What Google Instant search means for SEO? close

Julie Coassin
Julie Coassin
In Codegent College
20th October 2010
What Google Instant search means for SEO?

A bit more than a month ago, Google introduced a new feature to its search engine results page called "instant search". Marissa Mayer, Google's vice-president of search products and user experience at the time (she has now been given a new assignment, managing the company's geo/local products), called it a "fundamental shift in search" and stated that "it's search at the speed of thought". So what does it mean for SEO?

About Google Instant Search

Since the beginning of September, if you are signed in to your Google account and make a search, you will have noticed that you now have this new Google Instant feature "streaming" results to the page and dynamically updating those results as you type. In the same way it appears with the suggested search terms that Google was already displaying in the past, it now pops up the search results in the exact same time.

Google Instant does two things: it returns results more quickly and it predicts search queries as the user types. Marissa Mayer explains that "it's not a search as you type; it's a search before you type". It is also location-based and personalised as the predictions and search results that Google Instant displays will change depending on where Google thinks you’re located and your web history.

When explaining the improvements, Google says that "Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.

The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press "search." Another shift is that seeing results as you type helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback. You can now adapt your search on the fly until the results match exactly what you want. In time, we may wonder how search ever worked in any other way."

Google has always bet on speed to stay ahead of their competitors and therefore they are constantly looking to bring information to users faster. But what about SEO? Does Google instant Search likely to impact your site’s visibility in Google?

Google Instant Search and SEO

While it is making search faster from the user point of view, the reaction of instant search generated a lot of noise and intrigue in the web marketing world and beyond. Steve Rubel was the first to exclaim "OMG, Google Instant killed SEO" but he was by no means the last.

For the record, SEO is NOT dead. Google explains that "ranking stays the same" and fundamentally, everything remains the same. The basics of Google search are the same, including how results are ranked and how Google determines relevant results. However, although Instant has not killed SEO, it will probably make it evolve (I am using the word probably because it is much too soon to know the real impact) as the users’ search habits and behaviour may be affected by this change and which may in return impact your SEO strategy. The way users are going to find information and interact with the search results is going to change. Indeed, the process of searching on Google with instant search is now a much speedier process for the end user who will probably be less likely than ever to click through to the other pages of results and could instead easily dig deeper into a topic until they see results more to their liking. When users come to Google they often have a very specific objective in mind so it is likely we are going to notice a drop of searches with short queries. In addition, users are going to learn how to use more specific search queries and how to review results before making their decision to click on a link.

Google Instant is a game changer in the way users search for information but it does not change the basic rules of SEO.

SEO has always been about understanding end user behaviour so it is possible that this change of behaviour from the user will require you to adapt your SEO strategy. As Matt Cutts says; "SEO is in many ways about change. The best SEOs recognise, adapt, and even flourish when changes happen."

So what you need to do?

Below are the first steps:

  1. Read Google's Webmaster Central Blog to understand how impressions will be counted with Google Instant. You may notice some changes in your search queries data due to the launch of Google Instant. Basically impressions are measured in 3 ways with Google Instant:
    1. Your site is displayed in search results as a response to a user’s completed query (e.g. by pressing “enter” or selecting a term from autocomplete). This is the traditional model. With Google Instant, we also measure impressions in these new cases
    2. The user begins to type a term on Google and clicks on a link on the page, such as a search result, ad, or a related search.
    3. The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds.
  2. The goal remains the same: to rank number one for the most searched keywords in your market. So keep working on strong SEO fundamentals and focus on your content, traffic, and conversions. Users are now less likely to scroll below the fold as relevant results get instantly updated as the search query is completed. Before, typical searchers would perform a search, wait for the results, go through the results, then refine the search and repeat the process until they found what they were looking for. Now Google Instant makes that process even easier: people can dig into a topic and find out new areas to explore with very little effort.
  3. Pay even more attention to the suggested queries than before, but that is something you should have already been doing since Google introduced Google Suggest in 2008. Find out which long-tail keywords Google Instant suggests and ensure you have a page ranked for most of the variations. Long-tail search is going to be more important, since users can now just keep typing until they see what they want. So make sure you continue to include your long-tail terms into your SEO strategy, and then monitor the performance to see if you need to adjust your tactics.
  4. Experiment with different page titles and snippets and track the changes in CTR to see what work best. Indeed, it seems like the CTRs on positions 1 and 2 will rise organically at the expense of other positions. In the past, we have noticed that users spend a reasonable time reading through the meta-description hence we were recommending to place calls to action in there to encourage users to click and therefore to increase the CTR. However today, with Instant Search and results showing faster, users could potentially spend less time reading the meta-description and therefore the calls to action could potentially be moved into the title tag as users might start relying more on these prominent parts of the result they can scan quickly to find the desired result. Something to think about.

What about you? Do you like the new feature? Do you think it is an opportunity for your business? Are you concerned Google Instant will have an impact on your SEO strategy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.