What Does Google Instant Search Mean for SEO?

There’s been a lot of press this week about Google Instant Search. And there’s been a lot of discussion about how Google Instant Search impacts your organic and paid search efforts.

What is Google Instant Search?

First, an overview of Google Instant Search. Google launched Instant Search as a “predictive search model” to display results to users as they are typing in a search query. Each letter that a user types will trigger a predictive search result. This will happen until the user stops typing or clicks on a link that they find useful.

Benefits of Instant Search

One benefit of Google’s Instant Search is that the results are “personalized” which means that Google is serving search results based on your geographic location and your online behavior.

Another benefit? Speed. Google says the average search traditionally took 25 seconds to complete. With Google Instant Search, that search time can be cut by a third, greatly accelerating search time for users. Before users would need to click submit to sift through pages of search results.

The implications for end users is that Instant Search will provide the right results, more quickly. Now Google predicts what the user is intending to find and then displays the results right there on the search home page, without requiring a click through to see results.

This is fine for end users as long as the results are the right results. For businesses who look to SEO to aid in organic rankings, or paid search to bid on important keywords, the implications of Instant Search may be far greater.

Here’s what Steve Rubel had to say recently about Google Instant and personalized search:

No two people will see the same web. Once a single search would do the trick – and everyone saw the same results. That’s what made search engine optimization work. Now, with this, everyone is going to start tweaking their searches in real-time. The reason this is a game changer is feedback. When you get feedback, you change your behaviors.

Essentially, Google Instant search makes the experience of searching online unique for everyone. The results will not be consistent across the board, or even by location, and the metrics used to measure success of these results will need to change.

How Does Google Instant Search Impact Search Marketing Efforts?

There’s been a lot of great examples given recently on how Google Instant search may impact your company’s search marketing efforts. Some of these examples are highlighted below, along with links to great posts about Instant search.

Will Search Behavior Change?

With Google Instant, you may notice that the way you are searching starts to change. Whereas before you may have been only focused on the search query box on the search home page, now you may find yourself focusing on the results that are shown each time you type a character. As results are displayed, you may be paying more attention to those top results to see if there is a match.

Instant search results appear to make top positioning for generic keyword terms even more important than ever before. If you’ve gone into Instant search and tried a few searches, you’ve probably seen what I mean.

For example, begin typing in a search query: “B-A”. You will start to see predicted results right away that match these characters. Notice that the fewer the characters you type in, the bigger the brand names that appear first: Type in “A” and what result appears? Then type in “B’ and “C”. See what I mean?

Are Generic Keywords and Top Positions Important Again?

A great example of this is the keyword “travel”. Go to Google Instant search and begin typing in this search term. As you type “t-r-a” you will see top brand “Travelocity”, and add the “v” and you start seeing “Travelzoo”. Great news for these two companies, but what about Expedia and Orbitz?

Now turn off Instant search for a moment (log out of Google) and then go back in and do the same query. The top organic search results are for…Expedia and Orbitz. These companies have worked hard to get top results for the term “travel” and now, with Instant Search, the playing field has changed and they risk losing out on potential click-throughs because their brands do not begin with “t-r-a”.

So What About the Long Tail?

There is some debate about how Instant search impacts long tail keywords. If paid advertising on generic words like ”travel” appear to be even more important than ever, is this the end of the long tail? The simple answer is “no”. It is important to keep in mind what your goals are. If generating high quality visits to your site that convert to customers is your main goal, the generic, high impression terms may still not work for your brand. To read more on this, definitely check out Search Engine Land’s post on how Instant search impacts the long tail of keywords.

Will Your Keyword Strategy Need to Change?

And what about those partially typed in words that are generating predicted results? Will your keyword list now need to include partial words like “Bla” and “Res”? Since Google Instant Search generates predicted results for each and every character you type in, it seems natural to assume that businesses should begin concentrating on serving ads to partially-typed keywords.

However, Google has responded to this issue with partial keywords and has said that this is not a productive strategy. This is because ads are triggered based on a “predicted query” and are not based on what the user types in. For example, the partial query “flow” would trigger results for the predicted search query “flowers” but the only way a searcher would see your ad for the partial keyword “flow” would be if they specifically searched for that word and hit enter or clicked search.

What About Ad Impression Data?

Google has noted that with Google Instant you may notice an increase in impressions being served because your site is appearing in predicted search results. As some may know, impression volume can have quite an impact on your pay-per-click campaigns, particularly in regard to CTRs and relevancy scores.

Here is how Google determines an impression through Instant Search:

  • You begin typing a query on Google and then click anywhere on the page (a search result, an ad, a spell correction, a related search).
  • You select a particular query by clicking the “Search” button, or pressing Enter, or selecting one of the predicted queries.
  • When you stop typing and the results are displayed for a minimum of three seconds.

An example given by Google’s Webmaster Blog helps to illustrate this better:

Let’s say your site has lots of impressions for [hotels] and [hotels in santa cruz]. Now, because Instant is quickly fetching results as the user types, the user could see your site in the search results for [hotels] after typing only the partial query [hote].

If a user types the partial query [hote] and then clicks on any result on the page for [hotels], that counts as an impression for your site. That impression will appear in Webmaster Tools for the query [hotels]. The term ‘hotels’ would also be included in the HTTP referrer when the user clicks through to visit your website.

Will You End Up Paying More For PPC?

Perhaps some brands will. Fears that potential customers will just click on whatever first comes up rather than continue typing in a longer keyword phrase may mean that advertisers will end up spending more on those shorter, generic keyword terms. But the opposite may occur as well. Some companies will be concerned that they are bidding on terms that will get triggered too early in the search process and generate too many impressions against their ads.

For additional resources, and many points of view on Google Instant search, be sure to check out some of the great posts below:

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