There's been a lot of speculation about Google Caffeine. When will it launch? What will change? What will happen to my results?
The speculation needs to stop. Caffeine is almost certainly live right now—the next query you type into Google will probably reflect Caffeine's changes.
Google claims that the Caffeine update is about "under the hood" changes to the architecture of the search engine. As Google Engineer Matt Cutts explains, Caffeine is an attempt at "rewriting the foundation of some of our infrastructure." Though, he goes on to admit that "some of the search results do change."
But does this minor "under the hood" tweak really update Google to where it needs to be?
Google regularly tweaks and updates their search engine. But Google announced a sort of "cease fire" over the holiday period, where they held back any changes to the search engine. This was to avoid further stressing webmasters during the busy holiday ecommerce season, as happened in 2003.
Caffeine Probably Already Went Live
So Google Caffeine was set to be launched sometime after the holidays. Well, it's nearly three weeks after the holidays and we haven't seen much. Perhaps Caffeine has already launched. Google doesn't usually give advanced previews of their products before they're released, but that's what they did with Caffeine. Perhaps they were putting it out there to see if anyone noticed big discrepancies so that they could be corrected and brought more in line with existing Google results. Google has always favored an incremental approach to their products, releasing them and then making tweaks over a long period of time. They don't like to make major updates all at once. Just look at the development process behind gMail (which was in Beta for years).
If it hasn't gone live yet, it will soon. And when it does, don't expect too much to happen.
More Important Than Caffeine: New Realities on the Web
So, Google Caffeine may have already launched. But that's not what really matters. What matters are the changes that Google has made and will continue to make over the next few weeks and months. Google is moving from results based on frequent updates to results that are live. This is a huge undertaking, and is likely a large part of the reason that Google has had to implement Caffeine.
NoFollow Isn't What It Used To Be
The idea that NoFollow links don't influence the target's ranking in Google (and other search engines) is laughable. Google has built it's reputation on serving up the best search results. And being the best means returning the most relevant results. Twitter is the proof: Links shared in twitter are NoFollow. But that doesn't stop Google from displaying them near the very top of their search engine.
Google invented NoFollow as a way to help prevent spam. But the web has gone overboard and NoFollow is on the brink of irrelevance. As more and more of the links on the web become NoFollow, Google has been forced to figure out some sort of way to count these links. One innovation might be follower ratio: Google may be looking at your social graph as a way to weigh your links. For example, Google might be giving more weight to links in tweets from users who have more followers or users who have a better follower to following ratio.
A large portion of the web's conversation is taking place on Twitter. Simply put: Google cannot afford to ignore links on Twitter.
Caffeine is about the underlying system. There are more important changes that will affect the front end.
Google is going to start taking into account how fast pages load. Just look at this video interview with Google's Matt Cutts. Google will start taking site loading time into account in search rankings. Of course, Google's top priority will remain returning the most relevant results for the user. But the very soon, Google will give a little bit of an edge to sites that load quickly and a slight penalization to sites that load slowly.
Fresh Content Bias
Time moves faster on the internet. While Google includes a OneBox for breaking news and relevant Tweets, there is a clear need to more thoroughly integrate fresh content into Google results. In the future, Google will certainly be giving a bump to new articles. Instead of relevancy and importance being the big factors in who ranks, it will probably become a trinity of relevancy, importance, and freshness. Think of how many times you've researched a topic only to find that the top result is an outdated article or blog post that is virtually useless. Caffeine fixes that.
Next time you use Google, take a second look at the results: are they timely? Are they relevant? Are they weighting the conversation, as well as the link-graph?
In other words: are they caffeinated?