Google Freshness Update Affects 35% of Queries

On their Inside Search blog, Google has announced that they’re making an update to their search engine algorithm that affects up to 35% of searches. This update is specifically targeted at recent events and hot topics that are subject to fast change, and also some other events in which timeliness is important.

Fresh Strawberry
Fresh Strawberry

Now when the Google algorithm suspects that a search is something for which you’ll want truly timely information, it will rank posts by not just date, but also by hour and minute in an attempt to give you only the very latest information. Google has targeted three types of searches that trigger their new Freshness rankings:

  • Recent Events: this particularly includes news items. If an earthquake hits you can expect searches to rank up-t0-the-minute posts. In addition to news, you can probably expect things like celebrity gossip to fall into this category.
  • Recurring Events: in this category Google will try to identify searches that are for a regularly recurring event (the Olympics, a TV show, elections, earnings reports, etc) and will assume that you’d rather see information about the most recent or the next occurring event. Thus if you’re searching for information on the Olympics with no qualifying date information, Google will assume you really want information on the next upcoming Olympics, rather than the 1900 Olympics.
  • Frequent Updates: from Google’s description here it looks like they’re targeting product reviews pretty specifically, and giving preference to more recent reviews under the assumption that they will provide the most recent information about the product.

Impacts of the Freshness Update

While something affecting 35% of searches sounds pretty huge — after all the Panda update only affected 12% — it appears that this update isn’t as large as it sounds. 35% of searches doesn’t mean 35% of keywords. A lot of the news type items that are affected are keywords that are searched a huge number of times, which brings us up to that 35% mark.

The two types of sites that are likely to be most affected by this change are news sites and affiliate sites. News sites will be encouraged to provide multiple smaller updates on any breaking news items, rather than larger more comprehensive news coverage, so that they can remain in the search results for breaking news. Affiliates will have to spend more time on their content creation, especially the incredibly popular review affiliate model (in which a site reviews a lot of products and provides recommendations with affiliate links).

Product/company/service reviews are now going to come with an expiration date on them. You can no longer just build links to your review page and expect it to hold its ranking. With the new update, less linked sites with more recent content will have the ability to outrank older, more linked reviews.

In both situations what this likely means is that we’re going to see a lot of sites that are competing for these big terms beginning to produce more frequent and lower-quality content. In particular we’ll probably see the exact same content spun and restated in different ways every month/week/day/year to provide a “new” version that has the ability to rank in the Freshness algorithm.

I think that this update is probably good for popular breaking news, but in the end is probably going to just muddy the waters for things like reviews.