The Continual Search for the SERP Utopia

By Lorianna Sprague, SEO Specialist

On November 3rd, 2011, Google released “Freshness” – an update based off of their Caffeine web indexing system. Caffeine was completed about a year ago to allow Google spiders to crawl and index the internet and identify new and relevant content more quickly. Freshness is an update to the ranking algorithm, and effects the following types of queries:

Google Freshness Best Digital Cameras SERP
Frequent Updates
Google Freshness Presidential Election SERP
Recurring Events
Google Freshness Occupy Wall Street SERP
Current Events
Hot Topics
Hot topics



According to the Google Search blog, this will effect 35% of queries (NOTE: that is QUERIES not KEYWORDS). According to a November 7th update to the original blog post, that 35%, when discussed in the same terms as the Panda update, actually translates to 6-10% of searches being noticeably affected. The key word in that sentence is “noticeably”, which means the change is significant enough that the average Google user would notice. Most users will not realize the change in their SERP’s.

What’s the difference between a query and a keyword? A keyword is anything and everything, and, by definition, there are no limits to the numbers of keywords “out there”. A query is a string of one or more keywords that is entered into a search engine in search of something on the web (at least, for the purpose of this article, that’s what a query is). A query is finite – only so many queries are entered into the Google search engine on any given day. By logical deduction, the keywords most affected by Freshness are the ones queried most frequently. Let’s create a hypothetical to illustrate this:

Let’s pretend, for this scenario, that there are only 26 keywords in the whole world. We are going to take those 26 keywords, with varying popularity/search query volumes and we will call them Keywords A through Z. For the purposes of this example, Keyword A and Keyword B are going to fall into one or another of the Freshness categories stated above, and Keywords C through Z are not going to fall into any Freshness category. Percent of Queries Affected by Google Freshness Update

Keyword A may get 2,000,000 queries
Keyword B may get 500,000 queries
Keywords C-Z may get 4,642,857 combined queries

2,000,000 + 500,000 + 4,642,857 = 7,142,857 total queries (100%) from 26 keywords (aka, every keyword in the world)
(2,000,000 + 500,000) / 7,142,857 = 35% of queries from top 2 keywords (or, all keywords affected by the Freshness update)

So, the stuff people care about the most is what has been most affected. It is not immediately obvious when a search has been affected though, and, for the ones that are affected, it is not always to the same degree. Google Trends is showing “raiders chargers” and “Sandusky” as two of the top search queries on November 11, 2011, but, as seen below, the number of time-annotated results, or obviously “Fresh” results, is different for each, and the most recent is not always the most relevant according to the Freshness-impacted results, and not all of the most recent Google News results show up in Universal results.

Google Freshness Sandusky News SERP
"Sandusky" News SERP
Google Freshness Sandusky Universal SERP
"Sandusky" Universal SERP
Google Freshness Raiders Chargers News SERP
"Raiders Chargers" News SERP
Google Freshness Raiders Chargers Universal SERP
"Raiders Chargers" Universal SERP








According to the Google blog article referenced above:

Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today’s world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old.

Google Freshness "raiders chargers" SERP
Nov 14 Raiders-Chargers SERP

So, while fall-out for this algorithm change seems inconsistent, it is, in fact, not. The Freshness update means that Google is deciphering context, and intent behind searches in such a way that it is serving unique SERPs for different queries – even queries of the same type, which have been categorized as “most affected” by the Freshness update. So, while last night’s football game may, by some standards, be less important “news” than the Sandusky debacle, searchers want to know what happened with the game as soon as possible – so Google is going to serve them more up to the minute news and articles on this topic – to the point that the SERP is almost all results from the last 24 hours or less. Now, a few days later, the SERP for “Sandusky” is showing more recent content than the SERP for “raiders chargers”, which makes sense. The Raiders-Chargers game is now old news as the NFL season  moves forward, and the Sandusky “hot topic” is continuing to unfold and develop.

Google Freshness "Sandusky" SERP
Nov 14 "Sandusky" SERP

Another change that is showing up on some results, but not all, are annotation links directly to articles within the SERP result domain. But these are not site links. According to SEOMoz’s November 3rd White Board Friday these links may be pulled from RSS feeds. I would love to know how they came up with that because some of these annotated links are not coming from RSS feeds – at least as far as I can tell. So, I don’t know where Google is pulling them from. For the query “dates of presidential primaries” there are annotated links under a result that go directly to 2012 Presidential Primary articles. I don’t think there is an RSS feed for these, but, because they are being updated regularly with information about the debates, and other information, I think Google is pulling them as “Fresh” content. But, that is just me trying to find a correlation. I could be wrong.

Google Freshness Presidential Primary Dates SERP
Dates of Presidential Primaries

To stay on top of search results for queries for topics that change regularly, you need to be providing regular, relevant and fresh content. This doesn’t appear to affect keywords that would land searchers on your top converting product pages where fresh content is not relevant, but it will affect whether the article written about your amazing product still shows up at the top of results for new queries. This may reduce referral traffic that converts well once it reaches your site.

What can you do? Well, if you don’t currently have a content marketing strategy it is time to make one. Create an editorial calendar, or a list of topics that follow general trends over the year ahead, and make sure you are constantly creating content either on your site, or guest writing for other sites to get referral traffic.

Also, the Freshness-effected search results are not always in chronological order, which means there are other factors involved than release or publication date and time. It is likely that Google is tying in social validation factors, which they seem to continue to do with many of the changes they have made to their search algorithm recently. So, make sure that your content is easily shareable, and make sure you ask people to share (because we all know this improves conversion). It’s amazing what you can get if you just ask.