When Google Instant rolled out in other regions a few months ago there were amazing proclamations from every corner of the internet, most exaggerating the potential effects, some verging on the ridiculous – with many claims that SEO would be killed outright or made irrelevant.
Now that Google Instant’s Australian launch is imminent – it’s time to ask some questions and offer some opinions. Here goes.
What is Google Instant?
In a nutshell, Google Instant provides you with a constantly shifting series of predicted search results, as you type, based on its list of suggested keywords and unique user data, such as past browsing history and location.
For instance, if I type in the word ‘Cheese’, Google – for some reason – automatically predicts that I’m not looking for my favourite mature cheddar but that I actually want information on…” cheesecake” and delivers the SERPs in real time, as shown below.
It’s a bit more nuanced than this, but that’s the basics covered.
What are the effects?
Google Instant has had an effect in other regions, despite a lot of research pointing to the contrary. So here’s a succinct list of areas that the changes have had an impact on – and will logically come into effect once Instant is launched here.
- Google has had to change the way it measures impressions (the amount of times your result or ad appears in response to a query) due to results being displayed in realtime rather than at the click of a button, so levels reported for search results or ads may either increase or decrease.
- Google Instant takes up some SERP space, so the ‘above-the-fold’ results have actually decreased in number. This makes occupying the visible space more important than before. More controversially, this also increases the potential impact of Google’s lucrative PPC ads.
- Results are completed based on commonly searched for queries (to some extent): so niche, long-tail search terms, and the brands that rely on them, are potentially more vulnerable than before; meanwhile big brands are operating in a more auspicious environment as their products are more commonly known and searched for.
- Personalisation becomes more pertinent: you have to be signed in for Instant to work and results are customised based on unique user data, such as past browsing history and location. This also increases the potential impact of Google Places listings, which are often returned, predictively, for geo-sensitive searches (e.g. Hotels.)
- Some time is saved because users’ results can be delivered before typing has been completed.
There are more – and new effects are going to be noticed through time.
What’s the SOM view?
In my opinion, Google Instant is interesting and points to the increasing personalisation of the search experience – but it’s not something that is going to result in the predicted paradigm shift.
More strongly, I’d argue that the changes are a bit unnecessary from a user perspective. When searching for something, I just want a simple process that’s like question and answer. Drawing parallels with asking someone a question: do I want continual and superfluous ranting while I’m asking; do I want a steady stream of tongues-like gibberish. No, I don’t. I just want to ask a question and get an answer.
Many people I know have actually switched it off.
However, this is just my take on things. Here’s what the rest of the SEO team have to say on the matter.
My initial thoughts to Google Instant before it went live abroad were that in the short term it would lower the probability of a user from performing a long tail query. The reason for this is that if a user were to type in “Cheap flights to London”, as soon as they had typed “Cheap f”, they would be shown results for “Cheap flights” before they had even finished typing. It would be highly likely that a user may click on one of these results without refining their query further. Indeed this would be a great outcome for Google, as users would be clicking on higher cost ads.
However my original hypotheses aside, there have been a few posts online on Google Instant search analysis which shows that it really hasn’t affected search behaviour that much.
I think that search suggestions will become more integral to keyword research than ever before, and brands with high awareness will likely see increased CTR as visitors arrive earlier in the search phase. Higher PPC traffic could also be gained by bidding for commonly searched for competitors’ non-trademarked brand names.
I also believe that long-tail searches will become more contested in the long term, so it will be hugely beneficial to optimise for the long tail of instant search. The importance of targeting pages to achieve top rankings for long-tail searches is higher than ever before. With respect to achieving business goals, longer tail traffic terms typically convert clicks into customers more efficiently than generic terms, so keep an eye on the number of referring keywords sending traffic to your sites and make sure you register XML sitemaps using Google Webmaster Tools.
Take a look at Phil’s view, on his blog.
The view from the rest of the web:
The research, so far, has pointed to the changes having a relatively small effect so far, but new ones are going to be more visible in the long-term.
One of the web’s biggest SEO authorities, SEO Moz, also followed-up on the changes and reported on the effects as seen through research. The result: little impact.
Matt Cutts himself also stepped in to try and calm the typical histrionics, when Google Instant was first introduced.
Will the panic resume when something else is introduced? Probably.
Let us know what you think of the matter; what might Google Instant mean for the Australian search market?