Google Instant was launched on September 8th and has created hype around the effect it will have on search marketing – both organic and paid search. This is by far the most significant change to Google’s user interface since Universal Search was when it appeared in May 2007. The one thing we can say with certainty is that the basic SEO best practices remain unchanged because it is not an algorithm change. What will need to change is your strategy, because Google user behavior and keyword usage will likely be changing. Exactly how it will change or to what degree is yet to be seen.
Google Instant will likely affect only a portion of Google searches, but that proportion will likely grow as users become accustomed to Google Instant.
Google Instant functionality is turned off for users who:
- Type their query directly into the browser or toolbar search.
- Are outside the US, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia.
- Using outdated browsers.
- Using mobile search. (Google Instant functionality to be added this Fall)
- De-activates it.
Many search marketers feel that the biggest impact will be felt in pay-per-click because of the impact of having more impressions.
How impression data will be counted (for both PPC and Webmaster Tools):
- A searcher chooses a query from the suggestions.
- A searcher clicks any link on the search results page.
- A searcher is inactive on any results for more than 3 seconds (aka 'the 3-second rule').
The SEO Impact
Many search marketers are hypothesizing that the long tail will lose search volume because people may see the results they are looking for before they finish their intended query. This means that it is especially important to have results that appear early in the word sequence for highly searched phrases, which often (but not always) are head terms. Whereas others speculate this might actually be GOOD for the long-tail because it does not force people to commit to a query, searchers are more likely to experiment with suggested long-tail queries.
The impact to the long tail will be in certain word sequences where keywords are early in the word order, but the query is general enough that it can be answered with the head term listings that appear before the Google user ever finishes the long tail query they planned. For example “Tom Cruise’s Birthday” will likely be affected more than “How old is Tom Cruise”.
Keyword research becomes even more important, with an added emphasis on word sequencing – this means the time it takes to do keyword research analysis will increase. Sites that do not have an established presence for head terms will want to be careful in their selection of long-tail terms. The importance of having enticing meta tags (title and description) is emphasized because people can see what they will get with a given query and are more likely to modify it if they don’t like what they see. Sites that cater to niche markets are less likely to feel an impact.
It is also likely that Google users will do more searches in the buying cycle than ever before, because it is much faster to do the search. This means that you want to rank high for as many search terms as possible, because your target audience will likely be faced with a few more provider options at a faster speed than in the past.
For now, the best approach is to:
1. Consider the comments above and begin thinking about how your keyword strategies need to evolve.
2. Monitor your traffic to fully understand it’s impact. This will be the perfect data for the ROI on the SEO initiatives that may have been on the back burner. Semetrical has produced a good trick to track Google Instant in Google Analytics.
3. Study the results (and how they change) when a user types in your keywords. Identify the ways that your search listing copy needs to be improved.
4. Focus on ranking as high as you can in search engines for targeted keywords, especially head terms.
5. Monitor what people are seeing and saying about the Google Instant impact. The SEO community is great about sharing information you just have to look for it. There will undoubtedly be several studies coming out in the coming months that should offer more insight into the impact on search behavior and the types of keywords affected.
For more reading, we suggest:
Search Engine Watch’s summary of Google Instant’s Impact.
If local SEO is important, this article offers insights on the impact of Google Instant on local search.
Several search marketers have provided their take on the impact Google Instant will have at e-Consultancy.
As an aside, Google Instant is not a new product. Yahoo! had something very similar in 2005 (almost identical in fact!).