Understanding Google Instant

I received an interesting article in the mail this morning from the nice people at Planet Ocean Communications. It’s a guide to understanding Google Instant and the effect it will have on SEO. The original artice was written by Casey Markee who is the Lead SEO Consultant at Planet Ocean. I briefly covered the effect that Google Instant would have on SEO back in September, but this goes into more detail and Casey is one of the good guys. I have printed most of the original article below for your convenience, but the full original can be found here I should say that I don’t agree with everything that Casey suggests, such as  it being a major game-changer, or adding a call to action to your title string, but his reasons for this are nonetheless compelling. If your website is already properly optimised, Google Instant changes very little, so Casey’s article is really aimed at website owners that have poor optimisation and people that simply don’t know what the hell Google Instant is. 

The ultimate Guide to Understanding Google Instant

In early September Google rolled out Google Instant in their continual quest to make searching faster and more user-friendly. The new search experience was met with simultaneous cheers and boos from the Internet community.

While most users have appreciated how fast they’ve been able to find results for their queries, just as many have criticized the interface, or just downright hate it. User reactions aside…

Google Instant is a Game Changer to both Web site owners and SEO/SEM professionals.

We here at SearchEngineNews.com have gotten a ton of questions in SEO support and our own clients have been losing sleep in their quest to understanding Google Instant, determine what these new changes mean to their businesses. Specifically, how will Google Instant affect SEO? Will it impact pay per click marketing? Is the long tail of search dead? The answers to these questions and more will be spelled out in this Google Instant overview. Read on…

What is Google Instant in a nutshell?

Google Instant is predictive, real time search that was designed to make search more effective and enjoyable to users by providing more results, Faster! Since searches are streamed in real time, it takes less time to search. According to Google… Before Google Instant, the typical searcher took more than 9 seconds to enter a search term, and we saw many examples of searches that took 30-90 seconds to type. Using Google Instant can save 2-5 seconds per search. If everyone uses Google Instant globally, we estimate this will save more than 3.5 billion seconds a day. That’s 11 hours saved every second. 15 new technologies contribute to Google Instant functionality.

This leap in time savings is a result of Google moving from an HTML to an Ajax application that is accessible to users regardless of platform or browser choice. Google then refines the real time results generated through JavaScript optimizations depending on the browser detected.

The key difference between Google Instant and regular search is that Instant begins to populate the results page before the user has completed typing their search query. There’s no need to press Enter or Return to generate search suggestions. Users instead select from the suggested terms or look below to see what Web sites come up as they are typing.

It works on the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. Google also announced that it expects to have the Google Instant mobile version ready for public consumption sometime in the Autumn.

Google Instant Feedback

Like most other Google updates, the release of Google Instant has brought with it a flurry of both worries and praise.

Many users criticize the interface because it is so different than what they have used previously. Knowing this would be an issue, Google quickly outlined how to turn off Google Instant for those users who don’t want to embrace the new search experience. It’s a pretty easy process, check out the graphic below:

Google claims one of the biggest benefits to the new search experience is time saved. However, technology journalist Mitch Wagner notes: “Learning to search in a new way may slow down the user, which will negate the time saving benefits.”

Some SEOs and PPC marketers worry that Google Instant will be the end of “business as usual” and make their jobs harder. There is even talk that the nature of the results page will have a negative impact on both SEO and PPC marketing.

Despite the criticisms, the overall response to Google Instant has been positive as you can see in this recent poll from Mashable.com.

If the point of a search engine is to make it easier to find information then the poll results above shouldn’t be a surprise. Google Instant clearly delivers search results faster, while at the same time helping users refine their searches on the fly. All in all, this leads to a better experience for the end user. So, what does this mean for you? Well…stand up and take notice because Google Instant is here to stay!

Google Instant and the Future of SEO

Change is nothing new when it comes to SEO. It was no surprise, within hours of Google’s new product launch there were claims that Google Instant would kill SEO. These same cries were just as loud back in mid-2008 when Google Suggest was first released to the public.

The results were negligible in that case, and it should be noted that Google Instant’s changes to search now are much more comprehensive. To put it simply:

The launch of Google Instant DOES NOT kill SEO, nor does it make the job of the online optimizer obsolete!

In fact, Google states that Instant does not impact the ranking of search results. So you can go ahead and get off the ledge now if this was a concern of yours.

Nevertheless, the full impact of Google Instant on SEO still remains to be seen. The predictive nature of Google Instant relies on human behavior. As it stands now the percentage of people who will abandon their initial search query to click on one of the suggested terms or search results is still unknown. Out of habit, some users may continue to type their entire search term before looking at results, I know some of us here at Planet Ocean still do.

In order to keep an SEO edge in this new search landscape, you need to understand the user experience. Google Instant brings results quickly, which means that users NOW are going to be making split second decisions regarding whether your listing is a good fit.

More importantly, typical Google Instant search results will show three paid ads and one organic listing while the auto-complete box is activated. This means it’s likely click-through-rates on the first and second listing will rise, while those in the third and fourth position will fall.

In summary, getting a top ranking is vital - and having a good call to action is even more important. While SEO professionals have been suggesting for years that a call-to-action should be used in the meta description, it may now be important to include a call-to-action in your title as well. The title itself has to capture attention in order to stand out among the paid listings that dominate the search screen.

Does Google Instant spell death to the long tail of search?

When it comes to long tail keyword phrases, Google Instant could have profound positive or negative effects depending on the query. When a user starts to type in a long tail term, they’ll almost always be presented with several different suggestions based on the number of letters or words they’ve typed.

For example, a search in Google for “san diego apartments” brings up the full results page for this query as soon as you get to “san diego ap” in the search box.

The above is GREAT if you are a site or an advertiser targeting the exact phrase “san diego apartments” and you are ranking on the front page of Google. You now have a visitor who is seeing your result in Google faster and without typing the whole query. Good for you!

But what if instead of “san diego apartment” the user was initially trying to type in the longer, but still popular phrase “san diego apts for rent” and they never completed this query because of Google Instant and auto-complete?

This means the user never triggered the “san diego apts” auto-complete result from Google:

In other words, if you are an advertiser targeting ANY of the above keywords, you just lost a potential visitor to your site. The above long tail searches were never triggered by Google since the user saw real-time results for “san diego apartments” and most likely stopped searching right there. If you are an advertiser ranking on the first page of Google for any of the above…ouch!

Unfortunately, our research is showing that, at least when it comes to the long tail of search, Google Instant is already changing user habits considerably. The above example is currently playing itself out across hundreds of thousands of long tail keywords every day. In fact, most of our own clients are reporting traffic levels for long tail keywords from Google are off a minimum of 20% and some as high as 47% since Google Instant went fully live on September 9th.

What does this mean to you?

In theory, sites that have good top three rankings for both broad and long tail keyword phrases will see a jump in impressions for their broad terms. Since most popular broad term search results are populated as the user searches for the long tail, the impressions (and chances for being clicked) will increase. However, if you previously relied on hundreds or thousands of obscure long tail keyword queries that require the users themselves to fully input the search term into Google to access…well this is a big concern for you.

Our Advice: immediately start troubleshooting Google Instant by typing in your most popular keywords to trigger their Google Instant recommendations, then adjust your keyword strategies accordingly.

Pay Per Click Marketing and Google Instant

One of the biggest concerns from PPC marketers is that their impressions will increase because Google Instant shows what may be irrelevant ads in the early stages of the search term. This would cause the click-through-rate to go down and their quality score to go up. Which would then lead to higher costs per click.

To combat this Google has decided to only record an impression under a certain set of circumstances

  • If a user clicks any link on the search results page.
  • If a user rests on a set of search results for 3 seconds or more.
  • If a user chooses a query from the suggestions.

These safeguards are designed to make the impressions reflect what a user is already doing. The three second rule is based on the time it takes users to stop and absorb the search results. This may be refined in the future.

Although after speaking with the PPC experts on our team we’ve learned that although impressions are going up it hasn’t been an issue because everyone’s impressions are going up. Your Adwords Quality Score is based on the curve and if everyone is rising together then everyone will stay on the same footing. Or to put it another way - The rising tide lifts all boats.

However, even with all these fail safes in place, higher costs per click may still be on the way (count on it). In fact, we project a virtual Gold Rush around the competition on shorter tail keywords, which will result in higher costs per click. There may also be more searches on keywords that Google predicts, resulting in a higher average CPC there as well.

What to do about Google Instant

Over the next several months, those in the professional search and online advertising communities will have a lot to say about the impact of Google Instant. When the results start to come in, it will be interesting to see how many predictions have come true and how many will have been proven false.

In the meantime, here are 4 best practices for Google Instant we’ve already started implementing at our end:

  1. For SEO, work on incorporating NEW long tail search terms into your SEO plan. Use your analytics software to monitor their performance and determine how your users have adapted. After the first month, you should be able to tell what kind of an impact is being made.
  2. Edit your meta titles on your main pages to include both the main keyphrase and a call to action.
  3. For PPC, watch your click-through-rates carefully. Because of the streaming results, many paid search marketers will be focusing on broader terms which can lead to a lot of competition.
  4. Pay attention to your negative keyword lists and refine as necessary. Without zeroing in on negative keyword terms, your ads may be displayed for a variety of less relevant terms. Refine your negative keyword list for better results.
Some Final Thoughts…

Google Instant isn’t the end of the world, but it does signify a paradigm shift in search that is going to be more important in the coming months and years. By making changes to your SEO and PPC plans now, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Remember, SEO is a dynamic discipline. Those of you who adapt to Google Instant and learn how to best leverage it on behalf of your customers will reap the rewards. Those of you who don’t…well, Google Instant has now cut the time to complete a job search in half.

Undersatanding Google Instant is important if you are US based, but in the UK, unless you are constantly signed into your Google account, you probable haven’t even noticed it. It’s certainly not affecting UK online sales in any way as 95% of our clients have shown no unusual behaviour or drop in sales since it’s arrival. So why has it not been noticed?

  • You have to be signed into a Google Account to use it for a start, so if you don’t have a Google Account, or you don’t stay signed in all the time, you won’t notice any difference in the way Google works.
  • Google Instant  doesn’t work in the Pages From the UK side of the Google.co.uk Search Engine Index , irrespective if you are signed in or not
  • It doesn’t work in IE7, IE6, Netscape of Firefox2 and you have to trick it to make it work in Opera.
  • Google Instant doesn’t work if you type your query into the search box in the Google Toolbar

and if you are not a touch typist, which few people are, you’re not looking at your screen when you type, you won’t notice it anyway!

It’s nice to Understand Google Instant, so if someone asks you, “What is Google Instant?”, but online marketers in the UK have nothing to worry about if your site is properly optimised - it’s business as usual!

One Response to “Understanding Google Instant”

Brendon Schlote Says:

I try to own a collection of opera masterpieces. Any suggestions? Brendon, are you on drugs? What the hell has that got to do with this article?

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