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How Google's Caffeine Will Impact PPC

  |  August 14, 2009   |  Comments

Like a hurricane, Google's latest algorithmic change will prove itself able to do damage.

Google made the unconventional move of announcing a potential major change to its organic search results algorithm. The announcement heralded "a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google's Web search."

Every once in a while Google makes a major algorithmic change to its organic results. In reality, its organic algorithm changes at least monthly, if not more frequently, but the major changes are sometimes announced. Even when they aren't, these changes are quickly named by the industry, like hurricanes named at the time they prove themselves able to do damage.

Like prior major changes in the algorithm, Caffeine will profoundly affect the SEO (define) industry and may impact your SEO rankings or traffic, positively or negatively. It may also significantly impact your PPC (define) search strategy and that of your competitor.

Let's look at the stated objective for Caffeine and imagine how these changes might shake things up, based on the attributes and dimensions that were mentioned in Google's announcement.

Index Size

Every day, more content is being created, posted, reviewed, critiqued, and modified. Google wants to catalog and categorize it all. As the index gets bigger, your current listings are statistically less likely to show up (all other things being equal).

Of course, if a disproportionate number of your URLs were under-included in Google's index, you might benefit. You also may find yourself having to resort to PPC search if you lose traffic from important queries.

Within PPC search, we have several controls governing a campaign's size. We can expand or contract keyword lists, including making strategic use of match types, or we can tune geographies.

Indexing Speed

As we move into the era of real-time search, it will be important that any chosen search engine have the most recent info in its index and that this info be properly categorized and ranked appropriately. News sites and real-time blogging platforms, both within social media sites like Facebook and through sites like Twitter (follow me at @kevin_lee_QED), generate a huge volume of content that is only fresh for a short time.

There are major challenges in dealing with this volume of content, as well as determining relevance, because the link structures aren't the only way that content should be scored. Paid search APIs (define) exist to allow us to bid on new content pages of our own sites or new product pages without having to do things manually. I certainly hope that Google applies the same kind of improvements to the AdWords system to allow advertisers to launch campaigns quickly without Quality Score issues and reduced services.


Most people would agree that Google is fairly accurate now. However, for certain query types, its accuracy is still fairly poor. In particular, Google struggles with integrating local results into the SERP (define) beyond the local results section.

A search often has local intent, even if a local geography wasn't specified by the searcher. Google often integrates the local listings block into the universal search results and includes a news section for searches that might have local intent.

Interestingly, with Caffeine I noticed less news included and more local business listings included. Of course, they aren't always at the top; the top organic listings are generally not geocentric and are often links to a wiki or other reference site.

However, as search advertisers, we have the ability to really tune when our ads show up. We can assure accuracy on our end just as Google tries to improve the accuracy of its advertising with Quality Score.


Indexing speed and comprehensiveness go hand in hand. However, there is still a big portion of the Web that isn't in the Google index (or other indices, for that matter).

Google currently has a supplementary index, and it will be interesting to see how Google tackles the challenge of comprehensiveness. As paid search advertisers, we need to make sure we've been comprehensive in planning and executing our campaigns.


One algorithmic element not mentioned in relationship to Caffeine is the increasing level of personalization that Google provides searchers. This personalization extends beyond geographic data center issues to the user level. This means that even if you have what looks like a top organic position, you may not have that position for everyone who searches, necessitating a closer look at the additional ROI (define) that a paid ad might deliver.

For example, a search for "search engine advertising" results in the Amazon page for my book "Search Engine Advertising" and my searchenginesales.com domain showing up in both Google and Caffeine. However, within Google, the results vary significantly depending on who searches. Within Caffeine, the book result includes the old cover image from the first printing, so perhaps it isn't doing so well with indexing speed and accuracy.

Regardless of which algorithm is being used, I can't rejoice in a top position the way I could several years ago. The book doesn't sell for much and it's a competitive term, so advertising the book isn't an option for me.

You'll have to make your own determination based on what your lost opportunity might be. I recommend testing paid listings even when you have a top organic listing.

One thing is clear: algorithms will continue to change and, if search visibility is important to you, you need to understand the right investment mix between organic SEO and paid search.

Large-scale search programs face complex challenges to operate as effectively as possible. Join us on Wednesday, September 9, at 1 pm, for a free Webinar on getting your e-mail delivered.

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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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