Brace yourselves: Google’s gone and unleashed another algorithm change. According to Google, the latest update will affect 35% of search engines– meaning that the latest update is bigger than Panda (which affected just 12%).

While Panda was primarily quality-based, Google’s latest update is all about freshness. In homemade cookies and in web searches, Google argues that fresher is better. The fresher the results, the more relevant the search returns.

Google I/O 2010

If I search for “G.O.P. debates,” for example, the #1 search result is the 2012 Primary Debate Schedule and not a generic Wikipedia article on the Republican party. As Google noted in their blog, an “Olympics” search brings up results for the 2012, 2010, and 2016 Olympics before general articles on the Olympics or the ancient Olympics. In a nutshell, Google’s betting that users are looking for current or updated information more often than historical or generic information.

Running on Caffeine

Google Caffeine Makes Us Happy 

The algorithm builds off of Google’s Caffeine web indexing system from 2010. Caffeine allowed Google to continuously index the web in small pieces as opposed to embarking on massive, time-consuming layer updates. The new index lets Google index mass quantities of data every second– according to Google, if we were to translate the amount of data Caffeine can process in a single second to sheets of paper, the stack would be three miles long.

More indexing means quicker access to fresh content– and the new algorithm allows Google to flex Caffeine’s muscles in its search results.

Three Kinds of Affected Searches

Google’s algorithm announcement contained three kinds of updated search results: recent events, updated fields or topics, and recurring events.

1. Recent Events

If you search Google for “European debt crisis” or “Oklahoma earthquakes” today, you’re probably most interested in the newest updates or information on those ongoing stories. Google aims to present the latest updates in current events.

2. Updated Fields/Topics

There are certain fields– technology, for example– that are constantly being updated. Search for HDTV reviews and you’re probably looking for updates on all televisions, including newly-released models. More recent reviews (with potential bug updates or bigger collections of reviews and ratings) will be more useful to a potential HDTV buyer.

3. Recurring Events

If you’re searching for an event that happens every year (or every four years, such as the Olympics), you’re probably searching for info about the upcoming event– after all, you can’t attend a conference that happened six months ago, right?

If I’m searching for “Comic-Con” or “Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade,” I’m looking for information on the 2012 convention or the 2011 parade– I’ve stopped caring about last year’s events (though it should be noted that a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade search still brings up the 2010 parade– step up your game, Google! It’s almost turkey time!)

What This Means For Us Content Folks

The Fireside Cook Book by James Beard --  first edition (1949) ....item 1..Yom Kippur (5772) begins at sunset October 7, 2011 -- On Yom Kippur we evaluate ourselves ....

It means that fresher is better…for certain things.

Before you get yourself worked up into a freshness frenzy, here’s what the algorithm update doesn’t change for the content industry:

  • Quality is still key. As Google reported to Search Engine Journal, freshness is just one little piece of the algorithm. All other measurements– links, traffic, bounce rates, quality, relevance, etc.– still apply.
  • Minor updates are not changes.
    Don’t tweak a piece of site content to make it “fresh”– Google only considers the date it first crawled a page.
  • Fresh content does not mean spam content.
    I will gladly take one spectacular piece of content over ten half-hearted ones. Users hate spam, hate oversharing, and hate meaningless content. Google always sides with users. Don’t think that frenzied posting schedules will help you win any search engine ranking battles.

If anything, the algorithm reflects our own industry: we regularly produce quality, topical content and the public consumes it. Google’s trying to step in to make our content more visible in a timelier fashion. That means plenty of good news for content publishers, marketers, or writers:

  • Bloggers rejoice: The algorithm will naturally aid sites with blogs– the frequently updated content means a website will always have something new to bring to the Google table.
  • Writers rejoice, too: Google’s newest update means good news for writers, certainly: fresh content isn’t going to write itself, now is it? Let’s hear it for increased job security!
  • Heck, let’s let everyone rejoice: If Google’s rewarding fresh content, it’s acknowledging the swelling content industry– and the public’s demand for timely, quality content.

We’re important enough to induce an algorithm change, people! Let’s bust out the party hats and pop the champagne… and while we’re at it, let’s blog our party ideas and create an infographic to show how we’re celebrating. Surely Google would approve, eh?

Google’s New Algorithm: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

Do you think Google’s new algorithm is a welcomed change or just another way for the engine to mess with our search results? Sound off on Google’s latest news in the comments!