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December 10, 2009

All You Need to Know About Google’s New Feature Updates

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Let me just let you in on a little story I like to call my life in search this week.

For real.

On top of editing and posting the fire hose of liveblog posts and photos coming out of SES Chicago (so much info it’ll make your head explode!), I’ve been flailing to stay above water just to keep up with the changes Google has announced this week.

Since entering the search marketing industry, I’ve often felt like Lucy at the chocolate factory. Wrapping those drops of cocoa heaven in their tidy little packaging, I thought I was getting a handle on the search industry news cycle and was covering announcements as they rolled down the conveyer belt. Thing is, they just dialed up the speed.

So naturally, my logical initial reaction to this information overload is to freak the flip out.

Like myself, businesses are asking a series of important questions:

How is search changing? What does that mean for my Web site? What do I need to do now? And how does Google expect regular businesses to keep up with this madness?!

So what’d Lucy do when faced with the daunting conveyer belt that wouldn’t quit? She stuffed the chocolates in her mouth — where they went on to undergo serious digesting. I’ve had a chance to process and analyze Google’s new features with the help of a few of my favorite BCI SEOs. Now I’ll try to distill the info of highest import and make the business implications of these changes clear.

Google Expands Personalization to All Searchers

Just the Facts

A week ago Google began personalizing search results for all users. Previously, signed-in users were offered personalized search results based on Web history. Now signed-out users will also get custom search results based on the last 180 days of search activity. Google will receive this Web history through a cookie in the user’s browser.

Customized results will be indicated by the “View customizations” link that appears on the top right corner of the results page. Through this link the user is able to turn off customization and view their compiled Web history.

Analyzing Business Implications

Personalization customizes results based on the preferences a user has previously shown. That means that a user is influencing their future results in part based on the sites they’ve visited through search. In this way, there’s a chance that personalized search results can create a system that rewards incumbents, which are likely big name brands.

However, in reality, the negative effects of this should be small. First of all, Google has a limit of two results from a single domain. Secondly, Google will be looking out for this sort of problem and will seek to minimize it. And last, and perhaps most significantly, unique, long-tail queries make up the bulk of queries every month, and a scant few results for those queries are even in the ballpark.

Previous testing on the effects of Google’s Web history personalization suggests that only minor changes occur. Personalized results usually were seen in a re-ranking of the top ten results rather than a totally different set of top ten results. Also, the top three to four results rarely saw shake-ups. The majority of shifts occurred within positions five through ten. And while ranking shifts were definitely identified when personalization occurred, it occurred almost as often when personalization was turned off.

Rather than worrying about how to avoid the effects of personalization, a sound SEO strategy is to adhere to SEO best practices, publish high quality content, and to promote that content around the Web.

Google Releases New Mobile Search Features

Just the Facts

On Monday, Google held an event in Mountain View to showcase some of its upcoming search technology. The two major announcements were the launch of real-time search results (covered in the section below) and the experimental release of new features for mobile search.

Search by voice, search by location and search by sight are the three features Google’s VP of engineering expanded upon at the event and in a follow-up blog post.

Search by voice lets users speak queries to Google and immediately receive search results using the Google Mobile App for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices. This feature originally launched a year ago, but this week Google announced additional language support and its vision of a real-time translator.

Search by location is new feature on Google Maps for Android devices that helps users answer the question “What’s nearby?” After the user selects a location on the map, Google will return a list of places of interest, including restaurants and stores. In the future Google expects to begin delivering “What’s Nearby” results with local product inventory as well.

Search by sight is accessible through the Google Goggles application for Android devices. It lets users submit photos to Google and receive information about the subject in the image, whether it’s a landmark, a book, a place, a logo, or a work of art.

Analyzing Business Implications

What it comes down to is this. People are searching on the go more and more, and Google is providing some incredible tools for them to do so with greater speed and ease. For businesses that means you’ll want to continue to optimize your presence online so these search-savvy users will find you when they’re looking in your neighborhood.

When search by location for products is released, it may be well worth the effort to include your full product inventory on your site. And optimizing your listing for Google Maps and local search is now, as always, an absolute must.

Google Launches Real-Time Search

Just the Facts

The other big announcement at Google’s event this week was the launch of real-time search results. Within the regular search results, users will now see a scrolling box of real-time results for relevant queries. Blog posts, breaking news and Twitter results are among the most frequent results delivered in real-time, along with results from Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, and Identi.ca.

Analyzing Business Implications

The real-time search update in Google is a double-edged sword of sorts. On the one hand it could lead to an online reputation nightmare as your brand could be blasted in the search results with relative ease. Non-real-time results go through an algorithm that requires that social proof in the form of links prove the value of results. Real-time results aren’t held to such a strict standard. The possibility to spam search results and publish high-visibility brand bashing both seem to come with the territory.

To protect against this, a business must engage in active brand monitoring so they’re alerted to any negative content as it shows up online. A fast response time to an unfolding reputation crisis can help diminish the effect when compared to a snow-balling reputation disaster.

On the flip side of the coin, real-time search has its business advantages, too. Just as enemies can use real-time search as a tool for evil, a business can use the tool for good. Instead of waiting for a bot to come by, crawl the content and index it, real-time results can show up for searchers instantly. Take advantage of real-time search by fostering a stream of positive press in real time.

Google Caffeine Coming in January

Just the Facts

This is probably a good time to mention the Caffeine update. Caffeine is Google’s next-generation architecture, which Google says will increase the size of the search engine’s index and improve the engine’s indexing speed, accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Today the Caffeine technology is working on a single Google data center. Google will be rolling Caffeine out in full come January 2010. According to Google, the “new infrastructure sits ‘under the hood’ of Google’s search engine, which means that most users won’t notice a difference in search results.”

Analyzing Business Implications

In anticipation of the upcoming Caffeine update, SEOs are hypothesizing what kinds of changes will be coming to SERPs next month. Google had briefly made a testing sandbox available to developers and SEOs. According to one company’s tests, users saw far fewer results returned, faster load times and some shifts in rankings from the third page of results and beyond.

One explanation for the decreased number of results is an elimination of spam — which is a good thing for businesses publishing quality content on their site as it eliminates competitors using unfair tactics to rank. And the fact that major ranking changes were only seen on the third page and on suggests that businesses have little to be concerned about when it comes to their best converting queries.

The wisest course of action at this point is to continue implementing SEO best practices and a strong content strategy that highlights the expertness and value of your business. You may also want to take a baseline of your metrics today, including rankings, traffic, and conversion data. By taking a baseline before the Caffeine update is live, you’ll be able to notice any major fluctuations following the update. If you do see changes of concern, you can then try to identify patterns and focus your SEO efforts going forward.

Now that we know all about Google’s updates this week, what are the chances they let up on that conveyer belt? All this chocolate’s given me a stomach ache.





4 responses to “All You Need to Know About Google’s New Feature Updates”

  1. greg writes:

    An excellent write-up here. Clear and concise. I’ve been buried under work this week so I hadn’t had time to fully process all of this yet. Thank you!

  2. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Awesome, Greg! That’s exactly how I hoped this post could come in handy. :)

  3. Joseph writes:

    I believe that these Google new feature updates can give user-satisfaction.

  4. Web Development India writes:

    I am happy that someone is alerting on google update and giving us the latest update about google services.
    I heard the Google Caffeine from this post only & now I will be ready for it.
    Thanks Virginia Nussey



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