SEO Implications of Google’s “Freshness” Algorithm Change

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SEO Implications of Google’s “Freshness” Algorithm Change


Topic: Google algorithm change emphasizes content “freshness” Challenge:  Achieving freshness visibility on the SERP Channels: SEO Google recently announced an algorithm change that could affect as many as 35% of its organic search results.  When a search query references recent events or breaking news—or when up-to-the-minute content is more useful than older content—Google will provide more visibility for sites with newly-updated content. For example, when someone queries “Yankees Score,” they’re telling Google they want information on the latest Yankees game.  Google’s algorithm is designed to address this—Google is more likely to prominently display recently-updated content at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). What This Means for Marketers The magnitude of this algorithmic shift is quite large; Google’s “Panda” update affected only 12% of search results, while this change will impact 35%.  How will this affect sites—like those of retailers—that don’t have a lot of recent content?  Additionally, how should site content be formatted so freshness is apparent to Google? Google outlined three types of affected search queries:

  1. Trending/Recent Events Queries will be more likely to return content that’s only minutes old
  2. Regularly Recurring Event Queries like TV shows, conferences, and games will return sites that reference the most recent instance of each event
  3. Queries Referencing Frequently-Updated Content like product reviews will be more likely to return the latest reviews

For instance, entertainment and celebrity searches now show up-to-the minute results accompanied by the time the page was crawled.  A November 7, 2011 “Lohan” query returned TMZ content posted as little as three hours before: Freshness1 In contrast, searches that don’t reference current events (like most product and brand name searches) are so far unaffected by the change.  For example, while a search like “Kardashian” will provide very recent information, a search like “car insurance” will yield virtually the same results as before the change.  However, Performics has seen some small modifications to results when the search query is specifically written to express a need for recent information.   For example, a search like “car insurance news” may show one or two date-stamped, first-page results, while “car insurance” shows no date-stamped results. Best Practices for Achieving “Freshness” Visibility In the short term, news sites, entertainment and review sources will achieve higher visibility.  But if you’re in a relatively stable vertical where your visitors’ needs don’t dramatically fluctuate, you’ll likely retain your current visibility and traffic. In the longer term, search behavior may change as searchers continually seek and find the latest content.  For example, product review sites may achieve a revitalized importance in the months to come; or it may become standard practice for retailer sites to provide visitors with the latest info concerning their vertical.  Thus, site owners should:

  • Add content that fulfills people’s freshness needs: The specific nature of this “fresh” content will vary by vertical, but there’s likely information related to your business that searchers would like to know today
  • Provide a reference to a relevant data stream:  This can include Twitter or an RSS feed with industry news
  • Incorporate a comments section to your site: Google recently announced its ability to crawl AJAX and JavaScript content; a lively comments section may convince Google that your site has fresh content
  • Put fresh content on its own URL: Google is most likely to identify fresh content if it appears on its own URL.  Don’t put your latest content on a static URL like Yoursite.com/latestupdates.htm; Google won’t consider content fresh if the URL has been previously crawled for several weeks, months or years.  Constantly updating the content that appears on the same URL will not likely trigger the freshness signal.  A page’s freshness will be determined by the time at which Google first crawled the page, not by how often a page was updated.  This prevents content spam (e.g. updating the same page multiple times in a day).
  • Provide regularly updated XML sitemap files to Google: Sitemaps can be a reliable guide to the information that changes the most often on your site.  They can also conclusively identify the site URLs with the latest-updated content.

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