Google Instant, SEO and your business - what does it all mean?

Google Instant has significant potential implications for all those businesses that rely on their website. But those ringing the death knell of SEO are jumping the gun.

What is Google Instant?

Google Instant is the new, potentially game-changing addition to the world’s favourite search engine.

Google Instant displays search results as a user types. Rather than typing your entire search query and hitting enter, you can simply start typing – and Google will predict what you are looking for. Results will appear, and change, below the search box as you type. Google says that the average web user reads much faster than they type, so displaying results in this way will save time.

That might well be the case. But the SEO community has been having kittens since Instant launched, with many proclaiming it to be the death of optimisation. While this is unnecessarily melodramatic, Google Instant does have significant implications for every business that relies on its online presence.

How does it change search patterns?

Users want to get to what they are searching for as quickly as possible, and Google Instant might help them do this.

Given that Google Instant’s predictions seem generally to be pretty accurate, it is a fairly safe bet that users will spend less time looking through search engine results pages. They will probably click through to one of the top results more quickly.

Many people have been suggesting that businesses and SEOs will now have to optimise not just for keywords, but for letter combinations. If you believe some of the blog entries posted this week, London hotels will have to optimise their site for every letter combination from ‘lon’ onwards if they want to keep any of their traffic.

But this isn’t the case. The search results users see are not based on letters – they are based on the keywords Google thinks they are searching for. In other words, if you start typing ‘London hotels’, Google doesn’t think you’re searching for things related to ‘lon’ – it is trying to guess what keyword you are going to type, and then it is displaying results relevant to that keyword.

What does it mean for long tail?

Other SEOs are worried about the impact of Google Instant on long tail searches and content. Many optimisation strategies are built with long tail searches in mind, and there is concern that Google Instant could scupper these strategies.

First of all, it is likely that some users making long tail searches will see the content they are looking for more quickly. You might see a relevant page even before you have finished typing your query – and if this is the case, why would you wait to see more results?

But it is worth remembering that users making long tail searches are likely to be doing so because they are looking for very specific information. They are looking for subsets, if you like; they are not interested in ‘London hotels’ – they are interested in ‘London hotels with a swimming pool near Battersea’, or whatever it might be.

These users are presumably less likely to be tempted by early Instant predictions, because a quick scan of the title and description will show that those first few pages don’t contain the information they are looking for.

What about PPC?

Google Instant is also likely to have an impact on PPC. The most obvious concern is how the new tool will affect impressions. If results are changing every time a user types a new letter, how will Google count your ad impressions?

According to Google themselves, ad impressions under Instant are counted in one of the following three situations:

  • The user begins to type a query on Google and clicks anywhere on the page (a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search).
  • The user chooses a particular query by clicking the Search button, pressing Enter, or selecting one of the predicted queries.
  • The user stops typing, and the results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds.

This would suggest that the ads you see for a fraction of a second as you are typing will not be counted as an impression – and will therefore not affect your click-through rate (CTR).

There are a couple of things to note, however. First of all, unlike in optimisation, many marketers are likely to start bidding on letter combinations in an effort to ensure that their ads are displayed first, and highest. By second-guessing the user you might be able to boost your CTR.

Secondly, Instant is likely to produce a mindset in users that makes them even less willing to wait for their results, or scroll through even the first page. As a result, adverts in high positions will probably become even more important.

Google Instant is a major change for the search engine. But the panic in the SEO community is premature. Keep monitoring your results as you always have been – and let’s wait for some hard data before proclaiming the death of optimisation.