Whilst checking out the competition on Google for “web design prestwich” I clicked a few results and noticed Google has inserted a redirect page between the results and the target web page. You have to be quick to notice it but it’s definitely there. The redirect URL is:
As you can see, that result is for the site “Qype”
If you mouseover the results when they first load you’ll see the site’s address in your browser status bar, but click on the link and then go back to Google and mouseover and you’ll see the Google redirect URL instead. See the before and after screen grabs below:
Why are Google doing this? In December Google announced they were rolling out personalized results for everyone, not just logged in users. Google are tracking what you click and using that data to change the results you see.
Google have closed down their Caffeine “sandbox” testing area and have put their new infrastructure in place and live on the Internet just in time for the holiday season. However it seems Google have learnt from the debacle of the “Florida Update” of 2003 and have only put the new, improved Google on one datacenter. Therefore only a small number of Google users will see the new stuff, the rest of us will have to wait. The Florida Update was released just before the Christmas holiday shopping season started and caused a lot of distress as website owners saw their sites plummet in the rankings and therefore sales fell. With the news that Caffeine was going live there was some rumblings of a similar panic occuring with this update. However Google’s Matt Cutts has promised that Caffeine won’t be rolled out to the rest of the datacenters until the new year and the current roll out is merely for live testing, a sort of “open beta” if you like.
Of course if Google had rolled it out the more skeptical online store owners would have cried foul and pointed to Google’s recent release of Google Commerce Search, a paid for inclusion shopping portal, as the reason Google borked the search results. During Florida it was claimed that Google deliberately messed up peoples rankings so they would have no option but to open and Adwords account.
The official Google Webmaster Blog has released details of a major update to Google, code named “Caffeine.” Basically “Caffeine” is an update to the search engine’s code and although these happen quite frequently this large code update warrents a press release and a bit of hype in their book. Google claims only “power users” will really see the difference and are asking for their feedback on the new infrastructure from them. Currently the update is live only on a testing sandbox address: www2.sandbox.google.com.
This update allows Google to index more documents faster, and display them to you, the user, faster. Of course they have also tweaked the ranking algorithm and the importance of sites such as Wikipedia has been dowengraded very slightly. Universal search has also been demoted slightly, instead of image, news and video results at the top of the page these will usually appear lower down the page on “Caffeine” powered searches. Books and Shopping results are also noticeably absent although these may return once the new code is put onto the live Google servers.
Search Engine Watch blog has some excellent comparison screenshots.
Google’s Matt Cutts explains a bit more about the update at the SES Conference in San Jose to Web Pro News: