Google Caffeine Significantly Alters Rankings in Some Cases

With first-page results being different in 15 percent of the cases

A short while ago, Google released a testing version of the new indexing engine and infrastructure changes it planned to launch in the coming months. Because of the extensive nature of the changes, Google wanted to make sure parties affected had enough time to get acquainted with how things worked and provide feedback. Now a study by search and online marking firm 360i confirms what most have been expecting, as the “Caffeine” engine will affect the ranking for most searches and there are also other, more subtle, effects as well.

“[W]e’ve evaluated rankings for a sample set of 40 retail keywords. We looked at ten major retail brand names (keywords), ten retail head terms (single keywords), ten retail torso terms (two-word phrases) and ten retail long-tail phrases (four-word phrases) and compared the search results on the first three pages of both engines (standard Google and ‘Caffeinated’ Google),” Mike Dobbs, group director SEO, and Martha Mukangara, SEO analyst at 360i, explained the study.

The study found that there would, indeed, be quite a difference in the results for the two versions of the search engine and the first-page results (the first ten) differed almost 15 percent of the time. What's more, overall, the first position for the keywords will change almost 17 percent of the time. The biggest changes will be for the first-page results for queries containing one or two keywords, as these will be different in almost 50 percent of the cases.

Other things that the analysts noticed were related to the change in the index size for most queries. For single-word keywords or brand names, it looks like Caffeine will bring up results from a much bigger pool of web pages, meaning that the competition should increase, but also meaning that users are likely to get more accurate results. On the other hand, queries made up of three or more keywords will draw from a smaller result pool, so the content on the pages will have to more closely resemble the query.

Another change that could have a significant impact on regular users is the shift in focus for social searches with less emphasis on blogs and collaboration sites like wikis and more on multimedia ones like photo or video-sharing websites and social networks. While the results are interesting and could prove useful, they may become obsolete, as Caffeine is still very much under development and the final version may not reflect the current one.

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