This week during the meet the search engines session Matthew Trewhella from Google gave the best description so far of the brand update.
I’m going to paraphrase here but from the comments Matthew made the brand update is about Google minimising the number of times people have to search to find the products or information they are looking for. Every time a user has to perform a second search Google regards it as their failure for not bring up the right result the first time.
So what Google is doing is testing which results are going to give the least number of secondary searches and displaying those. In the past somebody might have searched for “travel insurance” and found a few good sites before remembering that the Post Office does travel insurance too and searched for them to get a comparison. For Google this is regarded as a bit of a failure because they didn’t bring up the Post Office in the first place.
Google can perform multivariate testing to see which 10 results to display and in what order they should be displayed in order to give the lowest number of repeat searches.
Any site that has a good brand search volume and a good “satisfaction rate” (my words, not Googles) for a query will stand a good chance of keeping on the front page and moving higher. The satisfaction rate is basically the percentage of visitors who visit your site using a particular query and either buy your product or get an answer to their question without having to search again on Google.
Matthew was evasive when I asked whether the brand update would be rolled out for more keywords. At present it’s just a few dozen but if Google has got this right then they could change the rankings of thousands of keywords overnight in the next few months.
The main purpose of the caffeine update was to allow Google to push the envelope in terms of size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. If one of these dimensions is a better ability to perform live multivariate testing on hundreds of thousands of search results then be prepared for some changes and start improving your satisfaction rates.