What Is the Caffeine Algorithm Update?

The Caffeine Update was officially announced on June 8, 2010, though Google had been working on it for about two years before it was officially rolled out. Caffeine marks the most recent Google update involving its entire indexing system. Search updates are rolled out all the time by Google, but Caffeine is different. Read on to find out why!

Google announced its new search index dubbed “Caffeine” on its official blog as well as on its webmaster central blog in early June of 2010.

Caffeine Isn’t Really an Algorithm Update: Here’s Why

The SEO community talks regularly about algorithms and algorithm updates. It’s like a second language for us. So when Caffeine was released, it was quickly labeled as one of these “Google Algorithm Updates.”

If you want to get technical, though, the Caffeine update isn’t really an algorithm update at all. In fact, it really has nothing to do with search algorithms or rankings whatsoever. In reality, it’s a total rewrite of Google’s indexing system. Yep, that’s right–it’s bigger than any algorithm update you could imagine. Much bigger.

What Does Google’s Indexing System Do?

In order to understand the Caffeine update, you need a basic understanding of what an indexing system does for a search engine.

Google’s indexing system makes a digital copy of everything on the World Wide Web (and by everything, we mean hundreds of billions of web pages) and presents it to search users in an organized fashion.

The search giant likens its index to the index in the back of a reference book, except on a much, much larger scale.

Why Did Google Roll Out the Caffeine Update?

According to Google’s webmaster blog, the search engine decided to rehaul its indexing system in order to “to keep up with the evolution of the web and to meet rising user expectations.”

Essentially, users want more relevant search results faster. They don’t want to miss out on the newest information, and they don’t want to days (or even hours) for the freshest content the web has to offer.

Caffeine is Google’s attempt to keep up with this ever-increasing demand for the latest and greatest on the web.

The Pre-Roll Out of Caffeine

Typically, Google will make changes to its search engine or algorithm discreetly and then (maybe) announce that the changes have been made after the fact. Sometimes the announcement will come days or even weeks after the new update for Google has been implemented.

This was not the case with Caffeine, though.

With this “next-generation infrastructure”, Google gave web developers a heads up and a chance to experiment with the new index prior to its official implementation. The search giant even asked for feedback from web developers on this shiny new indexing system (gasp!).

Google made the new index available to webmasters in August of 2009 (almost a year before its official release) and asked them to provide feedback as they experimented with Caffeine.

Google’s Indexing System Pre-Caffeine

So what was the indexing system like before the Caffeine update?

Google describes its old index as having several layers, all of which would be updated separately. To update a layer, the search engine would have to crawl the entire web before it could offer the user new results.

That meant a delay between the time a new page was found by Google and when it could be accessed by a visitor via the search engine. The process was labor-intensive for the search engine, and the results were slow and stale for search users.

How Caffeine Brews Fresher Results

This new update for Google and its indexing system means much fresher results for users—up to 50% fresher according to the official Google blog.

Now, the index is updated in smaller portions (in comparison to the previous layers described by the search giant). As new web pages are crawled and tagged by Google, they’re added to the index right away.

This eliminates the delay that existed pre-Caffeine. No more stale search results!

Google’s webmaster blog uses the image below to illustrate how Caffeine compares to the search engine’s old index.

How Did the Caffeine Update Improve Search?

Thanks to the caffeine update, search is bigger, faster, and more relevant. Here’s the specs:

Caffeine Fuels Faster Search Results

In tests following Caffeine’s release, the new index was found to perform up to twice as fast as the old index.

Thanks to Caffeine, Google can now return over 70,000,000 results for the search query “auburn football” in less than ¾ of a second, for example.

Caffeine Triggers More Search Results

Caffeine made Google’s index much bigger than before. Every second, the indexing system analyzes hundreds of thousands of web pages simultaneously. Google says if this were a stack of paper, “it would grow three miles taller every second”. Whoa.

Caffeine Maximizes Relevancy

According to the search giant itself, a great web search engine must “rank and return the most relevant pages for users’ queries as quickly as possible.” So, clearly, it’s not just about returning the largest number of results as quickly as possible. Relevancy is important too.

Will There Be More Caffeine in the Future?

The Caffeine update was a total rehaul of Google’s indexing system and it was years in the making, so presumably, it will be good to go for some time now. We can expect that Google will continually refine the system, though, to ensure the fastest, most relevant results possible for users.

That’s just what Google does, so it’s never a bad idea to check for Google updates. Like Caffeine, these updates will be mostly undetectable by the average search user.

For webmasters, there may be some noticeable tremors, but nothing too monumental.

Keep in mind that unlike changes to algorithms, tweaks to Google’s indexing system aren’t intended to affect search rankings, so as long as you’re brewing up regular high-quality content on your own website (which you should be doing anyway), then you’ll be just fine.