Google Instant is game-changer in a search market that had grown relatively stale, but it also threatens to disrupt the search engine optimization (SEO) marketers have carefully cultivated.
Real-time indexing and user interface cosmetics from Google and Bing made search a little more lively, but at the end of the day core search functionality was the same. People came. They entered queries. They clicked enter. They got results, or didn’t, as it were.
Google Instant lets users type a query and see results without hitting enter. Each letter triggers a predictive search until a user clicks on a link he or she find useful.
IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds called Google Instant a dramatic break from the traditional Google search experience, which he said was wasteful of users’ time. Indeed, Google said the average search took 25 seconds to complete from start to finish. Google Instant could trigger searchers in a third of the amount of time.
“Google Instant should cut down dramatically on the “pogo stick” problem, where users iterated clicking through results links until they got too frustrated to continue,” Reynolds said. “Instant will help show what the right links are more quickly.”
While Google Instant is exciting because it accelerates the search process for users, it changes the SEO game for advertisers bidding on keywords from Google AdWords.
Whereas a user might have typed in a handful of words for song lyrics, users now need only type a few and Google fills in the blanks, intuiting what the user intended to type and displaying results directly on the search home page without making users click through several pages to get results.
For SEOs, that means less keyword real estate with which to work.
Patrick Kerley, who as a senior digital strategist creates Internet marketing and communications plans at Levick Strategic Communications, said Google Instant’s predictive nature boosts the importance of the top few spots in search results.
“As people search and the results start to display, they’re going to be paying attention to only what they can see on the screen,”Kerley told eWEEK.
Accordingly, there will be a lot more clicking on the first result that pops up. This will make it a far more competitive landscape, Kerley said.
Kerley said advertising, not organic SEO strategy, is the major point of impact for Google Instant.
For example, a Google user searching the keyword combination “travel deals” will see suggested results for Travelocity and Travelzoo, as they type the word “travel.” This gives these service providers immediate exposure if users choose to pick those results.
When a user completes their typing of the word “deals” after travel, they will see also results for Expedia, Orbitz and others.
Kerley believes Expedia and Orbitz may miss opportunities for e-commerce engagements with users because those service providers did not advertise on the keyword combo “travel deals.”
“They’re being cut off from people who are used to completing the ‘travel deals’ search,” Kerley said. “Their advertisements and their organic search results aren’t going to be part of what people are seeing.”
With advertisers seeing the long tail of search keywords impinged, the rendering of results as moving targets is bound to make advertising on the word “travel” even more expensive than it already is in the AdWords keyword auction. Search Engine Land provides more examples of how Instant impacts the long tail of keywords here.
However, IDC’s Reynolds said Google Instant won’t change the world a lot for search engine marketers (SEMs) and SEOs because the paid ads will still be linked to their keywords and the working of the organic placements will still work in their mysterious ways, only faster.
“User behaviors will change, however, and those changes could open up room for innovation in getting content in front of users in the ‘instant’ environment,” Reynolds said.
Google’s antispam guru and search quality expert Matt Cutts agreed that Google Instant will impact SEO over time because people will learn to search differently with Instant. Cutts noted:
“For example, I was recently researching a Congressperson. With Google Instant, it was more visible to me that this Congressperson had proposed an energy plan, so I refined my search to learn more, and quickly found myself reading a post on the congressperson’s blog that had been on page 2 of the search results.”
Cutts, though, refuted Steve Rubel’s claim that Instant makes SEO irrelevant because it includes personalization, which impacts SEO.
“But that doesn’t mean that SEO will die,” Cutts said. I’ve said it before, but SEO is in many ways about change. The best SEOs recognize, adapt and even flourish when changes happen.”
Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan did his best to assuage SEMs’ fears about SEO’s future here.