rather than just links? Links has always been a part of the equation, and remains so, but content was and remains central to SEO.

I had believed for some time that Caffiene was an infrastructure update rather than algo based, a week ago I would have said your were speculating but after a massive spike in spidering I have a drop in one or two long established websites, I suspect over optimisation is the culprit and this must be a change in Google so now my mind is open.

Mark C, thank you for the comment - I can see where there can be some confusion. Within the context: "The new approach catering to Caffeine appears to favor a more altruistic SEO model and rightfully so", I was using the term 'altruistic SEO' to point out that an 'ethical white hat' approach matters now, more than ever, as bad practices are being penalized with greater significance. Google is essentially attempting to clean up the mess and I've seen sweeping changes across the board as recently as in the last three to six months.

Shaun P, there is most definitely algo changes associated with the Caffeine roll-out. You can monitor some of this activity on Google with commands like site:, or the inurl: method to track progress. GWT is also pretty useful for this.

Great article, very informative! While the BP oil spill screen shot above offers a great example of the new multi-media blend, a search with more locally defined keywords does not result in much beyond the Google 10 pack and your typical results. For a locally based small business, do you anticipate a focus on maps, videos, blog posts, images, etc is still important with Caffeine and will eventually show up more in SERPs?

Beth W - thanks for the feedback. While I can't link to it in the comment section, I previously wrote a piece on the very topic of local search - mostly pertaining to Google. The article is on SearchEngineGuide under the title: "Optimizing Your Business Listing for Local Search Supremacy" ... look under Popular Articles. In terms of Local Search, the only thing I would add to the referenced article pertaining to Caffeine is a more weighted emphasis on real-time "check-in" features across some of the most popular social sites like Twitter, Foursquare and a soon to be released feature on Facebook. We've yet to see the real ramifications of this on the SEO side, but I see a lot of integration in the near future -- call it an educated hunch ;)

For Professional Photographers this is turning into a nightmare.

In fact we are seeing our pages disappear from Google all together. Especially the images. I, along with many other Professional Photographers make our living on having our images seen. Since the update most if not all of our images have been dropped from Google.

Check out this thread in the Zenfolio Forum.. a site dedicated to hoisting Photographers pages. A very SEO aware site that many professionals use. Of the thousands of members and over a million images.. at last count Google only had 460 images indexed. And its dropping. ( http://forums.zenfolio.com/forums/t/5703.aspx?PageIndex=1 )

This is a nightmare for those of us who take pictures , but aren’t experts in SEO.

Gene Inman

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Search Engine Guide > Dave Cosper > New SEO Practices for a Google Caffeine World