For those of you who don’t follow the vagaries of search engine index updates, the past few weeks may have been pretty uneventful. But for the businesses and marketers who make their living by ranking well in Google’s listings, it’s been a pretty tumultuous month. That’s because once again the Google Dance has swept through the search engine markets, and this last one was unique.
“Google Dance” refers to the process by which Google updates its index – the master code that determines which listings you see as a result of your queries. Because it is a massive index, and because Google often wants or needs to incorporate various tweaks and refinements to its site-ranking secret sauce (in particular to fight spam), it can take days or even weeks for a new index to settle across the web. The folks over at WebmasterWorld track this stuff quite closely, and have taken to naming each update alphabetically, following the nomenclature usually reserved for hurricanes. This past one happens to be F, and has been dubbed (dub-ya’d?) Florida.
When the Google index dances, many sites which once enjoyed top listings can fall off the first page of results, for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Danny Sullivan has written extensively about this, (including today’s newsletter) as have many others. What makes this most recent update fascinating is that for the first time, Google watchers have figured out a somewhat consistent way to track what’s changed since the last update, and many of them are crying foul. They’re claiming that Google has tweaked its algorithms to favor terms which have commercial value, and to prove it, they’ve hacked up “Scroogle,” a tool that shows the before and after results for any given query. Danny’s given an interesting example in his article of what happens to the query “laptop rentals” in a before and after test.
While a case might be made, I can’t imagine Google is favoring its own commercial interests over its stated philosophy of focus on search, the profits will follow. It’d be suicide for a company that’s made its name on “not being evil.” The uproar over the Florida update, however, points to the increasing responsibility the company bears as a holder of public trust. Updates like Florida have major implications for an entire economy of Google-dependent merchants, and the two parties (Google and the merchants who depend on its listings) are only growing more interdependent. A dance, indeed.