Extra, Extra: Google Launches New Organic Search Algorithm to Emphasize Breaking News!

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COVARIOGoogle is very busy these days. In addition to the recent changes announced for how paid search advertisements will be listed, Google also rolled out a major change to the way organic search listings are ranked—the new Freshness Algorithm.

(This article was cowritten by Covario SEO Director Amanda Barnes, whose bio is below.)

The goal of this change is simple. For queries conducted by searchers where information changes constantly—which Google estimates is about 35% of the queries—there is a new rendering of the organic results page starting with “news for QUERY.” Two examples are used below: “greek debt crisis” which is obviously going to have recent news and “the history of money,” which is not.

Why Is Google Doing This?

Speculation is that this is a strategic response to Facebook and Twitter—i.e., provision of real time information through directed queries on relevant topics (as opposed to open stream of incoming information, albeit timely, from competing social media platforms). Also, at a technical level, Google is rolling out some new technology to Googlebot that helps the system better index AJAX/Java Script commenting systems like Facebook, along with Google+.

What Is the Impact?

Google indicated that it would impact 35% of search queries. To be more specific, queries that will be impacted fall into three categories:

Recent Events and Hot Topics. This includes examples of breaking news, socially trending topics or sports scores and related information.

Regularly Recurring Events. Political elections, annual or periodic conferences (Davos, WEC, G10, or even… INFLECTIONPoint) where there is repetitive and predictable query volumes that require monitoring.

Frequent Updates. This includes queries for products and services where there is an on-going flow of changes to the underlying landing page, such as price updates, SKU changes, reviews, etc. Queries like “best camera,” “cheap airfare to San Diego,” etc. where there is volatility in the underlying content.

How Will This New SERP Be Rolled Out?

The change began Nov. 3, 2011, and will be rolling out as Google tests the impact of the change—as they always do. However, advertisers should expect this to become a new optimization variable in their SEO analytics for any effected query.

So What Should Advertisers or SEO Specialists Do?

We have a couple of recommendations for our customers to help them understand what impact this will have on SEO results, and what they need to do to address this change.

First, social media will be more intertwined into SEO. Remember 18 months ago, Google rolled out the “Latest” function; a secondary page that users could activate on the left hand navigation to see social media data. We wrote about that update and said at the time “that if more than 10% of queries ultimately go to this secondary page, then optimizing for “recency” as well as “relevancy” will become the key to SEO. And how will that be done—integration of social media programs with SEO.”

This is an upgrade to this function that a) moves the “latest” to the main SERP and b) does so only for a subset of queries where recency is relevant. So social media programs—i.e., updates to Facebook and Twitter comments by advertisers, updated reviews, and any time of blog based content generation will require infusion with high-value SEO keywords and link backs to other content pages in order to align with the high value queries and command the newly available premium shelf space.

Second, the high value generic keywords will make up the majority of the frequent updates (“Best camera,” “cheap laptop,” “best tablet”) category of affected queries. If advertisers are going to build their processes—we recommend this. Identify the top 25 queries driving traffic to their site. Conduct queries and see if the “News for” box is appearing.

If so, monitor competitor and advertiser presence on a series of queries over a week or two and see what happens. If there is degradation in corresponding web traffic during this time period, then these become the priority for the social media programs content generation.

Last, reputation management will also be impacted. Industry announcements, including company wins and losses will find their way to the top of the rankings and may begin to overtake historically high ranking pages for branded search terms. This is both positive and negative depending on how good the news is on a given topic. Reacting quickly to negative publicity, while promoting positive news, through the systems by which “News for” reacts will become a key aspect of public relations.

This change clearly is salient for advertisers. It impacts a large number of queries. It provides prime search engine real estate to content that is “recent” and “relevant”—which requires continued integration of advertisers social media programs (to provide the “recency”) and SEO (to provide the “relevancy.”).

Covario’s Amanda Barnes has more than nine years of Search Engine Marketing experience. Amanda has driven strategy and optimization for global enterprises in B2C and B2B verticals. She currently works with Covario as the Director of SEO overseeing a global team with direct responsibilities for a large consumer electronics client.

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