Now that Google’s sandbox beta engine has stabilized – it was previously too volatile to run comprehensive and accurate testing – we’ve evaluated rankings for a sample set of 40 retail keywords. We looked at ten major retail brand names (keywords), ten retail head terms (single keywords), ten retail torso terms (two-word phrases) and ten retail long-tail phrases (four-word phrases) and compared the search results on the first three pages of both engines (standard Google and “Caffeinated” Google).
40 Retail Keywords Used in the Analysis
Six things stood out to us as notable differences that could impact marketers when Google makes the switch.
1. Domains and rankings will fluctuate.
How much would a shift from Google in its present state to Google Caffeine affect search rankings for your keywords? Our prediction: substantially. Our exercise shows that rankings would definitely experience a shake-up.
In comparing Google now (Decaf) to the future (Beta Caffeine) against our sample keyword set, we found a significant percentage change for domains across various positions (see chart below).
While 40 retail keywords do not comprise a huge sample size, this exercise shows first page rankings (1-10) shift about 15 percent in Caffeine. Looking at only the head and torso keywords, these one and two-word phrases saw up to a 50 percent difference in the domains appearing within results 1-10*.
* Percentage Gained/Dropped represents the percentage of domains that ranked in Decaf and no longer appeared in results on Caffeine for these positions.
2. The index size, or “competition,” of single keyword search relevance will increase.
Your domain will compete against a larger pool of web catalog pages indexed for single word brand or head terms. It appears that Google will index more pages on the Web, so the potential “results pool” will be greater and thus more competitive for those trying to get to the top of the page. This adds value for searchers because it will ideally increase the accuracy of results.
3. You’ll see a boost in relevance for long-tail searches.
In contrast to the increased number of pages being indexed for single word brand and head terms, the index size for multi-keyword phrase searches in Caffeine appears to yield less competition via Google’s Web catalog / Index. Therefore, if Google were to get a “Caffeine” jolt, your pages would likely compete against a smaller pool of pages for more exacting searches. This might be the key to Google’s logic when it comes to improving accuracy. This could also give larger brands an advantage for their product and deep level pages, which could potentially see a boost in relevance for long-tail searches.
4. You’ll get results (SERPs) in half the time, on average.
While it would be hard to notice with the naked eye, the new engine appears to generate SERPs in half the time. This would improve usability and user experience on Google. After all, searchers want accuracy– but they also don’t like waiting around.
5. Blended results will increase.
Expect the average number of Universal listings to increase slightly within the first three pages of results. This includes blended instances of video, news, images, books, blogs and local search results. Google’s Caffeine will have a greater consideration for Google’s other vertical databases, or those outside its standard web catalog.
Text/Web Listings VS Percentage of other Universal Listing Types:
6. There will be a social jolt.
Overall, Google Caffeine would have more social media listings compared to Google Decaf due to a lift in YouTube listings.
Looking at the differences more closely, Caffeine currently appears to be indexing less “Communication” sites (i.e. blogs, message boards and review sites) and “Collaboration” sites (such as Wikis and directories). However, it is indexing more “Multimedia” sites such as video/music/photo sharing sites and “lifecasting” social sites such as Facebook for the keywords we tested.
- Communication: Blogs, microblogs, social networking, “answer” sites, message boards, etc.
- Collaboration: Wikis, Directories, Office Apps, Social Bookmarks, and generally any site designed for document publishing and revision
- Entertainment: Virtual worlds, online games, and generally any site designed for an entertainment experience
- Multimedia: Video sharing, photo sharing, lifecasting, music and audio sharing sites, etc.
What does all of this mean for marketers?
Marketers will need to keep a close eye on their own set of keywords and determine how results change if a switch-over does takes place. Since this is not an algorithm update, altering your best practices or natural search tactics drastically is not recommended. However, if your keywords shift in rank, you will need to refresh your strategy and focus in on any results drop-offs, or take advantage of subsequent wins.
We reviewed a relatively small sample set of keywords for this test and Caffeine is still in beta, so it is possible that the differences outlined here could change before the launch of Google’s updated engine. Nonetheless, it’s clear that with Caffeine, Google is trying to improve the search experience with faster, more relevant results from a wider swath of the Web’s content. This is good news for everyone – Google, consumers and marketers.
-Martha Mukangara, SEO Analyst at 360i, contributed to this report.