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Google Gets Faster

While the Panda update may be the most well-known of Google’s algorithm updates, it certainly wasn’t the first. Two years before the first Panda update was released in 2011, Google issued what would prove to be one of its most important updates: the Caffeine update. Caffeine affected primarily Google’s web indexing infrastructure, making it more efficient and allowing it to return 50% fresher results to users.

What Does the Caffeine Update Do?

As its name suggests, the Google Caffeine update increased the speed, size, and accuracy of Google’s website indexing. It was first announced in 2009 as a way to better perform the following tasks:

  • Crawling the web
  • Indexing the resulting web pages
  • Calculating how reputable those pages are
  • Ranking those pages
  • Returning the most relevant pages as quickly as possible in the form of search query results

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That First Cup of Coffee

When Google first announced the update, they asked for feedback from developers and power searchers to compare the new algorithm to the old way of indexing sites. It wasn’t intended for the average user to really notice a huge difference in their use of the Internet, instead operating behind-the-scenes. The feedback from early testers of Caffeine was meant to determine the difference between the new and old indexing systems as well as determine which types of sites might be affected in the rankings with Caffeine.

Crawling at the Speed of Light

With Caffeine, Google gained the ability to crawl the web, collect data from websites, index those sites, and make them available for searching, all within a few seconds. Before the Caffeine update, it could take up to a week or more for a site to be indexed, depending on how ‘fresh’ Google’s bots had considered it. This did benefit users, whether they noticed it or not, as Google was able to provide more relevant results across a wider range of websites, faster than ever before.

Why Was the Caffeine Update Needed?

Unlike Panda, Caffeine wasn’t an algorithm update. It wasn’t meant to affect page rankings, instead overhauling the system for site indexing. When Google was first founded in 1998, the Internet was a much smaller, much simpler place than it is today. The site indexing system was designed around fewer pages with fewer different types of media. By 2009, the Internet had grown 100-fold and also incorporated maps, videos, images, and other media that just hadn’t been common in the early stages of the Internet.

How Did Caffeine Affect Websites?

Some websites did see a drop in rankings with the release of Caffeine. But this wasn’t because of a change in the search algorithm. Before the Caffeine update, sites were indexed only once every few weeks, unless they were categorized as ‘fresh’. Caffeine, however, leveled the playing field by indexing all sites quickly. Any site that had been ‘fresh’ under the old indexing system and used that to its advantage could have seen a drop in rankings as other, less ‘fresh’ sites caught up.

How Did Caffeine Affect Users?

While a lot of Caffeine’s effects were behind-the-scenes, users of Google search did see several improvements. The ability to search by voice, use RankBrain, have videos and maps returned in your search results, find relevant news on your search topic, etc. All of these have their origin in the Caffeine update. Despite these improvements, the update was subtle enough that many users might not have even noticed that something changed if Google hadn’t made the announcement about it.

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