Algorithm changes to affect third of Google searches

Google’s altered its search ranking algorithm to push newer results closer to the top, in a move likely to affect around a third of searches.

The company reckons that most users want recent results, even if they haven’t specified this.

It’s not necessarily that easy, though, to work out what qualifies as ‘recent’, according to Google fellow Amit Singhal in a blog post.

“Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today’s world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old,” he says.

“We completed our Caffeine web indexing system last year, which allows us to crawl and index the web for fresh content quickly on an enormous scale. Building upon the momentum from Caffeine, today we’re making a significant improvement to our ranking algorithm that impacts roughly 35 percent of searches and better determines when to give you more up-to-date relevant results for these varying degrees of freshness.”

For recent events and hot topics – such as, say, the Occupy Oakland protest – the algorithm will throw up the most up-to-the-minute pages.

For regularly occurring events, it will prioritize the most recent. And where a non-news topic changes frequently – such as sales information – it will again give priority to more recent pages.

Google makes several tweaks to its algorithm every week, but most have only a minor effect for the vast majority of users. This change is expected to affect about 35 percent of searches – meaning that any disadvantages  will be extremely visible.

The company’s last big overhaul, Panda, was back in February, and gave greater prominence to original content.