Love it or hate it, Google has an enormous amount of influence over the way in which we find information, communicate with others online, and consume information on the web. Google is so big and powerful that when it announces a new feature, changes an algorithm, or updates its database, the ripples are felt world wide. So what can we expect from Google in 2010? We can expect it will start making waves again, starting with the full implementation of Google Caffeine which is expected to take full effect this month.

To help you be prepared, here are seven ways Google could shake up your year:

1. The Caffeine Update: Caffeine is one of Google’s biggest behind-the-scenes updates in more than three years, and is intended to improve the speed and accuracy of searching on Google. The beta version was launched back in August 2009, with users reporting a definite increase in search speeds, and an advantage for web sites with fresh content. Caffeine also seemed to reward information from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, although since the beta in August it has already started including real-time search results in its regular organic search listings (see item #2, below). But the big question for small businesses remains – what will the impact of the Caffeine update be on their web site rankings? Historically, any time Google performs a major update, it tends to wreak havoc on search engine rankings and positions for a while.

2. Real-Time Search: in December 2009, Google announced that it has started using real-time information found on blogs, news sites, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as a way of providing users with fresher, more relevant search results. This is great news for users, but what does real-time search mean for small business web sites? It means that if you have a “static” web site that doesn’t get updated very often, it’s likely that your site will fall into obscurity in the search engine results in favor of fresher, more recent information that Google finds elsewhere on the web.

3. Google Goggles: This is a new app from Google designed for use on mobile devices and cell phones that enables users to interact directly in real-time with Google. A user can simply take a picture with a mobile device and use it as a search query – no typing necessary! Google then provides search results based on the photo the user submitted for the search. Of course, this seems very promising and like it could be incredibly useful, but it also introduces an entirely new search method that doesn’t involve keywords or inbound links or any of the SEO elements that are typically important to Google.

4. Google Sidewiki: This tool shows up as a sidebar on your browser window and displays user-contributed information next to any web page. Users can read and write entries in this sidebar, and the comments are saved and displayed beside that web page when subsequent visitors view the page (but only if they have Sidewiki installed as well). The entries are not ranked with the most recent entries first; instead, they are ranked using a Google algorithm that ranks the most useful, high-quality entries first, and takes into account other criteria Google deems important. What type of effect this will have on a web page’s rankings in the search engines remains to be seen; for instance, what if you write keyword-rich entries beside your own web page? Or what if your competitors leave not-so-nice comments on your web page for subsequent visitors to read? This definitely adds another layer of complexity to managing your company’s online reputation, since now you need to monitor your web page comments in Sidewiki as well as all the other tracking & reporting you do for your web site and social media marketing efforts.

5. Google Place Pages: Another business resource to watch is enhanced Place Pages in Google, which extends your existing Google Local information into an online profile for your business. Although this provides your business with added visibility and content in Google (including video, photos, online coupons, etc.), the pages also display aggregated information about your business that Google finds elsewhere on the web. Monitoring your Google Place Page becomes important since you will need to check the accuracy of your Place Page. However, it is also a great opportunity to provide Google with the most complete, updated, search-engine-optimized information about your business.

6. Site-Loading Times: According to Google’s unofficial spokesperson, Matt Cutts, the time that it takes your web page to load into a browser window is now a much more important factor in your Google positions. If your web site is image-heavy or has been built with Flash, a tables-based layout, or contains local formatting code, chances are that your page download times will cost you in the Google search results. Now might be a good time to invest in a web site upgrade to convert your site from old, tables-based HTML to a new, cleaner, and faster CSS-based site with modular files for formatting.

7. Personalized Search: First Google introduced Universal Search, which included results not only from web pages, but also from images, videos, blogs, and other types of information on the web. Then Google introduced Real-Time search, as discussed in item #2, above. In addition to these two concepts, Google is now experimenting with something called Personal Search, where it can deliver specific results to individual users based on their search history and personal preferences. If this is truly the case, doesn’t that mean that each user will get a different set of results from the same search, tailored to what Google believes is that user’s personal preferences? This poses a very interesting challenge for companies trying to get higher rankings in the search engines – how on earth do you optimize for each person’s individual preferences? (Hint: you really can’t).

By yanam49

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